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Cleveland International Film Festival Shows Off Northeast Ohio with 'Local Heroes'

In 'Open Hearts,' a team of physicians -- from Akron and around the globe -- works to bring pediatric care, and a greater understanding of philanthropy, to Haiti. It's one of seven films competing in this year's 'Local Heroes' series at the film fest, which highlights work shot in or about Ohio, or from Ohio filmmakers.
The Cleveland Film Company
In 'Open Hearts,' a team of physicians, from Akron and around the globe, works to bring pediatric care and a greater understanding of philanthropy, to Haiti. It's one of seven films competing in this year's 'Local Heroes' series at the film fest, which highlights work shot in or about Ohio, or from Ohio filmmakers.

The Cleveland International Film Festival’s “Local Heroes” competition highlights work made in Ohio, about Ohio, or by Ohioans. This year, the Mahoning Valley and Akron take center stage.

“I didn’t know the Youngstown my father did, with the steel mills downtown [which were] flooded with people.”

That’s a clip from “The Place That Makes Us,” filmmaker Karla Murthy’s look at four people who are trying to transform the city, not because they’re stuck there, but because they’ve chosen to stay.

“Their parents suffered through watching their town crumble around them when the mills closed," Murthy said. "This younger generation has no memory of that, and they literally grew up in that rubble. I think because of that, they just have a different mindset, and they're actually able to see opportunity. And they're not beholden to that memory.”

Murthy, an Oberlin graduate, follows efforts to rehab vacant homes, expand access to home ownership, and get young people involved in local government.

“It's a completely different approach than before; it's kind of this rightsizing approach where instead of trying to build back to this heyday, let's just make it a place where people who are living there now can have a great life and a great house and neighborhoods to live," she said. "Youngstown has suffered through a huge population loss, and I think right now they're just trying to stop the hemorrhage and keep people in the community and then, eventually, bring people back to the community.”

The documentary isn’t the only one looking at changes in the Mahoning Valley.

The Place That Makes Us - trailer

‘Bring It Home’ to Lordstown
Another of the seven films in the “Local Heroes” contest is “Bring It Home,” about the aftermath of the closure of GM’s Lordstown plant.

“GM is building a battery plant there. Lordstown Motors is going to building cars. And it really feels like that was all planned out before it happened.”

That’s a clip from the film with Dave Green, head of the plant’s UAW local at the time the closure was announced. Director Carl Kriss actually had his documentary accepted for last year’s film fest, but then reconsidered.

“I decided not to screen it last year and continue working on it because there was a lot going on with the plant [and] with Lordstown Motors. The families that I followed had to move. So I decided to keep filming and to continue editing and instead have it come out this year,” Kriss said.

That continuous uncertainty seems to underscore the film: families not knowing whether to stick with GM and transfer, or wait for what ultimately has become electric-truck-maker Lordstown Motors.

“I hope people who watch the film are able to connect with the families, even if they don't know anybody who works at GM, and just understand the toll that it takes when a plant closes which is, quite literally, the economic lifeblood of a community," Kriss said. "And then also, hopefully, get insight into the question whether or not it was necessary for this plant to close and really, why did the plant close? Was it for the company to survive, or was it for some other reason?”

Kriss leaves it to viewers to decide.

Bring it Home_Teaser

‘Open Hearts’ from Akron to Haiti
“One in 100 kids is born with some kind of heart defect. In our country, on birth, we fix it. But there are no pediatric cardiothoracic surgeons in Haiti.”

Dr. Jeff Kempf from Akron Children’s Hospital leads a team of physicians in “Open Hearts,” a documentary which looks at pediatric care at a hospital in Haiti, a nation where a third of the population is under 14. What might seem like just a real-life medical drama is also, according to co-director Travis Pollert, a look at philanthropy.

“Our film is kind of a week-in-the-life of this group that is really reimagining what charity looks like and how global aid can work in a way that empowers and lifts up. And does not create a dependence on aid. So, it's a much healthier view of the way global aid and global partnerships can work,” Pollert said.

Jacob Kostelli, Pollert’s directing partner, says that’s reflected in what he observed while making the film.

“The culture and the energy of the Haitian people is such that they are so driven and they're so proud of who they are, proud of where they come from, so proud of everything they do and have such energy and determination and pride behind them. A story about this group of doctors and foundations coming in to really enable that and support them to be able to grow and become self-sufficient. I think it was a story that was inspiring in a way that I don't really hear about a lot in in in philanthropy nowadays,” Kostelli said.

Open Hearts [Trailer]

“Open Hearts,” “Bring It Home,” and “The Place That Makes Us” are competing in “Local Heroes” against a documentary on socialism (“The Big Scary ‘S’ Word”) and another on women who are trying to parent while in Ohio’s prison (“Apart”). The final two entries are scripted features, one which takes place in Sandusky (“Swan Song”) and another in Jackson (“Holler”).

The Cleveland International Film Festival is online again this year. Trailers for all seven “Local Heroes” films are here.

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.