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The Chagrin Documentary Film Festival is a Silver Screen Trip Around the Globe


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Let's say you decided that you wanted to spend some time rubbing shoulders with filmmakers. (And we're not talking here about filmmakers such as the recently outed and thoroughly disgusting Harvey Weinstein.) We're talking about people who have a passion to create films that tell unique stories about important social issues, emotional aspects of the human spirit, and sometimes even frivolous topics.

Well, lucky you! Because dozens of filmmakers will soon be descending on Chagrin Falls when the Chagrin Documentary Film Festival launches its yummy onslaught of films Oct. 3 to 7.

This is the ninth annual Chagrin Fest, and it is now well-established as one of the leading film festivals in the world. Indeed, MovieMaker Magazine has named it one of the "Top 50 Film Fests Worth the Entry Fee" for six years running! By most counts, there are about 3,000 active film festivals in the world, so when you're in the top 50, repeatedly, you're in elite company.

Since this is a documentary film festival, it touches a lot of bases, subject-wise. Farming in Sudan? Check. Sammy Davis Jr.? Got it. Refugee tragedies? Yep. Bathtubs Over Broadway, which explores the corporate video musicals made for employees in the 1950s? Oh, yeah. Declining eagle habitats? Certainly. Men and women who live with and love their silicone doll pals? Why, of course.

Speaking of that last one, Melody Gilbert is the filmmaker who created the 70-minute film called Silicone Soul. And she is stoked about coming to Northeast Ohio for the CDFF. "I'm very excited to come to Chagrin Falls for this festival. I particularly enjoy the conversations I have with people after the screening of the film, and it seems the Chagrin Fest is set up to encourage that kind of connection between audiences and filmmakers."

And so it is. The founder and director of CDFF, Mary Ann Quinn Ponce, established the festival in honor of her son David Ponce, a documentary filmmaker (The Lost Sparrows of Roodepoort) who lost his life to leukemia at the age of 20. As she says, "The Festival is all about the filmmakers. We treat them like gold, providing an opportunity for them to meet their audiences whenever possible, and the chance to network with other filmmakers from around the world."

This year, there will be 89 films from 31 countries that encompass a variety of lengths: one-minute docs, short films, and feature-length movies. This treasure trove includes world premieres, Midwest premieres and Ohio premieres. And Ponce expects about 75 directors, producers and film subjects to be in attendance during the five-day festival, which has projectors running from morning to night at seven venues in and around Chagrin Falls.

Since this charming town is small, it will be hard not to bump into filmmakers when you go out for a bite to eat or stop for a refreshing beverage or ice cream cone. There are also special events and parties scheduled, including 10 panel discussions and film events.

As Ponce notes, the Chagrin Fest is not your usual film festival. "We are different because we are situated in beautiful Chagrin Falls at a gorgeous time of the year. We're not stuck in a single building, nor are we spread out over a wide expanse in a large city. Since we are embedded in this lovely town, it allows everyone to enjoy the films and conversations in a relaxed and friendly environment."

Of course, it's impossible to see everything, so how do you choose which films to see? Festival director Ponce has a suggestion. "Why not pick a film on a subject you're not interested in or haven't looked into in any depth? I think people will be surprised how involving these films can be, particularly when the movie in question is providing a glimpse into a part of the world or a slice of humanity that is unfamiliar."

It's probably fair to say that, for most of us, Gilbert's film Silicone Soul fits into that category. As she explains, "We have a variety of different people in the film who have chosen life-size silicone (not blowup) dolls as their partners or companions. These are expensive dolls costing around $10,000 each, so there is a substantial commitment involved. The subjects in the film range from a man who is 'married' to a doll to a woman, a well-respected photographer, who has 12 female doll girlfriends."

As a chronicler of various subcultures, Gilbert sees the humanity in these subjects. "We all have a need for companionship and love. Who are we to judge people who find what they need in these dolls?"

In addition to Ms. Gilbert, you may meet Christian Sonderegger from France, the director of Coby, which explores the transition of Suzanna into a man at age 23. Or you might encounter Ashwini Kumar Bhat from India, who directed Aghanashini, about a nurturing river that still flows in spite of nearby pollution from industries.

New experiences abound at the Chagrin Documentary Film Festival, and you can purchase your tickets conveniently online. So load up on your popcorn and let the films begin!

The Chagrin Documentary Film Festival runs from Oct. 3 to 7, in various venues in and around Chagrin Falls. Buy tickets and find more information at chagrinfilmfest.org.

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