While the Cleveland International Film Festival marks its 38th year, Toledo's Film Focus at the Main Library in downtown is busy celebrating its own anniversary: 10 years of providing avant-garde, mostly foreign movies to the community.
Six movies, six plots
■ Detroit Unleaded
A slice-of-life romantic comedy-drama about the Arab-American experience in family, identity, friendship, and love. Sami is a Lebanese-American teenager who was banking on a freer life — one outside the confines of his cumbersome family business: a 24-hour gas station on the east side of Detroit. When his father is fatally shot, Sami finds himself captive to family obligations.
■ This Is Sanlitun
Gary's failure to make it in Beijing as a businessman necessitates a job teaching English, where he works with Frank, an incompetent life coach. But Gary's true motives for staying in China become apparent when his son and Chinese ex-wife show up. If the members of Spinal Tap decided to be businessmen and teachers in Beijing circa early Woody Allen, you’ve kind of got This is Sanlitun … nearly.
■ Key of Life
Japan, comedy/crime thriller.
A hilarious chain of events begins when Sakurai, a struggling actor, steals the identity of a mysterious stranger, who turns out to be an elite assassin. Meanwhile, determined bride-to-be Kanae sets her sights on the now amnesic stranger, who believes himself to be the down-on-his-luck actor.
■ The Missing Picture
Nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, this poignant documentary recounts director Rithy Panh's firsthand experience of the atrocities Cambodia's Khmer Rouge committed between 1975 and 1979. Since most of the existing recorded artifacts of that time are propaganda footage, Panh utilizes beautifully sculpted clay figurines and elaborately detailed dioramas to recreate the missing images from his memory.
■ Three Worlds
A thrilling drama about Al, an ambitious young man from a modest background, who is 10 days away from marrying the daughter of his boss, along with succeeding him as the head of the car dealership where Al's worked most of his life. The night of his bachelor party proves fateful when he commits a hit-and-run accident … witnessed from a balcony by a stranger.
Haunted by a tragic incident, Nihat isolated himself by becoming a fire warden in a remote observation tower in the wilderness. Seher lives in a makeshift room at a rural bus station, and she has taken a job as a bus hostess to escape her own traumatic past. They go about their solitary lives until their fates collide.
It's a milestone equally noteworthy and remarkable for the cultural importance placed on a 10-year anniversary, and that the festival has survived a decade in a city without a dedicated art house theater for much of these years.
But it’s not the success that surprises the festival’s creator and film programmer.
"What surprises me is how quickly the 10 years went by," said Tracy Montri, Audiovisual Department manager for Toledo-Lucas County Public Library. "We’re grateful for the continued support of the community. We hope that even more people hear about the series and join us."
Ms. Montri said she started the festival as a means to showcase independent and non-mainstream films that would otherwise never play Toledo.
“At Main Library, we have the great auditorium space in McMaster, and we thought that we could fill that gap in the community. It was also the idea of watching films as a community, on the big screen – what is traditionally considered the film-going experience. That particular way of watching films is still how they are meant to be appreciated, and Film Focus provides this. So, any film in the Film Focus lineup is not only a high quality film that we recommend you see, but one that has never before been made available on the big screen in this area.”
This year's Film Focus features six features: The American comedy Detroit Unleaded on Monday, the Chinese-Icelandic comedy This is Sanlitun on March 31, the Japanese comedy crime-thriller Key of Life on April 7, the French/Cambodian documentary The Missing Picture on April 14 and the French drama Three Worlds on April 21, and the Turkish drama Watchtower on April 28.
All movies in the series screen at 6:15 p.m. Mondays at the McMaster Center at the Main Library, 325 Michigan St. Admission and parking are free. For more information, call 419-259-5285 or visit toledolibrary.org.
Among the festival's highlights: Detroit Unleaded, This is Sanlitun, and The Missing Picture.
"Detroit Unleaded was shot in Detroit, and really captures the Arab-American experience in the area. It has a great deal of heart and manages to tell a solid love story on a smaller budget,” Ms. Montri said. “This is Sanlutin is an outlandish comedy in the style of This is Spinal Tap.
“We’re also very lucky to have The Missing Picture in the lineup. It is just visually stunning, and an important memoir of a tragic period in Cambodian history."
Contact Kirk Baird at email@example.com or 419-724-6734.