As the Chagrin Documentary Film Festival is set to mark its 13th year in October, for a number of filmmakers the event – and the road leading up to it – represents a first in several ways.
“I’ve never done anything like this before,” said 26-year-old South Russell resident Elise Sullivan.
The 2014 Orange High School graduate didn’t even start getting into movies until college, she explained, receiving a camera from her mother as a Christmas present.
“Last year, I decided I wanted to make a film to submit to the Chagrin Documentary Film Festival,” she continued, inspired by the fact that there was such a festival in her hometown.
“When you look at Cleveland, it wasn’t always known for movies, per se, so it’s so cool that we have one here,” Ms. Sullivan said. “It brings more filmmakers to the area.”
Ms Sullivan, who has developmental delays, then submitted a film close to her heart, an eight-minute documentary titled “Two Foundation”, chronicling both the mission of the local organization of the same name and the people who special needs. serves.
Her first-ever and only documentary film, in which she did the video and audio mostly herself throughout last summer, will be among 91 films selected from more than 600 entries at this year’s festival, which will begin on October 5.
The festival and its feature film submission also mark a first for Kevin Morissey, 32, and a resident of Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood who heard about the festival from a radio show.
“It was my first time doing a feature film, and I didn’t necessarily intend to,” Morissey described, “but the story had such depth that it would be best served as a what a feature film.”
The hour-long documentary, “Meandering Thru”, took Mr Morissey around four years to film, with a basic camera and shotgun mic in hand. It chronicles Everett Brandt’s attempt to set the record on the Buckeye Trail, a 1,400-mile loop around Ohio.
Mr. Morissey, who has worked in broadcasting and marketing, reached out to Mr. Brandt through an Instagram post, quickly forming a friendship – and ultimately documenting his journey.
The Bowing Green State University graduate said he was honored to be selected for this year’s festival and counts among his career goals.
“It is truly an honor to have the opportunity to share this story with an audience through the Chagrin Documentary Film Festival,” said Mr. Morissey. “I am delighted.
“Knowing that there’s an organization out there that values telling local stories and stories of filmmakers who don’t have the biggest platform” is wonderful, he continued.
“It was a goal to go to a festival like this,” he added, noting that he will definitely make another film.
“I want to build on what I learned from this experience.”
Ben Merkel, a resident of Middlefield, said he would never have made a film without the Chagrin Documentary Film Festival.
The commercial vehicle enthusiast and collector, with an affinity for checkerboard taxis, ‘bet’ for about a year to create ‘What’s a Checker’, which was selected for the 2017 festival.
“I wouldn’t have done it if it hadn’t been for the festival,” said Merkel, 67. “I owe everything to Mary Ann (Ponce, founder).
“It was such a fun experience.”
Mr Merkel did all of his own filming, much of it “on the fly”, interviewing locals including Chardon Mayor Chris Grau and former Rick’s Cafe owner Alec Singer, and asking their opinions.
His goal was to keep it light and provide an educational documentary for those unfamiliar with checkered cabs, he said.
Although he had other ideas percolating, this 40-minute film was his “one trick pony,” he added, and he had the best time making it.
Chagrin Falls resident John Bourisseau, 75, always enjoyed his hometown film festival and was inspired by its founders, he said, but never thought of making a film about him -same.
It wasn’t until a group of villagers started a grassroots effort in 2020 to ‘Save Grove Hill’ that they were prompted to develop a documentary film about it.
“I was really blown away by the dedication of the people,” said Bourisseau, who is president of the Chagrin Falls Historical Society.
He was also amazed at how they used a social media network to raise awareness and discovered, through his research, other community efforts that had been carried out, he said.
The 44-minute program “Save Grove Hill, A Pursuit of Community Involvement” was on the lineup at last year’s festival.
“At the heart of our founding mission is to empower filmmakers to tell a story,” said Ms Ponce, who launched the festival in honor of her late son David, a filmmaker. “So it’s especially meaningful to see a fledgling filmmaker of any age who drew inspiration from what they experienced at CDFF to create their own film.”
That was surely the case for Chagrin Falls resident Kitt Rossi, a 49-year-old mother of two who recalls seeing international flags flying all over town when she moved into the village nine years ago. year.
“I dug deeper and discovered that a film festival was taking place,” she recalls. “I’ve always been interested in cinema and a cinephile, so I followed it.”
Never in her wildest dreams, however, did she think she would produce a documentary film, she said, but somewhat by chance it did.
While working at the Chagrin Falls Park Community Center, Ms. Rossi instead intended to make a 30-second YouTube video to raise awareness of the center and its mission and show the video to potential donors and contributors.
“What I quickly realized was that you can’t walk through this special place in 30 seconds,” she said.
Thus, with the help of a filmmaker and with Ms. Rossi as producer, “The Park” was made, a “six minutes and change” feature film that found its way into the festival’s program in 2019.
Ms. Rossi, who conducted all of the interviews with center staff and park community residents, cried as she sat down and watched the film alongside an audience at its screening at the City Hall, she said.
“It was really great to see him and sit there with some of the members of Chagrin Falls Park,” Ms. Rossi recalled. “I saw their faces and they were really proud.
“It was such a good feeling.”
Ms Rossi said the film festival gave her and others an opportunity for growth.
“It’s a great way for adults and children to broaden their horizons without leaving home,” said Ms. Rossi, who is in the process of producing her second documentary featuring professionally trained therapy dogs. she plans to submit at next year’s festival.
“I was very honored to have been chosen” in 2019, she added.
It was the Film Festival’s mission to tell the important stories that attracted first-time filmmaker Faith Marsh, a Cincinnati resident, she said.
Her film “Safe Haven,” the story of Monica Kelsey and her passion for saving abandoned babies, is among the entries chosen this year.
“I knew I wanted to get his story out there,” said Ms Marsh, 22.
The Taylor University graduate, who graduated in film and media production this spring, started researching Mrs. Kelsey and her baby safes, emailed her and, much to her surprise, she agreed to allow Mrs. Marsh and some friends to tag along and document her life.
“Safe Haven,” which is 11 minutes long, was filmed for about three months, mostly in Indiana, with Ms. Marsh and a few classmates stuffing handheld cameras and tripods into their car, to document the story.
“Yeah, it’s nice to have that on my resume,” she said of her film festival selection, “but I really want people to see this story.”
She said that in submitting her film, she considered the history of Chagrin Falls Documentary Film Fest, and that was the perfect fit.
“That’s exactly what we’re trying to do,” Ms Marsh said, “to tell a story that needs to be told.”
So too was 23-year-old Westlake resident Jeremy Schwochow, who made his first documentary ‘Looking for Johnson Grass’, chosen for the festival from among this year’s submissions.
“I made my movie which got a senior thesis at Ohio State University,” Schwochow explained.
The year-long project, which he created alongside some high school friends and with a handheld movie camera, documented one man’s passion for studying invasive Johnson weed.
“This is my first time attending a documentary film festival,” Schwochow noted. “I heard about it through word of mouth and also through the FilmFreeway online submission platform.”
He has decided to submit his eight-and-a-half-minute film, which took him about five months to complete, and is “absolutely honored and thrilled to be chosen and to share it with a local community of documentary filmmakers.
“It’s being part of something bigger than me,” Mr. Schwochow said.
He said his future goals are to continue making documentaries with his friends and family.
“It’s something I’m passionate about and an amazing way to express myself,” he added.
Making a film for the first time was also a fascinating experience for South Russell resident Reverend Mark Simone, who ironically was one of the festival’s founders.
“I helped found the festival, but I never thought I would make a movie,” said Reverend Simone, who retired as a longtime pastor of the Federated Church of Chagrin Falls. , where he became acquainted with Mrs. Ponce’s son, David, and traveled with him to South Africa. in the making of his first and only film.
“Apart from making videos for my travels, I had no experience in filmmaking,” said Reverend Simone, 67.
But the mural by late Chagrin Falls artist Nancy Martt on the wall inside the Federated Church served as inspiration.
The documentary “The Mural”, directed by Reverend Simone with Brent Simon, was on the program of the 2015 Film Festival,
“I was so excited because I’ve been a part of this from the start,” Reverend Simone said of the festival. “It was amazing to watch it with everyone I knew, and it seemed wonderfully received.”
It took him about four months to complete, with the film being made with a handheld camera and a drone.
“It was my whole entry into cinema,” Ms Rossi added of the festival.
“I’m honored, happy and all of the above to have been selected,” Ms. Sullivan said. “When the festival keeps asking me, ‘who’s all in your film, I say, ‘it’s just me.
“I’m a team of one,” she said. “The audio isn’t perfect and I don’t know everything about film, but I’m working on it.”