Short films are a big draw in the Cleveland International Film Festival. This year, Erin Brown Thomas is attached to three of them.

The Akron native was the editor on “The Wild Drive Life,” the animator for “Dream Homes According to Kids: Milo” and the director of “But First...” The latter film was shot lickety-split last summer in Akron.

“But First…” is a clever, rhythmic, black-and-white account of three women who dance their way to caffeinated satisfaction.

“I was part of a co-lab workshop between the San Francisco Dance Festival and the National Center for Choreography in Akron, and it was funded by grants, including from the Knight Foundation,” said Thomas on the phone from Los Angeles.

"The mission was to pair up-and-coming choreographers who had a presence in visual arts with up-and-coming filmmakers who had a presence within the dance space."

Thomas, along with choreographer Mike Esperanza and cinematographer Tyler Clark, had only one week to pull it off.

“So me and the dancers flew in from across the country — they were coming from the East Coast, I was coming from the West Coast. We met, we started doing exercises, going outside, playing, figuring out what we wanted to do to develop this thing from scratch.”

There is no dialogue, but there is a collection of distinct, syncopated sounds, which Thomas and crew made old-school style inside Akron Coffee Roasters on North High Street.

“We decided that rather than scoring the film, or licensing a song, we would create a beat-box track first, to do the dancing to. Then we scored it, if you will, with coffee sounds layered on top of it afterwards,” Thomas said.

“Just about everything on there was created inside the coffee shop. Whether it was sipping coffee, or breathing, or the sound of a milk steamer, or a spoon going around the rim of a cup, or dropping coffee beans into a jar or onto a counter.”

Summing up her film and her approach to directing, Thomas said, “I like things that are a little weird and different.”

Thomas, who grew up in Akron and went to Revere High School and Malone University, has had several short movies featured in the Cleveland festival since 2014. She will be attending this year’s fest for about six days. “But First…” will screen April 3-5.

Her next big film project will be a full-length feature with the working title “Italy 99.”

“It is loosely inspired by the time when I was 14 years old and I was left behind in Florence, Italy, on a class field trip.”

So she was forgotten in a foreign country?

“Yes, it really happened. Go, Revere!”

Joining Thomas in the shorts program are several Northeast Ohio-connected films.

• “Inside Akron’s Tent City – Episode 1 – A Different Kind of Shelter.” Kevin Naughton’s documentary — the short film with the long name — looks at the struggles of the folks who pitched tents at Sage Lewis’ homeless center on Broad Street in Middlebury. (Read more about that ongoing story on www.ohio.com: https://bit.ly/2zCNGyb.)

• "Chrysalis," as with "But First...," was produced in part at the National Center for Choreography at the University of Akron. Directed by Nicole Klaymoon and Morgan Wise, it explores how pain can be dealt with through poetry and dance. 

• “The Cat,” directed by Magdolin Turner and written by Jess Byard, is the first stop-motion animated film from Skunkwerkz, the creative collaboration between Akron’s Red Point Digital and Akronstein Labs.

• "Nance," set in Akron and Cleveland, drops in on a family that has sent two men to play for the Cavaliers in the NBA: Larry Nance and Larry Nance Jr.

• On the comedy front, there is “Relationship Deli,” in which a woman seeking a companion can choose from a menu that includes “The One Sided,” “The Booty Call,” and “The Social Media Happy” (with a side of “Mommy Issues”). It stars Copley native Kaitlyn Black and Kelly Vrooman (originally from Mansfield), and was written by Black.

 

Diverse choices

The 43rd Cleveland International Film Festival kicks off Wednesday night at the Connor Palace in Playhouse Square with “The Etruscan Smile.” It stars Brian Cox as a curmudgeonly Scotsman who moves to San Francisco and connects with his estranged son.

Screenings start in earnest on Thursday morning at Tower City Cinemas and run through April 7.

The festival will show more than 200 feature films and more than 200 short films from 71 countries. More than 300 filmmakers from around the globe will also be on hand to screen and discuss their latest creations.

For the second year in a row, there will be no screenings in Akron. This year’s satellite locations include the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, the Cedar Lee Theatre, the Near West Theatre and the Capitol Theatre.

The wide array of films include:

• “This Changes Everything,” a look at Hollywood in the wake of the #MeToo movement, featuring interviews with Meryl Streep, Geena Davis, Natalie Portman and Taraji P. Henson.

• “Greener Grass,” a subversive dark comedy that sends up everything from suburbia to family photos.

• New movies starring John Lithgow, Blythe Danner, Jim Gaffigan, Bruno Ganz, Helen Hunt and Elle Fanning.

• On the animal front, “Mia and the White Lion” follows a girl’s affections for a wild beast; “Storm Boy” explores a protective lad and his favorite pelican; and “Los Reyes” follows two street dogs named Football and Chola as they keep tabs on teens at a skate park in Chile.

• There are also documentaries examining the lives of author Toni Morrison, jazz icon Miles Davis, Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, newspaper legend Joseph Pulitzer, former Notre Dame President Theodore Hesburgh, actress Olympia Dukakis and film critic Pauline Kael.

The closing night film on April 7 comes from writer-director-actor Emilio Estevez.

Shot in Cincinnati, “The Public”, with Jena Malone, Taylor Schilling, Jeffrey Wright and Alec Baldwin, is a drama about the conflicts that arise when homeless folks seek refuge at the local library in the dead of winter.

For a complete schedule and ticket information, go to www.clevelandfilm.org, or call the festival box office at 877-304-3456.

 

Clint O’Connor covers pop culture. He can be reached at 330-996-3582 or coconnor@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @ClintOMovies.