CIFF Continues to Move and Inspire

Hallie Witwer
It's five o'clock, and as I leave my day job Monday I throw my Media Pass around my neck and fly out the door to make my way downtown for another night at the Cleveland International Film Festival. While I had seen many films already over the previous five days I was hardly tired of the scene yet. Every film is different and the crowd that this festival draws is anything but bland. As my car makes it into the city I can’t help but notice that it is even more alive than day before. The film festival is in full force, but it also happens to be the afternoon of the Indian’s home opener, and I’m beyond thrilled to see my city so full of life. At times like this it truly does have that classic big-city feel. I even do a double-take as several (yes several) yellow cabs rush past me in the opposite lane. It seems the city of Cleveland has awoken with the budding spring weather.
CIFF movie-goers exit Tower City Cinemas theaters after a screening Monday
(Witwer 2013)
My film for the evening is Girl Rising and is based around the concept of how important it is for girls from all countries to go to school and how millions of young girls are being denied that simple right everyday. The film follows a handful of young women from all around the world and, through the telling of their stories, so is the tale of all girls who are fighting for their education. Before the film began, director Richard E. Robbins stood up to say a few words. He said that before he started this project he was pursuing emptier goals. He moved to L.A. where all he wanted to do was work on television shows and make money. He said his biggest problem was deciding between low-fat and soymilk for his latte. However, when he stumbled upon this story he was literally unable to let it go, and in the end devoted seven years of his life to this film, the cause, and the girls it follows. Even though he said there were days he was so taxed that he considered quitting, just listening to him speak I knew that he had zero regrets about the personal sacrifices he had made and that he really does care about the girls he filmed. It came through as he spoke and it came through ever so poignantly in the film itself. Watching these girls’ lives unfold before me I started to evaluate my own life and what I take for granted.
Tower City Cinemas Box Office: Hopping the last 9 days (Witwer 2013)
These families in countries such as Haiti and India have so very little, and all these girls want to do is have a notebook to call their own and a teacher to listen to. They want a set of parents who believe in them. In my 27 years, I’ve had all those things and so much more and while most of the time I appreciate it I can’t deny that there have been days I have complained about something as trivial as a pair of shoes I couldn’t afford. After watching “Girl Rising” I spent the entire car ride home in deep thought thinking, “how dare I?” I got through 12th grade without my parents having to pay a cent and was able to get aid and scholarships for college. For me, the film brought awareness to the immense amount of women who aren’t getting the education they deserve, but it also made me reevaluate how I see my own life. The drive home was much different than the drive there. Suddenly I was seeing everything I had and not the few things I didn’t. And that is something I think many people in this country, the United States of America, should also take a minute (or a while) to do.

The following day at the Cleveland International Film Festival I took in an equally moving, and somewhat disturbing, film titled Camp 14- Total Control Zone. Part-film and part-illustrated, it told the story of Shin, who was born into one of many death camps being run in North Korea. After having to witness the public execution of his mother and brother in the camp, he manages to escape and is now living in South Korea. He is currently traveling the world telling his story to audiences large and small. He’s a full-blown activist now, working with groups such as L.I.N.K. (Liberty In North Korea) to spread awareness. Yet, while he’s living his new life of freedom, he can’t let go of his terrible past. This movie shocked me, it scared me, and it enraged me. I just couldn’t believe that this was happening here and now in the modern era. While I was going through high school, Shin was being tortured with fire, beaten and starved. I couldn’t get past the contradiction of our two lives. It literally made my stomach turn. This is a film that I honestly hope is widely circulated over the coming year or two. It tells a story that needs to be heard, however unpleasant it may be. This is not the time of our grandparents when concentration camps were a reality. This is now, 2013, and it’s time for tragedies like this to stop. Spread the word about this story, or even just do some research on the horrors taking place in North Korean camps. Remember that with education and knowledge comes power, and from ignorance comes nothing. Perhaps we really can change the world, even if it’s little by little.

My past few days spent at the Cleveland International Film Festival have taught me so very much in an extremely powerful way about what’s going on in our world. I now feel connected to countries that I knew little about beforehand, all from stepping outside my norms and simply watching a few movies. Perhaps that’s one of the greatest things about the Cleveland International Film Festival: it reminds us that even if an entire ocean separates us, we ARE all connected. It is my belief that the sooner we all accept that as so, the sooner peace can prevail.