Cleveland International Film Festival’s Feedback on Our Lean, Mean & Green Entry

posted by Carrie LeZotte

While we didn’t get accepted to the Cleveland Film Festival, they are one of the few festivals that provides the selections committee’s feedback.  I share it here so that other filmmakers can be encouraged by how difficult the selection process can be AND how it really depends on the taste of the judges.  As you can see from the comments, one judge liked the music and didn’t see that the graphic treatment worked and another judge felt the exact opposite on those two points!  While everyone agrees that the cinematography was lovely, these comments help demonstrate how difficult it is to piece it all together.  My advice to filmmakers – make the movie that’s going to make you happy.  I would have loved to spend more time and more money on this work, but at some point, you need to step away.

Here’s the feedback, from what I’m assuming was three judges:

1. The beginning of this film shows a nice montage of all of the locations that will soon be looked at in depth. The music is upbeat and those first two minutes very much perk the interest of the viewer that this will not be your typical documentary that focuses on the depression that has hit these rust belt cities. The montage continues for quite some time but does begin to zero in a bit on a particular city. But it then jumps to another city before you have had a chance to digest what you have just learned. The film does get into longer detail of various aspects of each city trying to rejuvenate itself which is educational and well executed. It would have been better to have the early montage followed by the particular aspects of the cities followed again by a longer wrap up montage.

There is very little data that informs us how some of the things done in Detroit, Philadelphia, and Youngstown have helped the economy of those places. Granted the gardens, the art, and keeping people busy and off the streets is a vital first step to recovery. In order to keep these things going and continue to be funded, I would think it is important to display the concrete benefits. I was disappointed that Turin, Italy was not shown in enough depth. The fact that they have lost thousands of jobs but still was able to attract the Winter Olympics is a fabulous success story. How did they do it? Where are they now in the post-Olympic years?

The cinematography is very well done. Whether it be the deserted streets of Detroit or the beautiful hills of Germany, we get a good bird’s eye view of those communities. The lighting was always very good making the film easy to view. The people interviewed were well prepared and explained what they have done quite well. Their passion for their cities comes through loud and clear. Each of them were well versed in their projects and each had an enthusiasm for what has been accomplished. This is particularly true of the man in Youngstown that drives a golf type cart through the streets as a personal neighborhood watch. I would have liked to understand a bit about the organizations that some of the interviewed people represent. For instance a man interviewed, Kurt Metzger, was with an organization called Data Driven Detroit. Who are they? What do they do? A well done, informative, entertaining film that show the hard work of various community people to help its citizenry rather than flea.

2. This film is one that I feel that many people will connect with. The problems of what to do with our post industrial cities are examined and portrayed well in this documentary. It was eye opening to me, to see the filmmaker not just focus on American rust belt cities but also a few European cities. The filmmaker was able to blend a wealth of knowledge about what programs and initiatives are working with strong emotional anecdotes about neighborhoods, people and their pride for their city. When a young woman was talking about how much she disliked living in Detroit and was anxious for the day to leave the city but then found herself with a lack of knowledge about the very place she lived in, this was a great sequence that resonated with me. It was empowering to see the people featured in this film were not just political figures, or city engineers but actual citizens of the city, taking charge and making the changes they want to see for their neighborhoods and for their families. The women in Detroit that run the community gardens that focus on keeping kids and youth involved was a prime example of this. I thought the importance of art and how vital it is to the revitalization of many cities was a key part of this film.

The film is well produced with a clean and polished look. I liked the mash up sequence of multiple people talking about what problems plagued their city. The pacing is well done and I found myself engrossed with the stories and people featured in this film. I did find that the focus jumped around a bit, it seemed like the filmmaker separated the film to focus on each individual city at a time but it would randomly jump back to Detroit and then on to a new location. I liked the font and style used for the titles and names of locations or neighborhoods. The cinematography was very well done. Several sequences were well framed and showcased the unique attributes of the cities featured in the film. The shots of the German parks in the middle of industrial ruins were quite breathtaking as well as much of the B-roll used throughout the film. Most interviews were also well shot with the exception of the opening in which a man is just standing off center and introduces us to the film; I found this to be slightly distracting. The music in the film was often too loud and didn’t seem to fit well. Several times it became quite distracting and detracted from the viewing experience. Overall this was a great film about revitalizing rust belt cities and how to take advantage of what resources you do have.

3. Relevant and current topic not only in the US but around the planet – transforming industrial cities into thriving communities again by reimagining the use of their space and getting the people involved and taking pride in the transition to green spaces, educating land owners and creating something new out of devastation. The flow of the stories however felt a little choppy to me. It seemed that we jumped back and forth from one city to another, rather than focusing and telling a story in full and then moving on to the next town and comparing and contrasting their struggle and the way they opted to handle the inevitable changes that had already happened and were still in motion, in order to aim for a positive outcome.

I thought the footage and the way the camera showed the cities and the evolution of them was very focused, clean, bright and interesting – the facts that were interspersed throughout the film were interesting but at times felt “childish” with the fonts being too large & “bubbled”, almost in a cartoon-ish fashion. I feel like these could easily be changed and it would feel more like serious facts rather than light-hearted information that was being given to the viewer.

I appreciated that the score was crisp and interesting and I understand they might have been using it to help with the flow of the film, it being the same composition from beginning to end, but I feel like it was too apparent and took up too much of the time in the film that could have been either silent while simply viewing areas of these cities with information printed on the screen or even having narration during these visuals, rather than written word and song – again the score seemed to bring a level of amateur filmmaking to certain parts of this story which was actually pretty serious. So I guess in that sense, it really did not seem to fit the tone of the documentary… at least not the entire thing. I think it would be good during the portions with the children in the garden in Detroit because that particular story feels lighter and happier, with the kids running around a playing.

I think once those things are looked at a bit more closely, and they better suit the tone of what this doc is trying to convey, it would be a great film for large audiences – particularly throughout the “rustbelt” as an inspiration and even an educational tool – showing that revitalizing our industrial cities can be done!