Chagrin Falls is in the midst of the Chagrin Documentary Film Festival, an annual event that typically draws thousands to the village to watch more than 100 films. This year, however, the global pandemic put a new twist on the festival that began on Tuesday and runs through Sunday. All films are being streamed, so viewers can watch them in the safety of their homes at any time throughout the festival.
Executive Director Mary Ann Ponce found several ways to keep the festival alive and safely bring people together to enjoy films. She created Films by the Falls, a series of showings at Riverside Park in Chagrin Falls. “Polka Across America” follows the Chardon Polka Band as they take a virtual tour across the country to meet other polka bands and enjoy different flavors of their favorite genre. This film will be shown at Riverside Park at 4 p.m. on Sunday, and a live performance by the Chardon Polka Band will follow.
Jake Kouwe, co-founder and member of the Chardon Polka Band, said that he originally wanted to make a video for the Fourth of July to share via social media. As he talked to his friends across the country, the film turned into what he called “an Americana trip across the country,” which started and ended in Geauga County.
“I can’t say enough what kind of weird void for performers 2020 has been,” he told the Times. Precautions are necessary, he said, adding that this is the way it has to be right now. “But none of us are really performing in the capacity we would be in a normal year. We’re all sitting in front of cameras trying to make art.”
The Chagrin film festival opened on Tuesday at Chagrin Cinemas with a drive-in showing of “Playing with Fire – Jeannette Sorrell and the Mysteries of Conducting.” A dozen more films will be shown at the drive-in for the remainder of the festival. The drive-in is $25 per car. There are two different free shorts programs at Riverside Park each day, and attendees can order a “Fest to Go” meal from a local restaurant.
Mr. Kouwe narrates virtual visits to polka band performances across the country, including Louisiana, California and Alaska. Each band performs its own version of polka music, which varies widely by region due to cultural influences.
“Polka is a European form of music, but it has influences outside of that,” said Mr. Kouwe, who plays the accordion. “It has kinship to other types of music.”
The Copper Box Band from Oshkosh, Wisconsin mixed polka music with zydeco, jazz and rock music. Marlene Rodriguez of the band Los Reales del Norte in Modesto, California celebrated her Mexican heritage with polka music.
This virtual road trip was a method for the band to “get on the road” and see their buddies without leaving the house. They started working on the film in May and it premiered on social media in July. The tour offered the band members the opportunity to connect with old friends and make new ones, Mr. Kouwe said.
The film also shows how musicians are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Jameson Brettman of the Happy Players in Fremont, Nebraska sings and plays the accordion in his driveway while his neighbors sit on their front lawns to enjoy the music.
The Chagrin film festival will use a similar approach this Sunday when the Chardon Polka Band performs following the screening of “Polka Across America” at 4 p.m. Attendees must socially distance at Riverside Park.