Headline this “Confessions of a Crow Eater.”
I don’t recall who set the time for this soiree, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t me. Being awake, dressed and out of the house at that hour was unplumbed territory for someone who prides herself on NOT being one of those nauseatingly cheerful “morning people.”
Nonetheless, it was 9 a.m. on one of the coldest days of winter in 2009 when we (me and my puffy coat) struggled into a window booth at Yours Truly and prepared to meet a woman I did not know and hear her pitch her plan to stage a film festival in Chagrin Falls. A documentary film festival no less.
Being a devoted skeptic, having witnessed the failure of so many other good intentions, I had pretty much decided this one was headed for a quick burial in the land of unfulfilled promises and broken dreams.
And then I met Mary Ann Quinn Ponce and heard her ideas for what would become the Chagrin Documentary Film Festival.
Here was a wisp of a woman, accompanied by an imposing looking man, who I thought might be her bodyguard or the brains of this operation. He was John Hellman, who was there for moral support and to serve as human memory bank for details Mary Ann might forget.
No chance of that happening. He could have stayed home.
It was clear this vulnerable-seeming woman was very much in charge, determined, knew what she was talking about and voiced it eloquently. Mary Ann Ponce was also possessed of the superpower known as a mother’s love.
The Chagrin Documentary Film Festival was not made of whole cloth. Not conceived as a “cool” thing to do nor a profit-making enterprise.
Like documentary films themselves, it was inspired by a true story, one Mary Ann and husband Ed wish they were not in a position to tell.
The festival is inspired by the Ponce’s son and only child, David, a young filmmaker who was not long out of his teens when he succumbed to leukemia.
David left grieving parents, friends, family and his unfinished film “The Lost Sparrows of Roodepoort,” the story of a South African orphanage for babies and children with HIV-AIDS.
With the help of her son’s film school friends, Mary Ann made sure David’s work was completed. Then she took it to film festivals, a world she now admits she knew little about, but where she would meet and be inspired by filmmakers just like David.
She was moved by their willingness to go to any lengths to film stories they wanted the whole world to know about. Films just like David’s “Lost Sparrows.”
Mary Ann recalls she was in Ireland accompanying the film to a festival when, standing alone surveying the scene, she had an epiphany. Chagrin Falls was the perfect place to hold a film festival.
Ed agreed and he would become the festival’s behind the scenes “go to” guy to Mary Ann’s “face of the festival.”
Planning began as soon as she got home. David was not just the inspiration for the festival but would be part of the process. Fevered Dreams, the production company he formed to produce his future films, was re-established as the festival’s production company.
The early morning meeting on the coldest day of 2009 ended. It was then I realized my grumpiness was gone, and my skepticism had vanished along with those memories of good ideas turned bad.
Mary Ann had me at, “Hi, it’s nice to meet you.” She would have that affect on just about everyone she has met since.
Now, 10 years later, the idea of staging a film festival in Chagrin Falls doesn’t seem sketchy at all. In fact, it would not be the first week in October without it.
The 10th anniversary of the Chagrin Documentary Film Festival opens Oct. 2 and runs through Oct. 6. This year, audiences will be treated to one special film, a 30-minute documentary on the film festival itself.
For the first time, audiences will meet the festival’s inspiration David Ponce through archival film footage and “The Lost Sparrows of Roodepoort” will be shown as it has each of the past nine Chagrin Documentary Film Festivals.