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Coping with COVID in Cleveland: Mike Suglio, Short. Sweet. Film Fest.

Coping with COVID in Cleveland: Mike Suglio, Short. Sweet. Film Fest.

Kevin Naughton

After thousands of confirmed cases and hundreds of deaths in Ohio, people are (hopefully) staying at home to help protect each other from the spread of COVID-19. We checked in with various Clevelanders to see how they’re holding up and how the pandemic has affected them and their organizations.

Mike Suglio is a professor of film at CSU, a filmmaker, and the executive director of the “Short. Sweet. Film Fest.” Social distancing has affected all industries, and the film world is no exception. We reached out to Mike to see how he’s coping with the statewide COVID-19 shutdown.

Q: How has COVID-19 and Ohio’s general shutdown affected you and your line of work? 

A: COVID-19 has affected all aspects of my life to be honest. I have always had a lower immune system and I am absolutely terrified of contracting this. There is no way to sugar coat this virus or downplay it. It is frightening to say the least.

I have dedicated my life and am incredibly passionate of all performing arts, but I mainly work in the art of film. I am a professor of film, a filmmaker, an executive director of the Short. Sweet. Film Fest., and when I can, I work at one of the Atlas Cinemas as a proud staff member. All of these have been greatly impacted by the virus.

First, as a professor I have now had to adapt all my courses to online ones. The classes I usually instruct are film production and acting for the camera, which are very hands on and “present” classes. Those have had to be changed to mainly reviewing existing films and the projects are now based on what you can do from the safety of your own home. I have my acting students creating self-tapes for auditions, which they would often do as a Cleveland-based actor applying for roles in and outside the city, and I have my film production students creating documentaries about their lives and how it has changed during this pandemic. Some students have made documentaries about how their work places have adapted to the pandemic, and some have made it more self-reflection such as making a documentary how they rediscover making art or playing an instrument and recorded how they have improved over time.

As a filmmaker, all production is on hold. I am directing a feature-length documentary on Cleveland’s history through the lens of the beer brewing industry. That of course is on hold, but I am working on the website. I have mainly spent my free time writing screenplays in hopes that one day they can be made.

The Short. Sweet. Film Fest. thankfully occurred a week or two before things started shutting down, but I already know next year may be a challenge. We have not opened submissions yet for next year, but if no one is making films currently and there is so much uncertainty, I am worried what our submission numbers will be. Also, all festivals are constantly asking, “what if it all comes back and when?” That’s the billion-dollar question that brings uncertainty to everything.

Lastly, all movie theaters are of course shut down. When theaters do reopen they will only have a catalog of films that were out months ago and are now all streaming. All major films have had their release dates pushed back significantly. I think theaters will need to be creative and possibly showcase more independent and local work to strengthen the notion of returning to the theater until big blockbusters are released.

Q: What are you personally doing to help cope with the quarantine? 

A: I have been doing a lot of writing. I write on average about eight screenplay pages a day.  I’ve also watched a decent amount of videos on Lynda in areas of filmmaking I am not as strong at. I try to always be a lifelong learner.  

I think like everyone else I have been catching up on shows and watching movies I always wanted to see but never took the time to watch.

I’ve played a few video games, which I never have time to play. As a child I always thought the main challenge for video games was the final boss, but as an adult I realize the real challenge is simply time and having enough of it to play.

Q: How, if at all, has COVID-19 affected your worldview? 

A: I think the virus has made it clearer than ever before a lot our faults in society. As highlighted in the Best Picture film, Parasite, the world economic divide is a serious problem. Too many of us live paycheck to paycheck and without the medical resources we all need access to.

But at the same time, it is amazing to see the world come together to figure out how to fight the virus in order to benefit everyone.

Q: Any new insights? New perspectives? New appreciations? 

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A: A lot of people have been comparing daily life to the plot of one of my all-time favorite films, Groundhog Day, which I use as an example for a lot of different subjects in the courses I instruct. Sure, every day is the same during the pandemic, I get that, but that’s really the surface level of the film. The real point of the film is the theme and the realization that Phil Connors has that (spoiler alert) ends the same day from repeating.

Connors learns to love but also learns to love himself. That’s something I know I have been getting better at during this. With the disappearance of most things I love doing I have learned just how important those things are. I realize now that mundane things I do actually bring me a lot of love in my life.

I also realize how much I love seeing my family and friends, which I haven’t been doing much at all under quarantine. Life can be short and fragile and you want to spend as much time with loved ones as you can.

But the big thing is I have gotten better at loving myself. I have been eating healthier, getting more sleep, and doing more things, like playing video games, that are purely for fun. If you know me well I am very much a workaholic, just look at all the film related jobs I have, and I think in the past I have neglected my well being at times.

Q: Lastly, what’s the first thing you’re going to do when the shutdown ends?

A: Of course I would immediately go to a movie theater. Film and theater are made to be watched as a communal event with others. People get annoyed if someone in the theater talks or laughs through the experience, but that really is the joy of it. You are having an experience with other humans instead of job watching something at home. If you think about it, all of our favorite memories are shared with others. When you think about your favorite movie, I guarantee you probably saw it in a theater.

And then I’d have a Cleveland craft beer at a brewery. Boy do I miss that!

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