The 28th International Film Fest showcases a hometown auteur's Dirty Work.

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The 28th Cleveland International Film Festival Tower City Cinemas on the Avenue at Tower City Center Thursday, March 18, through March 28; Individual tickets are $9, $7 for members and students; call 216-623-3456 or visit www.clevelandfilm.org for a complete schedule
Dirty Work indeed, playing at the Cleveland - International Film Festival.
Dirty Work indeed, playing at the Cleveland International Film Festival.
Besides a vision, the only thing a first-time filmmaker needs to make a movie is passion. And maybe a little cash. Cleveland native David Sampliner had all three when he and co-director Tim Nackashi set out three years ago to create Dirty Work, a documentary showing at the 28th Cleveland International Film Festival this week. The movie (executive-produced by Sampliner's college buddy, Edward Norton) follows the lives of three laborers -- a septic-tank pumper, a mortuary embalmer, and a bull-semen collector -- toiling around Athens, Georgia.

But as the cameras rolled, the novice filmmakers discovered that their movie was about more than just oddball jobs. They also found a group of guys who were passionate about their admittedly wacky vocations. "People assume they must hate their jobs," Sampliner says. "In fact, they learn through the film what it means to love one's work deeply. I think when people see [the title] of this film, they think it's not for them, that it's too disgusting or it's just designed to focus on the freaky sides of these characters.

"I think the film shows how much these characters are like anybody else, except for what they do. And that gives them an uncommon insight into the rest of our lives."

Dirty Work is one of nearly 90 features and 70 short films screening at the fest over the next 10 days at Tower City Cinemas. Of course, it has a significant edge over its competitors: It's the only flick with extensive footage of reproductive physiologist Russ Page risking life and limb to collect bull jizz. "He jumps between the bull and the cow he's trying to mount at the very last minute to collect it," Nackashi explains. "It's amazing, because Russ is standing between a 1,500-pound cow and a 2,800-pound bull that's really got one thing on his mind. It's just about the worst time to be in an otherwise dangerous situation, and yet Russ loves his job."

Also loving their work are eight local directors who've entered short films in festival competition. One of them, Phil Brody, won a Silver Remy for Best Cinematography at Houston's 2003 WorldFest for A Blue Christmas, a comedy about a girl who takes a job at a video store over the holidays. "She's young and impressionable," Brody says. "And it's about the weirdness and the weird characters she encounters."

Both Sampliner and Brody admit that their Cleveland upbringings have affected their works. "I find myself writing with a Midwest setting," Brody says. "It's a great place. The coast -- or L.A. -- is so different. The Midwest has different values. It's a place where lessons can be learned. It has characters that are set in stone and have grown up there for years. They're not transplants.

"Growing up in Cleveland and living in the Midwest, those life lessons just seemed to be fuller [and] richer. [I'm] going back to my roots."

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