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Sports flicks open and close this year's film fest

It's just coincidence that the 35th Cleveland International Film Festival opens and closes with sports dramas based on true stories. The fest kicks off on Thursday with Hamill, about a deaf wrestler from the small-town of Loveland, Ohio. It winds down 10 days later with Soul Surfer, another movie about an athlete overcoming adversity — in this case, it's about a girl who lost an arm in a shark attack.

"Two of the best movies this year just happen to be like that," says artistic director Bill Guentzler, who was responsible for sifting through the 1,700 movies to get to the 285 features and shorts that will screen over the next week and a half at Tower City Cinemas.

Like recent years, many documentaries fill the schedule. There are docs about honor killings (In the Name of the Family), Danish soldiers in Afghanistan (Armadillo), a totally chill orangutan (Nénette), and Cleveland's Slovenian polka scene (Polka! The Movie). "There are also a lot of technology-based films this year," says Guentzler. "Everything from the usual Facebook and Twitter to how smart computers are getting."

It isn't easy sorting through all the movies, says Guentzler, who, among other things, scoured nine film festivals across the country over the past year to find the best indie flicks. After nine years of programming the fest, he has a pretty good idea what he wants. "I'm looking for a good mix," he says. "Sometimes it is like, 'Oh, this is another one ...' But that's a good thing, because when it really impacts me, I know it's a special film."

Here are six Guentzler says you shouldn't miss:

Bibliotheque Pascal: "Anyone who knows me knows that I like the weird and quirky films," says Guentzler. "This is my favorite. It's unlike any film that you can possibly ever imagine. It's about a woman who tries to get her child back from social services. By telling her story, you're sent into her journey, which is very strange."

Copacabana: "Isabelle Huppert, one of the best French actresses, plays a quirky and weird mother who tries to prove to her daughter that she can be an adult."

Home by Christmas: "It's from New Zealand, and it's about the director's father's life. It's based on a bunch of interviews she had with him. It's a mix of interviews and a narrative of people acting out his story. It's a love story. It's really amazing."

Mamma Gógó: "It's the story of a filmmaker who makes a film about elderly people that's a bust. While he's dealing with his career, his mother is slowly succumbing to Alzheimer's disease."

Self Made: "Documentary about a director who puts out an ad in a newspaper that says, 'Would you like to be an actor?' She picks seven people, teaches them method acting, and has them act out the worst memories of their life."

With Love, From the Age of Reason: "It's the story of a woman who's kind of heartless. All she's cared about is her career. On her 40th birthday, she starts getting letters that she wrote to herself when she was young. It changes her life. It's going to be a huge crowd pleaser."

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