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There are plenty of movies about quirky New Zealand pals, Vietnamese orphans, and angry lesbians at the 31st-annual Cleveland International Film Festival. But only Hero Tomorrow centers on a pot-smoking comic-book artist who brings his creation to life. Filmmaker Ted Sikora put the movie together using local actors and locations, relying on the city itself as inspiration. “I know this area,” says the Cleveland native.

Basically, Sikora and co-screenwriter Milo Miller wrote about their lives. Even if dreadlocked protagonist David’s aspirations are a bit lower than the relatively hair-free Sikora’s, the first-time feature director admits there are similarities. David mows lawns for a living because his comics don’t sell; Sikora’s comic-book career never really took off either, so he turned to film. “I like the idea of finishing something, and it’s a timeless piece you’ll always have,” he says.

In Hero Tomorrow (which screens twice this weekend), David becomes a masked avenger called Apama. Cleveland landmarks like the Great Lakes Brewing Company and City Buddha make cameos. “It started as Taxi Driver-meets-Spider-Man,” says Sikora. “But it evolved during shooting as we took advantages of opportunities.” It’s part-comedy, part-action, and part-superhero movie. But more than anything, Hero Tomorrow represents the indie aesthetic at work. “We did it on evenings and weekends,” says Sikora. “We needed a long commitment from our cast.”

While Sikora and his crew didn’t have to sell any of their precious body fluids to make the movie, “Our credit cards are out of hand,” he laughs. Sikora estimates that he spent more than four years and $80,000 on the film. It was a hit at last year’s Comic-Con in San Diego; Sikora plans to shop it around for distribution. “This subject is near and dear to my heart,” he says. Hero Tomorrow screens at midnight tonight and at 11:45 a.m. Sunday.
March 16-25

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