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Put It in Park 

Dan Cleveland rocks.
  • Dan Cleveland rocks.
Big hair, faux flames, and the ambiance of a third-rate nightclub full of empty seats weren't what Minneapolis filmmaker Rolf Belgum was really going for in his heavy metal documentary. He was trying to get the hippopotamus walking through the water.

A longtime fan of nature films, the director of Driver 23 says that when he was filming his friend Dan Cleveland — a driver for a courier service by day, a hard rocker in the band Dark Horse by night — he preferred to let the emotion develop over time (three and a half years and five edits, to be exact) and grow organically.

"If you're sitting back watching a beaver building a dam, that's enjoyable enough to do," says Belgum. "You don't need to go into further analysis."

It's an approach that serves his subject well: Dan Cleveland is an industrious soul with enough personality to fill — and often clear — a room, or in this case, his basement studio, a fortress handmade from milk crates, pulleys, and scrap wood.

Limitations and aspirations mix wildly in Cleveland's universe. In a sense, he's Horatio Alger, pulling himself up by his silver lamé bootstraps (actually, street shoes duct-taped silver): "[People] see this dead end, and it's not really a dead end — it just looks like one," he muses at one point. But rather than an opening gig for Aerosmith, the proverbial light at the end of Cleveland's tunnel probably just leads to another necessary diversion.

"You find things to worry about when you've got an overactive brain," says Cleveland, whose doctor has him on the maximum recommended dosage for Prozac and half the max for Zoloft.

Rather than pine for what couldn't have been, Cleveland lives — and wrings his hands — in the moment. Though he occasionally entertains a far-off dream or two, he isn't reined in by romantic notions — unlike his father, who quit playing music when he realized he wasn't good enough to join a professional big band.

"I'm trying to form a band, where you're trying to join a big band that already exists," Cleveland explains to his dad. "I don't need to make money. I just work my day job."

While Cleveland obviously has had a hard row to hoe — the mess of wires in his studio alluding to his own inner workings — Belgum doesn't detail his friend's malady.

"Naming it would be the needle in the back of the butterfly," Belgum says, "and the goal is to catch Dan in flight." — Laura Putre

Driver 23 screens Thursday at 9 p.m. and Saturday at 10 p.m. at the Cleveland Cinematheque, 11141 East Boulevard. Admission is $6; call 216-421-7450.

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