Cleveland Plain Dealer


[CLEVELAND] In front of a cozy art theater, a pair of community activists in fashionably casual '70s dress handed out fliers, urging passers-by to boycott a 24-hour neighborhood deli. Across the street, filmmaker Laura Paglin of Cleveland Heights squinted into the camera as a red Thunderbird whizzed by. Several blocks away, a half-dozen bikers revved up their motorcycles.

On the third day of on-location shooting for "Nightowls of Coventry," an independent film, crew members crowded a commercial strip on East 185th St. in Cleveland and Euclid. A dark comedy set in 1973 - an era of urban flight and suburban boom - the film portrays the lives of a motley group of lost souls. They gather every day and form a dysfunctional family at a financially struggling Jewish eatery called Marv's Deli. "The point is that communities are important, and when they get destroyed, neighborhoods lose their character," Paglin, 34, said. From hippies, bikers, political radicals to neighborhood watch advocates, a range of customers are served at Marv's Deli, loosely based on the former Irv's Deli on Coventry Rd. in Cleveland Heights. The deli closed in 1989.

Paglin, who first started filming with a wind-up camera as a high school student in Portland, Ore., moved to Cleveland Heights in 1985 for graduate studies at the Cleveland Institute of Music. "I was struck by the uniqueness of the neighborhood and the assortment of characters hanging out on the street," she said. So Paglin began to capture those people on camera through numerous interviews, which she referenced in writing the script for "Nightowls of Coventry," her first movie. The script was a finalist at last year's Sundance Screenwriters Lab Competition.

For the next month, the production will be based at the old Hillside Dairy building at Noble and Mayfield roads in Cleveland Heights and will be shooting at a half-dozen locations in the area. The film has 75 cast and crew members from all over the country and dozens of extras from Greater Cleveland. The film is being funded through grants from the Ohio Arts Council, Ohio Humanities Council and the George Gund Foundation, and donations from local businesses.

"I love it. You never imagine you'd be in something like this. Now we're actors," said Tim Johns, a steelworker from South Lorain who was approached by a crew member while buying oil for his 1972 Harley Davidson. Joe Zovko, 20, who graduated from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh last week, is one of about 10 interns hired through the Ohio Independent Film Festival's internship program. As he carried set equipment from location to location, Zovko explained how he hoped the experience working as a production assistant on the movie would give him a head start for a career in filmmaking. "The only thing I wanted to do since I was 6 years old was to work" in the photography department of a movie crew, Zovko said. "I want to direct on my own. That would be my dream."