Cleveland Plain Dealer


Sometimes, success hurts. Tickets for tonight's Cleveland International Film Festival premiere of "Nightowls of Coventry" were in such demand that the movie's writer-director Laura Paglin had to scramble to get standby tickets for herself, her cast and crew. The homegrown film about the Cleveland Heights neighborhood's hippie era screens at 5 tonight as part of the film festival's "Local Heroes" spotlight. The film festival runs through March 30 at Tower City Cinemas in Cleveland. "I have to wait in line for my own film," said Paglin. As standby ticketholders, Paglin and her entourage won't know whether they have a seat until 10 minutes before the film starts.

"Nightowls" was not only created by a Clevelander and filmed here, it's also set in a well-known landmark. The film celebrates Irv's Deli, Coventry's counterculture epicenter for years. It's disguised as Marv's in the film, but anyone who ever ate at Irv's will recognize the grimy walls, eclectic mix of customers and deli sandwiches. Irv's closed in 1989.

Student's discovery
Paglin, 37, grew up in Portland, Ore., and was amazed to discover Coventry while a graduate student at the Cleveland Institute of Music during the 1980s. At first, she wanted to make a documentary about Coventry, but the research seemed daunting. She decided to make a feature instead. But the ensemble cast of characters and slice-of-life structure made writing the script slow going. "This took years and years, and I'm still not satisfied with the script," Paglin said. "It's the most difficult thing I've ever done." She decided to cast outside of Ohio but had to convince skeptical New York actors that she was legit. The 53 cast members and 75 crew members included about 30 from out of state. Production designer Jim Gelarden built a restaurant set in the old Hillside Dairy Building in Cleveland Heights, where the monthlong shoot took place in 2000. "People generally don't think it's a set. There's nothing working in that kitchen," she said. The film was completed for less than $1 million, raised mostly from investors, Paglin said. The production included an intern-training program organized by Independent Pictures. Paglin hopes that "Nightowls" takes flight with the help of a distribution deal, "but I know the realities of the marketplace," she said. She predicts that the festival audience will react to the film's humor and its message about the importance of community, "warts and all. It's something we're losing."