A Film by Roger and Gerald Sindell


Independent movie filmed by Shaker Heights brothers in 1967 to be screened this weekend

Feb 17, 2011

Thomas Jewell, Sun News By Thomas Jewell, Sun News


Long before the Sundance Film Festival came to be, a couple of brothers from Shaker Heights set about making an independent feature-length movie in Cleveland, Double-Stop, chronicling a tumultuous era.

“It was made in a day when very few people were making films outside of Hollywood — especially in 35mm,” said John Ewing, co-founder and director of the Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque, where on Feb. 20, the movie will get its first local screening in more than 40 years.

The film’s director and co-screenplay writer, Gerald Sindell, speaking from his home in Tiberon, Calif., concurred with Ewing’s historical perspective on the pioneering “indie” movie, made in 1967 and released the following year.

“At the time, it was completely insane — that’s how rare it was,” Sindell mused. “It was almost delusional, something that you do when you’re 23 without thinking about it too much.”

Gerald Sindell wrote the screeplay with his older brother, Roger, who graduated from Shaker Heights High in 1960 and was 25 at the time. Roger signed on as “producer,” and together they raised $107,000 from 57 investors and brought out a Hollywood crew to make the movie on location.

Those locations included many shots of University Circle, including Severance Hall, along the lakefront in Bratenahl, and along the Chagrin River, just south of Gates Mills.

“The crew stayed at the Alcazar Hotel (in Cleveland Heights),” Sindell recalled. “The single biggest payroll expense was the Cleveland Orchestra and Chorus.”

The title ‘Double-Stop’ derives in part from the musical term for playing over two strings at once. The plot deals with the racial tension of the era, especially the introduction of school busing in Cleveland.

“It was shot after the riots in Cleveland, and there was some factual basis involving a woman in the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus who really was murdered,” Sindell said. “We wanted to write about the issues of the times and whole issue of race relations in Cleveland.”

In 1969, Double-Stop won the Atlanta Film Festival’s Silver Phoenix award for “World’s Best Feature Motion Picture.” It was also shown at the Cannes Film Festival, as part of the New Directors series.

“But the distributor didn’t do a lot to promote the movie, and we reached the point after making it where we were broke and couldn’t go on,” Sindell recalled. “For years, we let it languish.”

Enter Ewing, who has never seen the film, but recalled a reference to it in a 1985 Plain Dealer Sunday Magazine article celebrating local filmmaking. He kept the article, in a drawer, for years.

“It intrigued me because it was largely set and shot in University Circle,” Ewing said, noting that “cursory” and pre-Internet attempts to track the film down were unsuccessful.

Then, for another profile article that ran in October, Ewing was asked, “What ’shot-in-Cleveland’ movie would you most like to show at Cinematheque?”

From there, it all started to come together. On Feb. 14, Ewing was meeting up with the film’s original sound man, Tom Peterson, who had agreed to help underwrite a digital transfer of the film to discuss the screening.

Sindell said a lot of the color had faded from the original prints. He loves the remastered version.

“The entire picture was shot in the fall, and it has a distinctly autumn feel,” Sindell said, who likens his movie more to a European art film, along the lines of Fellini, or Sindell’s personal favorite, Truffaut.

As for local color, Sindell added he and Roger received assistance from another pair of brothers, Halle Brothers Co., who gave them the run of their department stores for wardrobe and props.

“I can’t wait to see the reaction, because it captures the time,” Sindell said, adding one of the themes deals with the question of how an artist should live — “should he become isolated or engaged in the social issues of the day?”

Also attending will be two of the film’s five lead actors, both of whom still live in northeast Ohio: Bill Kurtz, who was 9 when the film was made, and Patti Fairchild, the mother of local TV personality Stefani Schaefer.

Roger Sindell, who now lives in Washington, D.C., was trying to make it but might have to cancel, according to his brother, who went on to direct three other features and produce some tracks for the O’Jays in Peterson’s Motion Picture Sound Studios.

Gerald Sindell is now an author, publisher, and business consultant based near San Francisco. He recently created a website for the movie containing background information, reviews and images.

Double-Stop will be shown at 2:30 p.m. Feb. 20 in the Aitken Auditorium of the Cleveland Institute of Art, 11141 East Blvd., in University Circle. Tickets (at the door only) are $12; Cinematheque members and CIA students and staff, $8.

There will be free parking for filmgoers in the adjacent CIA lot, located off of East Boulevard. For more information, contact John Ewing or Tim Harry at (216) 421-7450, or send an email to cinema@cia.edu or go to the Cinematheque website.

A story about the Cleveland Institute Screening on itsjustmovies.com:

Cleveland Movie to Get First Local Showing in 40 Years

A story in Cleveland Magazine, February 2011:

Issue Date: February 2011

Take Two

An independent feature film made in the city 44 years ago gets a second life with a showing at the Cleveland Cinematheque.
Erick Trickey

In fall 1967, Gerald Sindell and his film crew stood on Severance Hall’s stage, pointing their cameras at the Cleveland Orchestra.

“When the orchestra played for the first time, everyone froze in their tracks,” he recalls. “It was the most gorgeous thing anyone had ever heard.” Sindell was 23 then, but the memory is still fresh. So is the moment, captured on film.

On Feb. 20, the Cleveland Cinematheque will screen Double-Stop, the independent feature film Sindell and his brother Ivan shot 44 years ago in Greater Cleveland, at locations from Bratenahl and the Chagrin River valley to Shaker Square and the Fine Arts Garden. The Sindell brothers will attend the screening and take questions, along with William Kurtz, who acted in the film at age 9, and supporting actress Patti Fairchild, mother of Fox 8 newscaster Stefani Schaefer.

Double-Stop “had a very consistent look,” Sindell says, “a real evocation of Cleveland in the autumn.” Wardrobe, set decoration and locations were all drawn from fall colors.

The plot, too, captures Cleveland in the late ’60s: A Cleveland Orchestra cellist and his wife debate whether to let their young son be bussed to an inner-city school.

“The story of Double-Stop drew on the desire I had to bring the city together, integrate it, end racism and bring about social justice,” Sindell says. Yet that idealism, expressed by the cellist’s wife, clashes with the harsh urban realities the cellist discovers when he follows his son’s bus to school.

Double-Stop was made for about $150,000 in 1967 dollars, the equivalent of $1 million today, thanks to 57 investors, most of them from Cleveland. The film screened at the 1968 Cannes Film Festival and won the award for best feature film at the Atlanta Film Festival. The Plain Dealer called it an “exciting mélange of entertainment [and] social message,” while the Los Angeles Times warned of its “maddening mannerisms.”

Sindell, now a writer and consultant in California, sees the film as a youthful learning experience. “The story was probably a little too freighted, hard to pull off on a masterful level,” he says. On the other hand, he says, “We were trying to make a film that was beautiful, and we succeeded.”