In 'The Fixers,' A Glimpse Of Cleveland That Goes Deeper Than The Guidebook
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
As you might imagine, Cleveland has been preparing for the Republican National Convention for months now. When we landed there last week, workers were busy hanging billboards, polishing floors and adding seating to waiting areas. Downtown, around the convention center, banners welcoming RNC delegates were already up, and businesses already had plenty of GOP T-shirts and patriotic elephant socks in stock.
It wasn't all shiny though. Huge window stickers offering Cleveland trivia and fun facts covered up the windows of abandoned buildings just steps away from hotels that will host national media and politicians. Many of the delegates and convention guests won't get to leave downtown and won't really have a chance to explore the real lives of people in Cleveland. That bothered Kate Sopko. She's a documentary filmmaker, and when she found out that the RNC was coming to her city, she embarked on a project to introduce visitors to some of the challenges of daily life there through a series of short films she calls "The Fixers."
When you say "The Fixers," what is that meant to connote?
KATE SOPKO: Yeah, so if you're a journalist coming into a foreign country or a place you're not familiar with and you need a specific story, a fixer, somebody who's really in the know, who can pretty much immediately introduce you to everyone you need to meet, take you to places you need to see, maybe even translate for you, drive you around - they're going to just sort of, like...
MARTIN: Get you in there real fast.
MARTIN: So "The Fixers" is what? You mean to - you want people to see the city that you want them to see. Is that it?
SOPKO: It was kind of a way to accept the fact that there would be a tremendous amount of attention through media and through political eyes looking at our city, and it could have been a very superficial experience. And so we used this idea of what a fixer is, and we asked, you know, who was operating culturally as a fixer in the city?
MARTIN: So what form does this project take?
SOPKO: Basically what we did is we found fixers, and we asked them what tour of the city they would give RNC delegates if they had the chance. And then we filmed them on these tours. And all of the tours take very different forms. In the end, we produced six different films, and they're short. And we've been releasing them since May 20 serially. And so each one has been accompanied by public screenings and dialogues, and it's become a pretty large conversation in the city of Cleveland.
MARTIN: Well, what are some of the other stories? Tell me, what are some of the other stories...
MARTIN: ...That people wanted to talk about in "The Fixers" films.
SOPKO: So one of them, for instance, was about public transit in the city of Cleveland. And transit's a really complicated thing because you have some lines that are getting a huge amount of investment and some - and then right around it, you're getting a tremendous amount of service cuts and then - like not that long ago there were even more service cuts and then fare increases. And so services just aren't good. Like, if you have a job that's in the middle of the night, you are not going to be able to get home.
MARTIN: How do you feel about how the project turned out?
SOPKO: You know, it's been really heartening to see the amount of response to the stories. I think it's striking a chord. It seems like people want to be more deeply engaged than they were feeling in this process, and so that's been really cool to see.
MARTIN: We thought the idea of "The Fixers" was a pretty good way to expand our view of what's going on in Cleveland so we went to our own fixer, Jimi Izrael. Fans of the Barbershop will remember Jimi as a regular in that segment. We called him up and asked him, if you could take the RNC delegates anywhere in Cleveland, where would you go?
So where are we?
JIMI IZRAEL: We're in Coventry Village in Cleveland Heights. This is emblematic of a city that took what they were given - they took lemons and made lemonade. It's a difficult neighborhood because you have different people from different social stratas, different cultures, trying to get along, but this is the place where they can all come together. There's eateries. There's bookstores. There's a little bit of everything here.
IZRAEL: So this is your one-stop shop.
MARTIN: All right.
IZRAEL: So welcome to Cleveland Heights. Welcome to Coventry Village. Let's go.
MARTIN: All right, let's check it out. OK.
IZRAEL: Here's a - Cleveland - a shop dedicated to Cleveland called In The 216, and you can get all your Cleveland needs here, whatever...
IZRAEL: ...Those could possibly be.
MARTIN: You could get your Cleveland needs taken care of...
IZRAEL: T-shirts and toothbrushes and everything.
MARTIN: I think we might need to make a stop. OK.
IZRAEL: I don't see why not.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Hi, how are you?
MARTIN: (Laughter) Hi.
We walked over to a little shop full of Cleveland T-shirts, woodblock prints of the city skyline, locally-made jewelry and trinkets - everything made by local artists and infused with Ohio pride. It's called In The 216 for the area code, of course, and co-owner Jenny Goe was in there wearing one of those shirts. She agreed with Jimi about her neighborhood's main attraction.
JENNY GOE: I mean, we've got everybody from all walks of life that are coming in here. We've got - right down the street on Coventry, you've got million-dollar houses, and then we have, you know, people that are scraping stuff together to pay rent across Mayfield. So - and this is all in walking distance.
MARTIN: She was still riding high from the Cavs victory last month, and she hopes the RNC gives her city another chance to shine.
GOE: We're hoping that, you know, everybody sees how - what a beautiful town we have. We're all hardworking people here, which is - everybody knows that, I think, already, but we're very hardworking, blue-collar. It's a blue-collar town. We're very proud of it. So I think we just want everybody to see what we can accomplish here.
MARTIN: Back on the street.
OK, where to next?
IZRAEL: So this next place, Record Revolution - this place is legendary. Like all the rock bands used to go to this - they used to stop at this place back when this was a bigger record store.
IZRAEL: But now it's a smaller record store because people aren't buying records like that anymore.
MARTIN: Right. OK.
IZRAEL: Let's see who's in here.
MARTIN: I see Michael Jackson on the wall. I see Grace Jones. I see...
IZRAEL: That's Rob Love. He owns the spot.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Hi.
MARTIN: I ask Love how he feels about hosting the RNC.
ROB LOVE: Well, you know what? I think that any time there's some attention for the city it can be a positive thing. I hope that, you know, that people don't just stay downtown and stay in their respective hotel rooms or houses that they rented or whatever.
MARTIN: Yeah. Is there any particular message you would want them to receive from getting here? We asked Jimi, who's from here obviously...
LOVE: Oh, well, obviously. Yeah.
MARTIN: ...To show us...
LOVE: I've known him...
MARTIN: ...You know, his city.
LOVE: ...For a long time.
MARTIN: Oh yeah?
LOVE: We go way back.
MARTIN: And to say what - take us to your part of town. And so he brought us here. So I'm asking people...
LOVE: This is a great place, yes.
MARTIN: ...What - is there some message you think people would get from coming here?
LOVE: Cleveland is not just one thing. Cleveland is everything, actually.
MARTIN: Where to next? Well, we're with Jimi Izrael, so why not the barbershop?
IZRAEL: This is one of my favorite Cleveland barbershops because you go in - you make an appointment. You go in. You get your hair cut. You're done.
MARTIN: OK. Shall we go?
IZRAEL: Yeah. Here we go.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Oh, hi.
MARTIN: OK. I got to say this is not exactly what I expected from Jimi's barbershop. It had a very hipster vibe with New Yorker magazines on the table. And the owner, Chuck Falk, focused on trimming hair instead of chatting up customers. Still, I was able to persuade him to multitask and talk about owning a business like this here.
CHUCK FALK: It's a great time to be in Cleveland. Business is a lot different than, you know, even five years ago. You know, like, you go to New York. You go to Chicago. You go to L.A. And you come home, and you're like, man, it'd be cool if Cleveland had this or Cleveland did this. I want to make a - that right feeling, you know. You're in the - you're in a big city. You're getting a good haircut. You're putting a suit on. You're feeling good about walking down a street, you know, and that's - I think is important. So - and that so much in Cleveland didn't really happen all that long ago, you know.
MARTIN: Yeah. People still excited about the Cavs?
FALK: Oh, every day people are in here. That's all they want to talk about.
MARTIN: And that's probably what they'll want to talk about this coming week, along with maybe some politics.
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