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'Dancing with My Father' explores family ties, love

Manny Rock and his daughter, Marcia, unravel their complicated relationship in "Dancing with My Father," at the Cleveland International Film Festival.

By MARILYN H. KARFELD Staff Reporter

When Marcia Rock's marriage ended in divorce, she sought to understand the relationship's collapse the same way she'd explored women in Belfast and life on urban streets - through the lens of a camera.

This time, the award-winning documentary filmmaker turns the camera on herself, her ex-husband, and her father.

Growing up in Shaker Heights, Rock, 52, says the only time her father, an avid ballroom dancer, showed affection for her was when they were arm in arm moving to the music. Somehow, Rock thought, her inability to sustain love in her marriage must have its roots in her childhood.

"Dancing with My Father," an emotional look at the legacy a family bequeaths, sometimes unwittingly, to subsequent generations, screens at the Cleveland International Film Festival on March 18 and 20. The film is co-sponsored by the Jewish Community Center of Cleveland.

As Rock explores why her hard-working '50s father seemed cold and distant, continually finding fault with his children, she uncovers a family secret about her paternal grandmother, an immigrant from Eastern Europe.

Filming the documentary almost entirely by herself, Rock intersperses present-day footage of the Woodland Avenue neighborhood with archival clips and stills of early 20th century Jewish Cleveland from the Western Reserve Historical Society.

The filmmaker's quest to understand her family's past leads her to the tiny village in Slovakia where her grandmother grew up. The documentary includes images of turn-of-the-century Eastern European Jewish life that Rock found in museums and local archives.

Throughout the documentary, father and daughter dance, on wedding and party videos, and, later, alone in the family room, as they attempt to unravel their complicated relationship.

Highly personal, sometimes confessional, the documentary keeps few family secrets. It must have been difficult for Rock to ask some questions, and harder still for her father to answer them. But the family dysfunction that she illuminates is hardly unique. Ultimately, the filmmaker's honesty reveals some truths about marriage, parents and children, and love.

"Dancing with My Father" is presented Mon., March 18, at 2:30 p.m., and Wed., March 20, at 7 p.m. at Tower City Cinemas, in partnership with the Jewish Community Center of Cleveland. Following the March 20 screening, Marcia Rock will participate in a free film forum discussion with Cleveland playwright Faye Sholiton whose play, "The Interview," is on stage at the JCC's Halle Theatre through March 24. Family therapist Roberta Tonti will also join the discussion. For tickets, call 800-766-6048.