To say Annika Sheaff has been busy since maternity leave would be quite the understatement.

Twelve weeks ago she became the proud mother of August Sheaff Rinderknecht — 6 lbs, 9 oz, 21” long and cute as a button with a full head of hair. She also recently returned to GroundWorks after a six-month leave (“I’ve missed everyone so much! It will be nice to see everyone on a daily basis!”). And she will debut a series of short films this weekend from her 2016 Creative Workforce Fellowship.

We caught up with Annika to find out more about her fellowship from the Community Partnership for Arts & Culture (CPAC) and the upcoming premiere which will take place January 22 from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Cedar Lee Theatre in Cleveland Heights.

Congratulations on the completion of your CPAC fellowship! Tell us what prompted you to pursue the opportunity?

“Cuyahoga County is very special. I’ve never heard of another place that gives out really big awards to individual artists. When I moved here in 2012, I was interested in learning who gets these awards and what are they doing. To be eligible, you have to have lived in the county for two years and worked as an artist. In 2016, they opened up the grant to all categories, dance drama music visual arts etc… for the first time all genres could apply. CPAC gave out 40 grants in 2016. During the application process I told myself, ‘I probably won’t win but it’s worth a shot.’”

What did you write in your application?

“I wrote about how Cleveland is a ripe city in terms of interesting locations I could create films in, and how our city also needs good publicity. I felt passionate about highlighting Cleveland as a really cool place. I was also interested in how one can showcase dance on film in a way you can’t on stage.”

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How did you find out you had won?

“They called to say I had advanced to the second round. I kept telling myself, ‘Don’t get excited.’ I was at the Akron Public Library performing with GroundWorks and CPAC called me on my break to tell me that I won. I started crying. I was super honored to have won the grant and felt overwhelmed that they believed in me. I felt so validated by my community. It was the first time I was awarded any sort any sort of monetary arts prize (I was awarded $15,000).”

Tell us about your experience this past year.

“It was a really fun year for me. It was a big challenge and I learned a lot and grew as an artist.”

What specifically did you learn about yourself? How did you grow?

“I learned you can’t do everything alone. I went into it thinking I’m going to do all of it – the choreography, filming, editing, managing. Basically, in May I got shingles. That was the result of it. I know now to get as much help as possible.”

What draws you to film, as an art form?

“I’ve always been interested in film. I love watching movies. It’s the only thing that allows me to relax and escape. The past couple of years, any time I’ve been commissioned to create choreography, I’ve included a film element. I had a small collection of dance films that I had made over the year… on my iPhone, nothing major. They were interesting but not highly produced. I’ve always had a passion for filmmaking, but never had a budget.”

What themes are you exploring in your series of short films?

“I made seven short films in total. One day one we went out to Squires Castle in Willoughby Hills. The castle itself is what inspired me to make a short film about a birthday party. The idea was a crazy birthday party. The intent was to be a super fun, lightweight, comedic piece.


The next day we shot at an abandoned loft downtown. The theme was more abstract but it was about building a sense of community. For another shoot, we were in my living room. It followed a ‘Ladies Who Lunch’ storyline, where I am loosely questioning the women who have lunch at noon at fancy places… What do they do with their lives?

On day four, Jake Hochendoner and I worked on three more films. Two made it into the final cut. Just Dandy is a short funny one about a woman cutting dandelions on her lawn. She is crazy about having a perfect lawn, as many people in the burbs are. The other film is about two guys trying out for the cheerleading team; this is a comedy sketch about drag cheerleading.”


What can we expect at the January 22 premiere at the Cedar Lee Theatre?

“I am collaborating with Jake Hochendoner and Simon Barros – they both won grants as well – we rented the theater together and we all have 15 to 20 minutes to share. Their work is more serious than mine, but altogether I think we can pool together a pretty interesting audience. We will each show our work and have a Q&A afterwards.”

Don’t miss the premiere of Annika’s short films on Sunday, January 22 from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Cedar Lee Theatre, 2163 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights.