As part of the 45th Cleveland International Film Festival’s Local Heroes Shorts Program 2, Cleveland Heights resident Jessy Leigh’s 15-minute short film “Hobby” focuses on the absurd, but very real world of competitive hobby horse racing, an organized sport in Finland.
“Hobby” marks Leigh’s third time showcasing a film at CIFF, following her 11-minute short “Julie of the Jury” which premiered in 2019 and focused on a woman waiting with a pool of jurors. While, “Julie of the Jury” also drew from real-life, tangible experiences, Leigh told the Cleveland Jewish News April 1 “Hobby” was meant to be a bit more absurdist.
“I had been listening to a morning show while driving to work, and they were talking about hobby horse racing and they couldn’t believe it was a real thing either,” said Leigh, 32, who is a member of Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple in Beachwood. “I had to look it up immediately. The minute I saw everything, I thought it would be a funny centerpiece for a movie because it is already so absurd, and it gives you a wide net of things to pull from.”
The short mockumentary-style comedy film centers on a few characters as they prepare for an upcoming competition and stars Heidi Azaro, Livy Douglas, Eric Wloszek, Molly McGinnis and Morgan Sowell. Leigh, who grew up in South Euclid and graduated from Brush High School in Lyndhurst in 2006, said the story made the most sense as a short, approaching it as a proof of concept.
“The idea was starting with shooting a proof of concept,” she said. “We wanted to follow a bunch of different characters in the feature, so we decided to just follow one set of characters and simplifying the story for the proof of concept. I wasn’t sure at first if we were going to be able to use it as a short, but when we filmed it and cut it together, I felt like it could work as a short.”
Noting the story leaves you on a bit of a cliffhanger, Leigh said it focuses on relationships and how the hobby horse competition factors into that lens. She said the short will also be paired with a pitch deck, which is an outline of everything she would like to do with the characters and story should it be picked up as a feature project.
With a history of acting before becoming a director, Leigh said no prior experience could have prepared her for how different it is to bring a movie from concept to festival during a pandemic.
“I knew it was going to be different in general because seeing something in-person and getting to see a reaction in-person makes you realize what works and what doesn’t, and this is especially true for comedies,” she said. “Sometimes, you can feel super confident in something and you’re still not sure if other people are going to get it. So, since it’s all online, the movie-going experience is so different.”
Leigh said she is also excited about the prospect of introducing this unfamiliar and foreign concept to CIFF viewers.
“A lot of people have never even heard of hobby horses, or at least in this way,” she said. “They probably don’t even think this is a real thing. So, potentially introducing something really silly to a bunch of people feels cool as well.”
Leigh said she hopes the movie is well-received and leads to more projects being green lit. With a couple of other films in the works and her recent joining of Launchpad Productions, a Northeast Ohio-based production company, she said she wants to be able to continue bringing unique stories from idea to screen.
“I just hope to continue to write and direct and bring other projects to fruition that I believe in and am passionate about,” she said. “In general, I love comedy because it’s a little escape from everything in the world. Laughing is one of my favorite things to do. If I can make people laugh with the work I put out there, then I am pretty happy.”