Local Short Film ‘Gala’ Reflects On Unrealized Ambition

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Pittsburgh-based author, comedy writer and screenwriter Mike Smith penned the short film The Gate Agent, which went on to premiere at the 2013 Pittsburgh Independent Film Festival. Now he’s ready to work on his follow-up project, and he needs some help to make it happen.

Smith recently launched a Kickstarter for Gala, a short film that centers around a lonely writer on the night of his high school reunion. Though so far unsuccessful at getting his big break, his ex-girlfriend Faye has become an up-and-coming actress in Los Angeles. After being apart for two years, the writer imagines what it will be like to face his former love, realizing that their aspirations for fame and popularity have left one of them behind. Ultimately a story about image and perception, Gala mixes dreams with reality to create a surreal film that centers on the boundaries of the imagination.

Smith will write and direct Gala, which will star Samantha Strelitz, whose credits include theater, film, and an upcoming pilot for Martin Scorsese’s untitled HBO series, and film/TV actor Amadeo Fusca, who will soon appear in the Netflix Marvel series, Daredevil.

Smith and his crew are trying to raise $4,500 to produce Gala. Contributions will be accepted at the film’s Kickstarter page through Jan. 7th.

TOETAG Celebrates ‘Redsin Tower’ DVD Release At Hollywood Theater

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On Dec. 20th, the Pittsburgh-based independent film studio TOETAG will join forces with Horror Realm and the Hollywood Theater to present the 5-Disc Special Edition DVD of Fred Vogel’s remastered 2006 film The Redsin Tower.

The horror work follows Kim (Bethany Newell) after she ends a six-year relationship with her obsessive boyfriend Mitch (Perry Tiberio). After a little encouragement, she agrees to get her mind off the break-up by hitting the biggest party of the year with her best friend. Mortified and enraged, Mitch sets out to find his beloved in hopes of winning her back. After the party gets busted, Kim and her friends head for the town’s most notorious urban legend, the Redsin Tower. Butchery and carnage will reign as Mitch seeks vengeance on Kim, her best friend, and anyone else that gets in his way.

The The Redsin Tower – Possession Edition DVD release party will take place at the Hollywood Theater at 6 p.m. The event begins with a meet and greet hosted by Vogel, followed by a screening of The Redsin Tower and the documentary Posession: The Making of The Redsin Tower. The event will also include various vendors, raffles, giveaways, and a post-screening Q&A session with the cast. Ticket packages are $10 to $50 and are available for purchase at the TOETAG website.

Night Gallery Unleashes Movie Monsters For Art Showcase

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Over the past few weeks, The Night Gallery, a non-profit art space for emerging artists and musicians, has presented Creature Feature, a series containing horror movie portraits by renowned artist and gallery co-owner Cheryl Holford. On Dec. 13th, the venue will host a one-night only exhibition of Holford’s most troubling and gruesome creations.

Co-presented by Horror Realm, the Creature Feature Showcase will highlight 30 paintings depicting notable characters from such classic films as An American Werewolf in London, Beetlejuice, Ms. 45, and many more. All works will be available for purchase for $60 each and come with a Certificate of Authenticity.

The Creature Feature Showcase begins at 6 p.m. The event will also feature edibles from chef and co-owner Billy Holford’s Bad Ass Breads and music by DJ Samurai. Attendees can enter a 50/50 raffle for a chance to win two weekend passes to Horror Realm’s 2015 Spring Break Massacre show (raffle proceeds benefit the Western PA Humane Society). Admission is free. BYOB welcome.

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[Interview] Pop Up Premieres Founder Njaimeh Njie Sees Black And Gold

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Njaimeh Njie (center) with founding members of Pop Up Premieres

Pittsburgh-based multimedia producer Njaimeh Njie has worked as a high school teacher, a travel expert, and, more recently, an advocate for diversity in film. This year, she created Pop Up Premieres as a way to celebrate the African-American community by showcasing an array of work by black filmmakers and content creators. The independent cinema venture has hosted screenings at Assemble and 720 Music, Clothing and Cafe, and collaborated with the Penn Avenue art gallery BOOM Concepts to present the three-part Black Gold Film Series last August.

On Dec. 11th, Pop Up Premieres returns to BOOM Concepts to host another edition of the Black Gold Film Series, one that highlights shorts from around the globe. Njie, a Pittsburgh native who earned her BA in film and media studies at Washington University in St Louis, spoke with Steel Cinema about the upcoming event, her taste in film, and the future of Pop Up Premieres.

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How did you come up with Pop Up Premieres?

I am slightly involved in film on a national level. I volunteer with an organization called AFFRM, the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement. And I realized that all these interesting, cool films were being made, but to my knowledge none of them were screening in Pittsburgh. I wanted to bring more independent black films into the city, and also wanting to provide a platform for people to have conversations and engage.

I look for films that are being made by, at this point, black people around the country. It’s not limited to African-Americans based here in Pittsburgh. But I’m working to cultivate a new type of community here in the city.

Do you screen exclusively at BOOM Concepts?

Originally, the plan was to do monthly screenings in rotating venues. I wanted the venue to play off of the theme or setting in the film to make it like an integrated viewing experience. But Darrell Kinsel approached me about bringing the series to BOOM in August and doing a kind of multi-week, multi-part series. And they were so cool and welcoming, and the venue felt warm, and it just felt right. So we ended up keeping it at BOOM.

How do you choose the work that you show? Do you seek it out, or do people come to you?

At first, I set it up like a board decision. A couple of friends and I would talk about some of the films that we saw and what we thought would be interesting to see in public. At the end of the August series, I started scouring the internet and thinking about some of the films I had seen that had moved me or made me think or made me laugh, and I started pulling from those films.

I think so often the term “black film” is associated with these comedies or big historical ensemble period pieces or action movies, and I just wanted to expand the idea that black films don’t have to fit into these few key genres. Personally, not even concerning the series, I like very intimate, slow-moving character dramas, quirky comedies, kind of mumblecore with a twist – films that really delve into the internal lives of characters, and not just surface stereotypes.

Is there a theme for the upcoming event?

The theme is short films. None of the pieces are over 20 minutes. We’re going to branch out a little bit and show a piece from England, and also one from Senegal in West Africa. Really the point is to highlight this moment that we’re in, with all of these police brutality cases and this shift that is happening right now. I do want to use film to address some of those issues. But the shorts also highlight a real diversity and richness in the black diaspora. So it’s not all police brutality, it’s not all one any type of thing. I just want to show some different perspectives that aren’t typically seen in films.

What do you think the African-American filmmaking community is like in Pittsburgh?

The arts community in general is really rich, but there are a lot of really phenomenal African-American artists in the region. I’m excited because they’ve come out to support Pop Up Premieres. But I’m also really excited because – and this is going off your question a little bit – it’s been something that has attracted many different types of people. We’ve had artists, we’ve had young professionals, we’ve had people from academia. So it’s really been a good mix, I think, of what the Pittsburgh community has to offer in general.

I’m not even necessarily looking to just have members of the black community come out. Anybody who’s interested in watching good content and engaging in some thought-provoking conversation, maybe seeing images that they haven’t seen before, is more than welcome. Come engage, maybe learn something new, gain a different perspective. And have a good time. These are fun events, they’re not totally high brow.

What has the response been like for Pop Up Premieres so far? Do you think it’s gaining a larger audience?

I was a little bit surprised, because it started out with what we considered strong numbers. We probably average between 20 and 30 people per screening, which, for something without an established reputation, I’m pretty happy with. I think the word has spread. I’ve been really pleased with the response so far.

Where would you like to see Pop Up Premieres go? What are your future plans for the series?

My big pipe dream is to eventually see it evolve into a small-scale film festival. Maybe two or three films over one weekend. One very concentrated period of time in which a variety of black films are being screened in the city.

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The Black and Gold Series: Short Film Edition begins at 7 p.m., with screenings starting at 7:30 p.m. Guests can enjoy refreshments provided by Wine & Words Pittsburgh. Admission is $3 suggested donation.

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Neo Trash Video Rewinds ‘Deadly Prey’ For Live Riff

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The improv group Neo Trash Video entertains B-movie fans by poking fun at out-of-print VHS copies of films from the 1960s up through the 1990s. On Dec. 11th, they’ll take on a famously bad action flick when the Beechview coffee house Brew On Broadway hosts the Deadly Prey Live Riff.

Released in 1987, Deadly Prey turns one of literature’s most classic stories, “The Most Dangerous Game,” into a roided-up Rambo ripoff for the ages. A group of sadistic mercenaries grab people off the streets and set them loose on the grounds of a secret camp, where they’re killed for sport. But when they unwittingly kidnap Vietnam vet Michael Danton (Ted Prior), they’ll have to pay for the mistake with their own lives.

The Deadly Prey Live Riff begins at 7:30 p.m. This is a 21 and over event – no little ones allowed. Guests are encouraged to BYOB. Admission is free.

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Best Pittsburgh Holiday Movie Events: 2014 Edition

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The holidays are here again, and Pittsburgh theaters are ready to entertain audiences with new and classic festive films and movie-related events. See below for screening schedule:

Jingle Bell Rocks! – Hollywood Theater

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Director Mitchell Kezin delves into the minds of some of the world’s most legendary Christmas music fanatics and hits the road to hang with his holiday heroes – including hip hop legend Joseph “Rev Run” Simmons of RUN-DMC, The Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne, filmmaker John Waters, bebopper Bob Dorough, LA DJ and musicologist Dr. Demento, and Calypso legend The Mighty Sparrow. With rollicking live performances, intimate interviews, and a kaleidoscope of touching and rare archive footage, the documentary is a cinematic sleigh-ride into the strange and sublime universe of alternative Christmas music. It’s also a mix-tape of twelve of the weirdest, wildest, most poignant Christmas songs never heard. Jingle Bell Rocks! will screen at the Hollywood Theater on Dec. 4th, Dec. 7th, Dec. 9th and Dec. 10th.

Midnight Radio Presents It’s A Wonderful Life – Bricolage

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Bricolage heads to Bedford Falls for a live performance of the classic 1946 film It’s A Wonderful Life. Join the Midnight Radio players as they recreate the story of a guardian angel who comes to Earth to help George Bailey, a family man at the end of his rope. The event includes interactive games and eggnog. The Midnight Radio presentation of It’s A Wonderful Life will run from Dec. 4th through Dec. 6th, Dec. 11th through Dec. 13th, and Dec. 18th through Dec. 20th. Tickets are $35, $20 for students, seniors, and groups, and are available for purchase at the Bricolage website.

It’s A Wonderful Life – Regent Square Theater

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Regent Square Theater will honor a yearly cinematic tradition when they offer free screenings of It’s A Wonderful Life. Guests are encouraged to bring a nonperishable or canned good to support the East End Cooperative Ministry’s food drive. Showtimes will run from Dec. 19th through Dec. 22nd.

Our First Christmas – Row House Cinema

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The Row House Cinema will celebrate their first Christmas with a week of classic holiday films. Selections include the Chevy Chase comedy Christmas Vacation, the Macaulay Culkin caper Home Alone, the action film Die Hard, and the Will Ferrell hit Elf. Showtimes run from Dec. 19th through Dec. 25th.

Best Limited Releases Coming To Pittsburgh – December 2014 Edition

The Babadook – Melwood Screening Room

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Six years after the violent death of her husband, Amelia (Essie Davis) is at a loss. She struggles to discipline Samuel (Noah Wiseman), a son she finds impossible to love. Samuel’s dreams are plagued by a monster he believes is coming to kill them both. When a disturbing storybook called ‘The Babadook’ turns up at their house, Samuel is convinced that the Babadook is the creature he’s been dreaming about. As his hallucinations spiral out of control, he becomes more unpredictable and violent. Amelia, genuinely frightened by her son’s behaviour, is forced to medicate him. The Babadook will screen at Melwood Screening Room from Dec. 5th through Dec. 8th.

The Tale of The Princess Kaguya - Row House Cinema

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Legendary Studio Ghibli cofounder Isao Takahata (Grave of the Fireflies, Pom Poko) revisits Japan’s most famous folktale in this gorgeous, hand-drawn masterwork, decades in the making. Found inside a shining stalk of bamboo by an old bamboo cutter (James Caan) and his wife (Mary Steenburgen), a tiny girl grows rapidly into an exquisite young lady (Chloë Grace Moretz). The mysterious young princess enthralls all who encounter her – but ultimately she must confront her fate, the punishment for her crime. The Tale of The Princess Kaguya will screen on Dec. 12th and 13th, and Dec. 15th through Dec. 17th at Row House Cinema. Part of the GKIDS Animation Festival.

Goodbye to All That - Hollywood Theater

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Otto Wall (Paul Schneider in an award-winning role) is your typical suburban husband and father, domesticated into a state of placidity. When his wife (Melanie Lynskey) pulls the rug out from underneath him and announces she is filing for divorce, Otto is thrust into the uncharted territory of single fatherhood and – even more frightening – getting back into the rather unpredictable dating pool. Goodbye to All That will screen from Dec. 26th through Dec. 28th at the Hollywood Theater.

National Gallery – Harris Theater

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Frederick Wiseman takes the audience behind the scenes of a London institution, on a journey to the heart of a museum inhabited by masterpieces of Western art from the Middle Ages to the 19th Century. This documentary is the portrait of a place, its way of working and relations with the world, its staff and public, and its paintings. In a perpetual and dizzying game of mirrors, film watches painting watches film. National Gallery opens at the Harris Theater on Dec. 26th.