Best Limited Releases Coming To Pittsburgh: December 2016 Edition

The Handmaiden – Regent Square Theater

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Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, Lady Vengeance, Stoker) presents a gripping and sensual tale of two women – a young Japanese Lady living on a secluded estate, and a Korean woman who is hired to serve as her new handmaiden, but is secretly plotting with a conman to defraud her of a large inheritance. Inspired by the novel Fingersmith by British author Sarah Waters, The Handmaiden borrows the most dynamic elements of its source material and combines it with Chan-wook’s singular vision to create an unforgettable viewing experience. The Handmaiden opens on December 9 at Regent Square Theater.

Tower – Harris Theater

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On August 1st, 1966, a sniper rode the elevator to the top floor of the University of Texas Tower and opened fire, holding the campus hostage for 96 minutes. When the gunshots were finally silenced, the toll included 16 dead, three dozen wounded, and a shaken nation left trying to understand. Combining archival footage with rotoscopic animation in a dynamic, never-before-seen way, Tower reveals the action-packed untold stories of the witnesses, heroes and survivors of America’s first mass school shooting, when the worst in one man brought out the best in so many others. Tower opens on December 9 at the Harris Theater.

[Interview] Anna Biller Discusses ‘The Love Witch’

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Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories

Filmmaker Anna Biller has created quite the buzz with her second feature The Love Witch, a horror-thriller about magic, madness, and murder. Described as a “tribute to 1960s Technicolor thrillers” that “explores female fantasy and the repercussions of pathological narcissism,” the film follows Elaine (Samantha Robinson), a modern-day witch who uses spells and potions to get men to fall in love with her. The work has garnered critical praise for its sumptuous throwback style and bold take on feminism, as well as for Robinson’s strong breakout performance.

It’s also been touted as a treat for cinema buffs that recalls the style of French filmmaker Jacques Demy, 1960s sexploitation films, and Hammer horror.

As The Love Witch prepares to make its Pittsburgh premiere at the Hollywood Theater, Biller talked to Steel Cinema about the film’s personal significance, her extremely varied cinema diet, and having total creative control.


What inspired you to make The Love Witch?

It was a lot of things. I always like to make films about interior female experience, and I thought the figure of the witch was a good vehicle for that since the witch is a figure of so much projection and hysteria. I also was going through a rough period in my personal life, and I wanted to put that feeling of personal heartbreak on the screen. I joke that the movie is an autobiography, but people who know me well know that that’s really not that much of a joke! It’s a film that combines many aspects of my personal life, and it’s very coded.

You said in an interview that you’re influenced by Pre-Code Hollywood films and exploitation films of the 1960s and 70s. What about their style and themes resonate with you?

Well, I don’t think that I said I was interested in exploitation films; that’s what everyone else says. I did look at one exploitation film in preparation for the film – Mantis in Lace – but that film deals with similar themes as The Love Witch and was shot by the great László Kovács. I do like some of the color of giallo films, but I wasn’t watching giallo films to prepare for this movie — I was watching Hollywood Technicolor films, especially [Alfred] Hitchcock.

The themes that interest me most are from Pre-Code and noir films, because they’re often about women getting by in a man’s world. I’m not interested in misogynistic films, even when they’re visually arresting. My brain just sort of shuts down when women are being grossly objectified and especially when they’re being senselessly murdered. So I’m not into Beyond the Valley of the Dolls for instance, which is a film people often insist I was influenced by. I’m much more influenced by a film like [Carl Theodor] Dreyer’s Gertrud, which has the same theme my film has of a woman being disappointed with the men in her life who fail to love her properly, or a film like John Brahm’s The Locket, which is about discovering the roots of a woman’s psychopathology.

Are there other films or filmmakers you’re influenced by?

My first loves in cinema were the old Hollywood musicals, noir films, Pre-Code films, dramas, and screwball comedies. Later I came to appreciate foreign cinema, especially European and Japanese cinema. My parents were cinephiles, so as a child I was taken to films in the theater such as Murder in the Cathedral or The Seven Samurai or Satyricon, as well as nitrate prints of films such as Dames and Gold Diggers of 1933. All of that had a huge influence on my later tastes.

How do you maintain your own style while still paying homage to a certain era of filmmaking?

What I would say is that using classic cinematography and design techniques is my style. I was bottle-fed on classic films and they’ve always been part of my DNA. I don’t set out to create a retro look actually, or to pay homage to the past. I’m always just trying to learn my craft better, and I learn it from the films I love best, which are mostly from a few decades ago.

You occupy a lot of roles in your films, including directing, producing, writing, editing, and scoring, right down to costuming. What do you find the most challenging?

I think composing music is the most challenging since I have the least experience in it. I sometimes wish I had more than one life so I could spend 100 percent of one of my lives just studying music. But design is always the most difficult in terms of just how insanely time consuming it is. I would say that on any given film, I spend 90 percent of the time designing and making things, and 10 percent on everything else. The most difficult thing technically is the writing.

It’s probably no coincidence that, given our current political and social climate, empowered or resilient female characters are becoming more prominent in film right now. Where do you think The Love Witch fits in this new wave?

Just within the past week, since the election, The Love Witch has suddenly become more relevant. I used to get reactions from people where they’d think gender was an irrelevant thing to talk about since we’ve already achieved gender equality. Now suddenly everyone sees the enormous significance of the gender issues in the film, and that they are not obsolete but extremely timely. I’ve been creating these types of female characters in films for years, but it’s only now that people are taking that seriously, which is fantastic.

Hollywood has banked on emerging indie filmmakers for a lot of projects lately. If you were ever approached for a big-budget film, do you think you’d accept? If so, what would you want to direct?

If someone wanted to hire me to direct a big budget film, I’d probably demand to write the script and to get final cut. But it’s a very abstract question, since without knowing the specifics of an offer I can’t really answer how I’d respond.

The main question for me is the question of control. No one wants to spend their time doing something when they’re not going to like the final result. So I’d have to have a lot of control to have it work for me or work with people with similar artistic goals.


The Love Witch opens on November 18 at the Hollywood Theater. Tickets are available for purchase online or at the door. Showtimes will continue through November 23.

Three Rivers Film Festival Returns With New Management And Broader Scope

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Always Shine

Last summer, two Pittsburgh cultural organizations – Film Pittsburgh (formerly JFilm) and Pittsburgh Filmmakers/Pittsburgh Center for the Arts (PF/PCA) – joined forces to produce the Three Rivers Film Festival (3RFF). Sponsored by Dollar Bank, the 35-year-old annual event is considered the oldest and largest film festival in the region. An official press release stated that JFilm and PF/PCA aimed to transform 3RFF into “a highly visible event, generating more awareness of the festival’s rich offerings, promoting tourism to the city, and helping to elevate the art form of independent cinema within Pittsburgh’s cultural landscape.”

That transformation begins with this year’s 3RFF, which takes place from November 1620, and offers 31 films at venues throughout the city.

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The Freedom to Marry

The festival opens with the Pittsburgh premiere of director Eddie Rosenstein‘s work The Freedom to Marry. Presented in collaboration with Reel Q, and supported in part by the ACLU – PA, the documentary shows how, over the last four decades, the same-sex marriage has gone from a “preposterous notion” to one of the most successful civil rights campaigns in the world. Largely focused on Pittsburgh native and marriage equality pioneer Evan Wolfson, the War Room-style film captures the final frenetic months of the movement’s Supreme Court legal battle.

The screening takes place at 7 p.m. at the August Wilson Center. The evening will also feature a post-screening reception and conversation with Rosenstein and Wolfson.

The schedule includes other films making their Pittsburgh debuts, including director Sophia Takal‘s female-led thriller Always Shine, David Byrne‘s musical tribute to color guard Contemporary Color, and Robert Greene‘s experimental nonfiction film Kate Plays Christine.

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Kate Lyn Sheil in Kate Plays Christine/Courtesy of Grasshopper Film

The latter follows actress Kate Lyn Sheil (House of Cards, The Girlfriend Experience, Listen Up Philip) as she prepares to play Christine Chubbuck, a real-life Florida newscaster who committed suicide live on-air in 1974. As Sheil investigates Chubbuck’s story, she uncovers new clues and information, and becomes increasingly obsessed with her subject. The film went on to win the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.

3RFF will also highlight films from around the world, including the Polish film Blindness, the Swiss-German family film Heidi, and the Spanish-language biopic-narrative hybrid Neruda. Also featured is the UK film Trespass Against Us, an intense drama that stars Michael Fassbender as an outlaw at odds with his crime boss father, played by veteran actor Brendan Gleeson.

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Trespass Against Us

The lineup will also showcase a selection of short films, a double-feature looking at independent filmmaking in Pittsburgh, and a special presentation of the newly restored German silent film Varieté. Made in 1925, the story of a seedy ex-trapeze artist who abandons his family for an exotic dancer offers high-flying cinematography and pre-Code sexuality. Its 3RFF premiere will include live musical accompaniment by the Alloy Orchestra.

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Varieté

Click here for the complete 3RFF schedule and details. Tickets for regular screenings cost $12, $8 for students 26 and under with valid ID. Special pricing applies to the opening night screening and the Varieté screening. All tickets are available for purchase online or at the door.

CMOA Looks At World Housing Crisis With Doc ‘Within Formal Cities’

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Screenshot of Within Formal Cities.

As urban populations continue to grow, the access to decent housing shrinks. On November 10th, the Carnegie Museum of Art will examine how people throughout South America are trying to solve the problem with a preview of the locally produced documentary Within Formal Cities.

The film by intern architects Brian Gaudio and Abe Drechsler showcases innovative housing and infrastructure projects in Lima, Santiago, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Bogotá. During their travels, Gaudio and Drechsler interviewed more than 40 architects, designers, community members, and government agencies to learn about the housing crisis and the innovative ways designers are addressing it.

Within Formal Cities begins at 6:30 p.m. in the CMOA Theater. Gaudio will introduce the film and conduct a post-screening Q&A. The event is free. Those interested in attending can RSVP at the event Facebook page.

The screening is a program of Building Optimism: Public Space in South America at CMOA’s Heinz Architectural Center.

Row House Rewards Moviegoers With Film Club Membership Program

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Since it opened in 2014, Row House Cinema has entertained audiences with an eclectic selection of beloved classics, acclaimed new releases, and offbeat cult films. Now moviegoers can support the local single-screen theater and receive special perks with the Row House Film Club.

The program offers identical benefits with two payment options: the $10-a-month Sustaining Membership and the $100-a-year Annual Membership.

“The Film Club gives members a personalized experience every time they walk through our doors,” says Row House owner Brian Mendelssohn in an official statement.

Each member receives the following benefits:

  • One free movie ticket as a thank you for joining
  • One free birthday movie in the month of your birthday
  • One free movie entry each month with complimentary small popcorn
  • Access to advance and discount tickets for special events and screenings
  • On-screen recognition at each movie screening
  • Invitation to an Annual Member Appreciation Day

Those interested can sign up for Row House Film Club online.

Pitt Screens Dexter Gordon Film As Part Of Annual Jazz Series

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From October 31st through November 5th, the University of Pittsburgh‘s annual Jazz Seminar and Concert will feature free lunchtime concerts, on-campus seminars, and an outreach event in the Hill District, all of which culminates with a concert at Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland. Also included is a screening of ‘Round Midnight, a cinematic tribute to the power of jazz and the talent of legendary musician Dexter Gordon.

Directed by Bertrand Tavernier, and based on French author Francis Paudras’s memoir/biography Dance of the Infidels, the 1986 American-French music drama stars Gordon as jazzman Dale Turner, a famous tenor saxophone player in 1950s Paris. He’s befriended by Francis (François Cluzet), a struggling film poster designer who idolizes Turner and tries desperately to help him overcome alcohol abuse. As he succeeds, the budding friendship they develop changes their lives forever. The award-winning film features musician Herbie Hancock and a cameo by director Martin Scorsese.

‘Round Midnight will screen on November 2nd at 6 p.m. in the Frick Fine Arts Auditorium. An introduction by Gordon’s widow, Maxine Gordon, will also take place. The event is free and open to the public.

Best Limited Releases Coming To Pittsburgh: November 2016 Edition

Christine – Regent Square Theater

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Rebecca Hall stars in director Antonio Campos’ story of a woman who finds herself caught in the crosshairs of a spiraling personal life and career crisis. Christine, always the smartest person in the room at her local Sarasota, Florida news station, feels like she is destined for bigger things and is relentless in her pursuit of an on-air position in a larger market. As an aspiring newswoman with an eye for nuance and an interest in social justice, she finds herself constantly butting heads with her boss (Tracy Letts), who pushes for juicier stories that will drive up ratings. Plagued by self-doubt and a tumultuous home life, Christine’s diminishing hope begins to rise when an on-air co-worker (Michael C. Hall) initiates a friendship which ultimately becomes yet another unrequited love. Disillusioned as her world continues to close in on her, Christine takes a dark and surprising turn. Christine opens on November 4th at the Regent Square Theater.

Moonlight – Manor Theatre

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Filmmaker Barry Jenkins delivers a groundbreaking exploration of masculinity through the tender, heartbreaking story of a young man’s struggle to find himself, told across three defining chapters in his life as he experiences the ecstasy, pain, and beauty of falling in love while grappling with his own sexuality. Moonlight opens on November 11th at the Manor Theatre.

Certain Women – Regent Square Theater

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Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy, Meek’s Cutoff) directs a remarkable ensemble cast in this look at three women striving to forge their own paths amidst the wide-open plains of the American Northwest: a lawyer (Laura Dern) who finds herself contending with both office sexism and a hostage situation; a wife and mother (Michelle Williams) whose determination to build her dream home puts her at odds with the men in her life; and a young law student (Kristen Stewart) who forms an ambiguous bond with a lonely ranch hand (newcomer Lily Gladstone). As their stories intersect in subtle but powerful ways, a portrait emerges of flawed, but strong-willed individuals in the process of defining themselves. Certain Women opens on November 25th at the Regent Square Theater.

The Eagle Huntress – Harris Theater

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Actress Daisy Ridley narrates the story of Aisholpan, a real-life role model on an epic journey in a far away world. Follow this 13-year-old nomadic Mongolian girl as she battles to become the first female to hunt with a Golden Eagle in 2,000 years of male-dominated history. The Eagle Huntress opens on November 25th at the Harris Theater.

Just Films Series Welcomes Alice Walker For Doc Screening

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Yemanjá: Wisdom from the African Heart of Brazil

Last month, four organizations – the Chatham University Women’s Institute, New Voices Pittsburgh, the Women and Girls Foundation, and the Women’s Law Project – launched Just Films. The series includes ten documentaries covering a wide range of issues such as immigration, human trafficking, trans families, and paid leave. Many of the films were made by women and will screen in Pittsburgh for the first time.

On October 27th, Just Films welcomes Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker for the Pittsburgh premiere of Yemanjá: Wisdom from the African Heart of Brazil.

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Alice Walker

Directed by Donna C. Roberts and Donna Read, and narrated by Walker, the documentary depicts the Candomblé religion in Bahia, Brazil, a vibrant culture which evolved from the ways of enslaved Africans. Elder women leaders tell stories of Candomblé’s history, social challenges and triumphs, grounded in strong community, and Earth-based wisdom and practice.

Walker will participate in a post-screening panel along with Roberts and Candomblé priestess Dr. Rachel Elizabeth Harding. Dr. Huberta Jackson-Lowman, president of The Association of Black Psychologists, will serve as moderator.

The Yemanjá: Wisdom from the African Heart of Brazil screening and panel will take place at 6:30 p.m. at Chatham University. Registration required.

All Just Films events are free and open to the public. The series will continue through June 2017.

48 Hour Horror Film Project Possesses Hollywood Theater

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2015 Pittsburgh 48 Hour Film Horror Project winner Daisy.

The Pittsburgh 48 Hour Film Horror Project challenged 21 teams to write, shoot, edit, and score their own horror shorts over the course of a single weekend. On October 20th and 21st, the resulting films will premiere at the Hollywood Theater and compete for a variety of awards. See screening schedule below:

October 20th

7 p.m.

Group (A)aaahhhhh!:

Autumn Wind Films – Glenn Syska
Dreaming Droids Productions – Paul Nandzik
Everlasting Productions LLC – Steve Sensebaugh
Gaff Tape and a Prayer – Mike Hanley
Hutchins Films – Jesse Hutchins
IFT CCAC SOUTH – Brendan Smith
Long Knuckle Studios – David Kost
R. Walker Productions – Rodman Walker
Team MGBG Films – Bryan Ghingold
Vaginal powers – Amanda Menendez
Written In Blood Productions – Michael Carbonara

October 21st

7 p.m.

Group (B)eware!:

BA …is the name – JP Russell, IV
Dunndo Studios – Troy Jackson
Eyes On Entertainment – James Garvin
Falling October Productions – Alexander Cronin
Haunted Hillside Productions – Elisabetta Pontillo
Locust Street Entertainment – Lance Parkin
PAS Productions – Valerie Gaisor
ShadowFrame – Jason Boyer
Titan Terror Studios – Emily Bondi
Westmonster Productions – Tyler Helvin

Audience members may vote on their favorite films after each group showing. All tickets cost $5 and are available for purchase at Brown Paper Tickets.

ReelAbilities Film Festival Tackles Stereotypes And PTSD

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From October 20th through November 2nd, the FISA Foundation and JFilm co-present the fourth annual ReelAbilities Film Festival, an event showcasing films about the lives, stories, and artistic expression of people with different disabilities. The lineup includes previews and Pittsburgh premieres, as well as a shorts program featuring several works from around the world. There will also be post-screening talks, presentations, and receptions. See schedule and details below:

October 20th

7 p.m.

Becoming Bulletproof

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Follow a diverse community of artists from Zeno Mountain Farm who come together year after year to make a Hollywood movie, find friendship and grow as actors and individuals, regardless of their ability. This refreshingly genuine and endearing film-within-a-film reveals a dynamic, inclusive world that transcends stigmas and challenges stereotypes, while raising important questions about the lack of artistic opportunities for people with disabilities.

Followed by a conversation with AJ Murray, an actor living with cerebral palsy, and Will Halby, co-founder and director of Zeno Mountain Farm.

October 22nd

7 p.m.

Margarita with a  Straw

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An aspiring young writer with cerebral palsy leaves her home in India to attend New York University. After a chance encounter with a fiery female activist, she begins to explore this uncharted world and its liberal sexualities. Based on the true story of a young Punjabi woman, Margarita with a Straw is a unique coming-of-age story about love, identity, and sexuality.

This screening is presented in collaboration with Reel Q.

October 25th

7 p.m.

Gabe

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A misdiagnosis as a child gave Gabe Weil a new, longer life expectancy and the unexpected gift of time. Empowered to now think about a future that he never thought he would have, Gabe embraces his passions, deepens his friendships, and finds joy in each day as he continues to manage an ongoing disability. This honest and insightful documentary reminds us all to value the time we are given no matter what our challenges.

Followed by a conversation with the film’s director Luke Terrell.

October 26th

7 p.m.

Bottom Dollars

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Since the Fair Labor Standards Act passed in 1938, American workers have been free from labor exploitation, with one exception: people with disabilities. In 2016, nearly 250,000 people with disabilities continue to earn less than the minimum wage. Through personal stories and poignant interviews, this eye-opening documentary exposes this practice while presenting new employment alternatives with competitive wages and community inclusion for workers of all abilities.

Followed by a panel discussion with local stakeholders moderated by Halle Stockton, managing editor of Public Source.

October 30th

4 p.m.

ReelAbilities Shorts Program

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Seven short films totaling 70 minutes highlight diverse themes across the ability spectrum. Includes Autism in Love, I Don’t Care, Macropolis, Midfield, Perfect, Strings and Welcome to the Last Bookstore.

Followed by a conversation with emerging filmmakers from Pittsburgh’s Joey Travolta Film Camp.

November 2nd

7 p.m.

Thank You For Your Service

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The U.S. military faces an unprecedented mental health crisis as veterans returning to civilian life find themselves unequipped to manage the post-traumatic stress and depression that is leading to veteran suicides at an alarming rate. With candid interviews including those from Defense Secretary Robert Gates and General David Petraeus, the film reveals how current policies of the U.S. military are falling short of the critical mental health needs of our veterans.

Followed by a conversation with the film’s director, Tom Donahue, film subjects Dr. Mark Russell and Phil Straub, and Dr. Rory Cooper, founding director of the Human Engineering Research Laboratories, a VA Rehabilitation R&D Center of Excellence.

All screenings will be followed by receptions including vegan, kosher and gluten-free options. There will also be an art exhibit featuring works from Reinventing the Wheel, a photography project that paired twenty-one people with spinal cord injury with 21 photographers from cities nationwide to create photo essays through a realistic, positive and creative lens.

All films and programs will take place at Rodef Shalom. General admission is $12 in advance, $15 at the door, $8 for students under age 26 with valid ID. There are also special group rates and discounts. Tickets are available online or at the door if not sold out.