Category: Documentaries

Sembène Film & Arts Festival Brings Powerful Documentaries And More To Alphabet City

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Beasts of the Southern Wild

The Sembène Film & Arts Festival launches their 9th season at Alphabet City. From November 2 – 9, the event includes important films and readings. See below for schedule and details:

November 2

7 p.m.

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The Untold Story of Emmet Till

The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till articulates the madness of racism in the South of the 1950s. Combining archival photos and footage with deeply felt interviews, this documentary tells the harrowing story of what happened when a mischievous 14-year-old black boy from Chicago, visiting his relatives in Mississippi, whistled at a white woman in the street. The lynching that followed was so gruesome that a media circus surrounded the trial–and what stunned the nation was not only the crime but the blithe unconcern the citizens of a small Mississippi town felt toward the brutal murder of a black teenager.

Herb Boyd, co-author of Simeon’s story: An Eyewitness Account of the Kidnapping of Emmet Till, will moderate a post-film discussion. Tickers are free.

November 3

7 p.m.

Journalist and activist Herb Boyd will present a reading and discussion of his latest book, Black Detroit: A People’s History of Self-Determination, a groundbreaking history of the struggles and resilience of African Americans from the city’s birth 200 years ago until the present. Tickets are free.

November 5

11 a.m.

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Kids and Family Event: Beasts of the Southern Wild 

In a forgotten but defiant bayou community cut off from the rest of the world by a sprawling levee, a six-year-old girl, Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), exists on the brink of orphanhood. Buoyed by her childish optimism and extraordinary imagination, she believes that the natural order is in balance with the universe until a fierce storm changes her reality. Desperate to repair the structure of her world in order to save her ailing father and sinking home, this tiny hero must learn to survive unstoppable catastrophes of epic proportions. Tickets are free.

Journalist Herb Boyd will lead a post-film discussion.

November 9

7 p.m.

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Chasing Trane

Set against the social, political and cultural landscape of the time, Chasing Trane brings saxophone great John Coltrane to life, as a man and an artist. The film is the definitive look at the boundary-shattering musician and composer whose influence continues to resonate around the world. Coltrane’s incredible story is told by his children and biographers, the musicians who worked with him (Sonny Rollins, McCoy Tyner, Benny Golson, Jimmy Heath, Reggie Workman), musicians inspired by his artistry and vision (Common, The Doors’ John Densmore, Wynton Marsalis, Carlos Santana, Wayne Shorter, Kamasi Washington), and many others. Narration provided by Denzel Washington.

K. Mensah Wali of Kente Arts Alliance, who followed Coltrane throughout his career, will lead a post-film discussion. Tickets are free.

Dinner at Alphabet City’s in-house Casellula Cheese & Wine Cafe is available for before, after or during events. Advance reservations are recommended.

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Melwood Screening Room Takes Culinary Journey With Documentary Double Feature

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The Vacation

On October 24 and 25, foodies will enjoy a cinematic treat when the Melwood Screening Room presents a short film double feature by Ongoing Box Film Divison.

The 47-minute-long travel documentary The Vacation follows Chef Tom Hambor and Dr. Brad Walter, owners of the Highland Park bakery Food Glorious Food, as they lead a small band of interested travelers through a culinary tour of Italy. Narrated by Maristella Cacciapaglia.

Also screening is director David Bernabo‘s 15 Short Films About Legume. The 36-minute-long film looks back at the 10-year history of the Oakland restaurant Legume through interviews with past and present staff, farmers, and customers.

Both presentations begin at 7 p.m.  Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets cost $10 and are available for the October 24 and October 25 screenings.

Glitter Box Takes On Drug Epidemic With ‘Fix: The Story of an Addicted City’

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Fix: The Story of an Addicted City

As the United States faces a growing opioid crisis and rising drug addiction rates, questions of how best to deal with these issues arise, with many advocating treatment over incarceration and a new War on Drugs. On September 28, Prevention Point Pittsburgh and the Glitter Box Theater will present Fix: The Story of an Addicted City, a documentary about one city’s drug epidemic and the fight to open North America’s first safe-injection site.

Dean Wilson used to be an IBM salesman. Now he is possibly the most outspoken drug addict in Canada. As president of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), he is a loud and articulate advocate for street addicts from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, one of Canada’s poorest neighborhoods, and the site of the highest HIV rate in North America. He finds allies in VANDU organizer Ann Livingston and Philip Owen, the conservative Mayor of Vancouver who alarmed members of his own party by championing a daring new drug philosophy called Harm Reduction, which provides safe injection sites and heroin maintenance programs for long-term addicts. Caught in the middle is Vancouver Police Sargeant Doug Lang, who oversees the corner of Main and Hastings, the heart of North America’s largest open drug scene.

As the Mayor battles members of his own political party, Wilson dares to face his own addiction. The stories of Fix span over two years as characters’ lives interconnect to reveal a battle for the hearts, minds, and streets of a city each one calls home. (Synopsis details courtesy of Canada Wild Productions)

Fix: The Story of an Addicted City screens at the Glitter Box Theater at 7 p.m. Free drinks and snacks will be provided. The event is free and open to the public.

Melwood Screening Room Looks At Anti-Choice Movement With ‘Birthright: A War Story’

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Birthright: A War Story

On September 26, the Melwood Screening Room, in association with Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania (PPWP), will tackle the so-called “anti-choice” movement and the danger it poses to women’s health and reproductive rights with a screening of Birthright: A War Story.

The feature-length documentary examines how women are being jailed, physically violated and even put at risk of dying as a radical movement tightens its grip across America. The film tells the story of women who have become collateral damage in the aggressive campaign to take control of reproductive health care and to allow states, courts and religious doctrine to govern whether, when and how women will bear children. The documentary explores the accelerating gains of the crusade to control pregnant women and the fallout that is creating a public health crisis, turning pregnant women into criminals and challenging the constitutional protections of every woman in America. This is the real-life Handmaid’s Tale.

PPWP will present Birthright: A War Story at 7 p.m. in the Melwood Screening Room. Doors open at 6 p.m. for refreshments and tabling activities. A panel discussion will follow the film. Tickets cost $10 each, $8 for students/youth.

Mr. Roboto Project Looks At The Touring Life With Doc ‘Drive. Play. Sleep.’

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Drive. Play. Sleep.

On September 12, the Mr. Roboto Project will look at what it takes to be a touring indie band with the Pittsburgh premiere of Drive. Play. Sleep.

Pocket Vinyl, a self-described “piano slam rock” duo out of Connecticut, goes on the road to tell the story of every band you’ve never heard of. Filmed at various bars, coffee shops, house shows, and other venues, their documentary provides a first-person view into the lives of full-time touring bands and the daily struggles they encounter, capturing the public moments, private breakdowns, and wild stories when the music stops and the stage is empty.

Drive. Play. Sleep. screens at 8 p.m. A Q&A with Pocket Vinyl will follow.

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Oaks Theater Honors Beloved Pet Celebrity With ‘Frank And The Wondercat’ Premiere

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Frank and the Wondercat

In the 1990s, before Lil Bub and Grumpy Cat took the internet by storm, a very large cat was making a name for itself in Pittsburgh. On August 26, the Oaks Theater will present the premiere of Frank and the Wondercat, a film about the special bond between a local man and his famous feline friend.

The feature documentary by Tony Massil and Pablo Alvarez-Mesa follows Frank Furko, an 80-year old eccentric living in the Pittsburgh suburb of Plum. Taking stock of his life, Furko tries to reconcile with the 40 years working on the family farm with his domineering father, the end of his 20-year marriage, and his role as a celebrity derived from an unusual but deeply felt friendship with Pudgie Wudgie, his 20-pound performing house cat. From humble beginnings training in their Pittsburgh living room to NFL tailgate parties, the National Enquirer and The Maury Povich show, this is a portrait of their odyssey together. Shown through Furko’s homemade VHS archives – footage that is equal parts hilarious, bizarre and beautiful – their relationship was a remarkable testament to the power of interspecies connection. [Synopsis courtesy of IMDB]

Frank and the Wondercat screens at 8 p.m. Doors open at 7 p.m. A pre-show event with Humane Animal Rescue will feature adoptable cats and kittens, giveaways, raffles, and information about the shelter. A meet-and-greet with Furko will take place after the show. Tickets cost $8-10.

Row House Uncovers A Curious Sport With Doc ‘Skips Stones For Fudge’

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Skips Stones For Fudge

Skipping stones usually conjures images of lazy summer afternoons spent by the lake. But for one very specific subculture, the act means so much more. On August 17, Row House Cinema explores how a fun pastime became a sport with the Pittsburgh premiere of Skips Stones For Fudge.

The documentary from directors Ryan Seitz and Daniel Skaggs capture the drama that occurs when the Zen art of stone skipping meets the competitive nature of mankind. Although the sport is relatively unknown to the masses, it is steeped in tradition, bitter rivalries and the constant pursuit for the Guinness World Record.

For over a decade, Russ “Rock Bottom” Byars and Kurt “Mountain Man” Steiner have endured a rivalry that lifted competitive stone skipping to unthinkable heights. Tested by physical ailments, emotional hardships and the rise of young talent, these obscure legends fight to cement their place in the record books. [Synopsis courtesy of Highway Goat Productions]

Skips Stones For Fudge screens at 7 p.m. Event includes an interview with special guests Kurt “Mountain Man” Steiner, Dave “Spiderman” Ohmer, and Russ “Rock Bottom” Byars. Tickets cost $9.

After the film, join Steiner, Ohmer, and Byars as they demonstrate their skills on the Allegheny River under the 40th Street Bridge. The post-screening event begins at 8:30 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

The Pump House Welcomes Tony Buba For ‘Struggles In Steel’ Screening

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‘Struggles In Steel: A Story of African-American Steel Workers’/Braddock Films

In 1996, the locally produced documentary Struggles in Steel: A Story of African-American Steelworkers premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, bringing to light the forgotten contributors to an industry that defined Pittsburgh. On June 8The Battle of Homestead Foundation will present a special screening of the film at the historic Pump House.

When a local television station did a program about the closing of the major steel mills in the Pittsburgh region, Ray Henderson, a former mill worker who had worked in the mills for 18 years, couldn’t help but notice that not one Black worker was shown. This despite the fact that African-American workers had formed a critical part of the labor force in western Pennsylvania for 125 years.

With his old friend and independent filmmaker Tony Buba, Henderson set out to collaborate on a history of African-Americans and their contributions not just to the steel industry, but to the labor movement itself. Through eloquent living witnesses and revelatory archival footage, the film presents a striking counterpoint to the stereotypical Black male image.

Featuring interviews with over 70 African-American workers, Struggles In Steel documents the shameful history of discrimination against Black workers and one heroic campaign where they won equality on the job. (Synopsis courtesy of Braddock Films)

The Struggles in Steel screening takes place from 7-9 p.m. and includes a discussion with Buba. The event is free and open to the public.

Row House Cinema Presents Pittsburgh Premiere Of ‘David Lynch: The Art Life’

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David Lynch: The Art Life 

Since he broke onto the scene in 1977 with his ultra-bizarre experimental film Eraserhead, David Lynch has remained one of cinema’s most eccentric personalities both on and off screen (check out what he did for his long-time muse, Laura Dern). Now fans will get to see what shaped this curious visionary when Row House Cinema presents the Pittsburgh premiere of David Lynch: The Art Life.

The documentary from Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes, and Olivia Neergaard looks at Lynch’s art, music, and films, shining a light into the dark corners of his unique world and giving audiences a better understanding of the man and the artist. Shot over a four-year span, the film offers private views from Lynch’s compound and painting studio in the hills high above Hollywood, as he tells personal stories that informed his early works.

David Lynch: The Art Life screens from May 26-June 1 as part of The Artistry of David Lynch week.

Tull Family Theater Launches Cultural Screenings With ‘Hermitage Revealed’

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Hermitage Revealed

The Tull Family Theater recently opened in Sewickley to bring art films and events to people living outside of the city of Pittsburgh. The theater lives up to its mission on March 23 when it kicks off its Cultural Screenings series with the sprawling 2014 museum documentary Hermitage Revealed.

The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg is one of the largest and oldest museums in the world holding over 3 million treasures and boasting more curators than any other art institution. Hermitage Revealed presents a cinematic journey through the museum’s tumultuous 250-year history and offers unprecedented access to special collections and exclusive areas that remain hidden from the public eye.

The production brings together the oldest, the rarest, the most precious and the most closely guarded of Russia’s greatest treasures; items bought with great wealth or acquired by other means, items hoarded and saved from violent revolutionaries, items thought lost and later re-found – all works and their unique stories presented with an intimacy and immediacy that no museum or gallery experience can match. From Rembrandt to Russian masterpieces, from prehistoric artifacts to the private gemstone collection of Catherine The Great, from Michelangelo to Matisse and much, much more, the exquisite treasures the Hermitage has to offer are seemingly endless.

Hermitage Revealed begins at 7 p.m. Tickets are available for purchase online or at the door.