Category: Documentaries

Local Groups Highlight Inspiring Doc With ‘STEP’ Screening And Panel

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STEP/Fox Searchlight Pictures

On January 18, the August Wilson Center will host a special screening event for STEP, a new documentary about a group of girls and the transformative role dance plays in their lives. The event is presented by local activist Felicity Williams, Esq.Gwen’s Girls, the Black Girls Equity Alliance, and the See the Best in Me initiative.

Director Amanda Lipitz captures the true-life story of a girls’ high-school step team against the background of the heart of Baltimore. These young women learn to laugh, love and thrive – on and off the stage – even when the world seems to work against them. Empowered by their teachers, teammates, counselors, coaches, and families, they chase their ultimate dreams: to win a step championship and to be accepted into college. This all-female school is reshaping the futures of its students’ lives by making it their goal to have every member of their senior class accepted to and graduate from college, many of whom will be the first in their family to do so. Deeply insightful and emotionally inspiring, STEP embodies the true meaning of sisterhood through a story of courageous young women worth cheering for. [Synopsis courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures]

The event includes a post-screening panel of young Black women in Allegheny County discussing their journey through the education system, the path to higher education, and the support they and other Black girls need in our region.

The STEP screening and panel begins at 5:30 p.m. with food, followed by the screening and panel from 6:308:30 p.m. The film is rated PG and will have closed captioning. Register for free at Eventbrite.

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African Film Festival Brings Seven Powerful Films To Alphabet City

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Sisters In Law (2005, Cameroon)

Alphabet City will play host to the 9th International African Film Festival. Produced by the Sembène Film & Arts Festival, the event will showcase seven films from five countries that cover a variety of important cultural, social and political issues and perspectives in the African Diaspora. The selections include powerful narrative works about the Black experience, profiles of influential musicians, and award-winning documentaries. See below for screenings and details:

January 16

7 p.m.

But Then, She’s Betty Carter (1980, USA)

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An unforgettable portrait of legendary vocalist Betty Carter, one of the greatest living exponents of jazz. Uncompromised by commercialism throughout her long career, she has forged alternative criteria for success—including founding her own recording company and raising her two sons as a single parent.

January 29

7 p.m.

Black Girl (1966, Sénégal/France)

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A young Senegalese woman who moves to France to work for a wealthy white family finds that life in their small apartment becomes a prison, both figuratively and literally. Black Girl is a harrowing human drama as well as a radical political statement—and one of the essential films of the 1960s.

February 12

7 p.m.

Rahsaan Roland Kirk: The Case Of The Three Sided Dream (2014, USA)

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The story of multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk, who went from blind infant to child prodigy, to adult visionary, to political activist, and finally to paralyzed showman. A seemingly superhuman musical force who played literally until the day he died. Kirk was more than a blind musician who could play three horns at once, more than one of the most exciting and amazing sax players who ever lived. Beyond the ability to play multiple melodies at the same time, he was a warrior against racial injustice, fought for people with disabilities, and was a tireless campaigner for a wider appreciation of Jazz. Packed with electrifying archival footage of Kirk and his music, intimate interviews, and inspired animated sequences, Adam Kahan’s film is an absorbing look at the man who wouldn’t even let partial paralysis keep him from pursuing what he called “The Religion of Dreams.

February 26

7 p.m.

Freedom Never Dies: The Legacy of Harry T. Moore (2001, USA)

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This powerful documentary explores the life and times of an enigmatic leader, a distinguished school teacher whose passionate crusade for equal rights could not be discouraged by either the white power structure or the more cautious factions of his own movement. Although Moore’s assassination was an international cause célèbre in 1951, it was overshadowed by following events and eventually almost forgotten. Narrated by Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee.

March 5 

7 p.m.

Sisters In Law (2005, Cameroon)

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The award-winning documentary from Kim Longinott and Florence Ayisi follows two feisty and progressive-minded women who dispense wisdom, wisecracks, and justice in fair measure, handing down stiff sentences to those convicted. In the little town of Kumba, Cameroon, there have been no convictions in spousal abuse cases for 17 years. But two women determined to change their community are making progress that could change their country. This fascinating, often hilarious doc follows the work of State Prosecutor Vera Ngassa and Court President Beatrice Ntuba as they help women fight often-difficult cases of abuse, despite pressures from family and their community to remain silent.

March 26 

7 p.m.

The Hero (2004, Angola)

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Grand Prize Winner of the World Dramatic Competition at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, The Hero is the story of a 20-year veteran of the Angolan civil war who finds assimilation into the chaotic life of the capital city of Luanda a challenge in this affecting drama.

April 23

7 p.m.

Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai (2008, Kenya)

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Directors Lisa Merton and Alan Dater tell the inspiring story of the Green Belt Movement of Kenya and its unstoppable founder, Wangari Maathai, who, in 2004, became the first environmentalist and first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Taking Root illustrates the development of Maathai’s holistic worldview and model for sustainable development.

Each screening is free and open to the public and will be followed by a community Q&A with a guest moderator. RSVP at the Alphabet City website.

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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.