Category: Documentaries

Row House Cinema Spotlights Music Pioneers With ‘Here To Be Heard: The Story Of The Slits’

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In celebration of Ladyfest Pittsburgh, an annual three-day festival featuring all-female and female-fronted bands and acts, Row House Cinema will present a benefit screening of Here to be Heard: The Story of The Slits, a documentary about the world’s first all-girl punk band.

Formed in London in 1976, The Slits are considered the pioneering godmothers of the musical movement known as  “Punky Reggae.” The film tells the story of the band and the lives of the women involved, from the band’s inception to its end in 2010 coinciding with the death of lead vocalist Ari Up. The documentary – originally a project started by Ari and Slits tour manager and friend Jennifer Shagawat – includes previously unseen footage of the band and interviews from Slits members Viv Albertine, Ari, Palmolive, Tessa Pollitt, Bruce Smith, and Hollie Cook, fellow musicians like Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook and Raincoats bass played Gina Birch, and much more.

Here to be Heard: The Story of The Slits screens at 6:30 p.m. on May 15 at Row House Cinema. The event includes an introduction from the film’s director, William Badgely, and a performance by Brazilian Wax. Tickets cost $13, $11 for Row House Film Club members. $3 from every ticket sold goes directly to Ladyfest Pittsburgh 2018, which will take place from June 15-17 at various venues.

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Doc Explores Pittsburgh Museum With ‘Site-Specific: A History Of The Mattress Factory’

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Artist Yayoi Kusama in Site-Specific: A History Of The Mattress Factory

Not long after the Mattress Factory opened in 1977, it set out to provide an experimental lab featuring site-specific installations created by artists in residence from around the world. Now local documentarian David Bernabo will help mark the 40th anniversary of the contemporary art museum with the film Site-Specific: A History Of The Mattress Factory.

Through a mix of stories and anecdotes, archival installation footage, and interviews with artists and razor-sharp co-directors Barbara Luderowski and Michael Olijnyk, Site-Specific: A History of the Mattress Factory presents an in-depth look at one of the first site-specific museums in the United States. Starting as a quirky, anything goes food co-op and artist studio space, the museum created a program of artist residencies in 1982 to focus on site-specific installation art and they never looked back.

The film parallels the installation of the museum’s 40th-anniversary exhibition with an in-depth, story-driven journey through the museum’s long history of exhibiting site-specific art. Through interviews with artists such as Ann Hamilton, Sarah Oppenheimer, Vanessa German, and Dennis Maher, the film provides an intimate, sometimes humorous, look at the indirect path a museum takes as it creates its identity.

By mining the museum’s extensive tape and video archive, the film unearths rare archival installation footage of James Turrell, Yayoi Kusama, Meg Webster, and David Ellis. Detailed discussions provide the history and context for John Cage’s changing installation, Allan Wexler’s Bed Sitting Rooms for an Artist in Residence, and Dennis Maher’s three-story installation A Second Home, among other works. [Synopsis courtesy of David Bernabo]

Site-Specific: A History of the Mattress Factory will premiere on May 3 at the Mattress Factory. A second screening public will take place on May 10 at the Melwood Screening Room. Tickets are free for the Mattress Factory screening and $8 for the Melwood event.

Pittsburgh Underground Film Festival Returns With Riveting Docs And More

Queercore: How to Punk a Revolution

From April 2022, Reel Q brings back the Pittsburgh Underground Film Festival (PUFF) for a weekend of thought-provoking works about the LGBTQIA+ experience. The event includes a diverse array of feature-length and short documentaries addressing various aspects of LGBTQIA+ history and culture, including the HIV/AIDS crisis and the LGBTQIA+ influence on punk music. See schedule and details below:

April 20

8:30 p.m.

Idol Worship: An Evening with Mink Stole and Peaches Christ

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PUFF opens with a special presentation of Idol Worship: An Evening with Mink Stole and Peaches Christ at the Regent Square Theater. The show is an intimate, revelatory, and heartfelt happening that takes the form of a chat/variety show starring living legend and cult film icon Mink Stole, and is hosted by drag impresario and filmmaker Peaches Christ. The dynamic duo have been close friends for almost two decades and would like to invite you to join them for this special happening. With interviews, stories, film clips, anecdotes and live song this is a wildly entertaining, and uncensored exposé that aspires to be as hilarious as it is revealing.

Tickets cost $15 in advance, $20 a the door. VIP tickets are available for $40 in advance, $45 at the door. VIP tickets include a meet-and-greet with Mink Stole and Peaches Christ, an exclusive Q&A, early venue access, and reserved seats.

April 21

In Full Bloom (2015)

1 p.m. (Doors 12:30 p.m.)

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The feature-length documentary by Michael D. Brewer chronicles the lives of 15 actors (13 transgender and 2 gay) whose paths cross during the production of Lovely Bouquet of Flowers, the unprecedented stage play created and written by Jazzmun Nichcala and director David Hays Gaddas. Fiction becomes reality, when behind-the-scenes footage of the rehearsal process and vignettes from the climactic performance are interwoven with expert testimonies and compelling personal interviews from the cast, that deal with family, inner conflicts, coming out, surgery, hormones, and the complexities of sexual identity and orientation. By sharing their own journeys and speaking to issues, such as relationships, spirituality, and careers, the film challenges the viewer to move past stereotypes and to see the commonalities we all share as human beings.

In Full Bloom screens at the Melwood Screening Room. The event is free and open to the public. Registration required.

Nothing Without Us: The Women Who Will End AIDS (2017)

4 p.m. (Doors 3:30 p.m.)

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Directed by Harriet HirshornNothing Without Us tells the story of the inspiring women at the forefront of the global AIDS movement. Combining archival footage and interviews with female activists, scientists and scholars in the US and Africa, the film reveals how women not only shaped grassroots groups like ACT-UP in the U.S. but have also played essential roles in HIV prevention and the treatment access movement throughout sub-Saharan Africa. The film explores the unaddressed dynamics that keep women around the world at risk of HIV while introducing the remarkable women who have the answers to ending this 30-year old pandemic.

Nothing Without Us screens at the Melwood Screening Room. Tickets cost $10.

Queercore: How to Punk a Revolution (2017)

7 p.m. (Doors 6:30 p.m.)

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Director Yony Leyser presents the story of Queercore, the cultural and social movement that began in the mid-1980s as an offshoot of punk and was distinguished by its discontent with society’s disapproval of the gay, bisexual, lesbian and transgender communities. Underscoring interviews from figures such as Bruce LaBruce, G.B. Jones, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, John Waters, Kim Gordon, and many more are clips from movies, zines, concerts, and actions iconic to the movement. As steeped in the radical queer, anti-capitalist, DIY, and give-no-fucks approach as queercore itself, the movie reveals the perspectives and experiences of bands, moviemakers, writers, and other outsiders, taking audiences inside the creation of the community—and art—so desperately needed by the same queers it encompassed.

Queercore screens at the Melwood Screening Room. Tickets cost $10. A free dance party at P-Town Bar will follow the screening.

April 22

Expanding Gender: Youth Out Front

1 p.m. (Lunch 12:30 p.m.)

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This short film program includes four documentaries that explore the varied identities of trans and gender-expansive youth and young adults. Selected works include TomgirlA Place in the Middle, Monica’s Story, and Passing.

Expanding Gender: Youth Out Front screens at the Melwood Screening Room. Admission is pay-what-you-can.

Tongues Untied (1989)

3 p.m. (Doors 2:30 p.m.)

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Directed by Marlon Riggs, Tongues Untied blends documentary footage with personal account and fiction in an attempt to depict the specificity of Black gay identity. Besides detailing North American black gay culture, Riggs recounts his own experiences as a gay man, including the realization of his sexual identity and of coping with the deaths of many of his friends to AIDS. Other elements include footage of the Civil Rights Movement and clips of Eddie Murphy performing a homophobic stand-up routine. The film is a part of a body of recently released films and videos that examine central issues in the lives of lesbian and gay Black people. Riggs’ work challenged television’s generic boundaries of conformity during the late 80s and early 90s. The television documentary during this time was the conventional talking head, expert interviews, and personal testimonials commonly on public affair issues.

Tongues Untied screens at the Melwood Screening Room. Admission is pay-what-you-can.

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CMU Examines Origins And Evolution Of African-American Speech With ‘Talking Black In America’

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On April 11, Carnegie Mellon University will delve into the roots and culture surrounding African-American language with the Pittsburgh premiere of Talking Black in AmericaProduced and directed by Neal Hutcheson and Danica Cullinan, it’s described as the first feature-length documentary devoted to African-American speech, and attempts to remedy misconceptions and resulting marginalization.

Talking Black in America follows the unique circumstances of the descendants of American slaves and their incredible impact on American life and language. Speech varieties from the African American community reflect the imprint of African language systems, the influences of regional British and Southern American dialects, and the creativity and resilience of people living through oppression, segregation and the fight for equality. Filmed across the United States, Talking Black in America is a startling revelation of language as legacy, identity, and triumph over adversity. Features Reverend Jeremiah Wright, DJ Nabs, Professor Griff, Quest M.C.O.D.Y., Dahlia the Poet, Nicky Sunshine and many others.

Talking Black in America will screen at 4 p.m. in Carnegie Mellon University’s Rashid Auditorium. A panel discussion with Fred BrownWaverly DuckLovie Jewell Jackson Foster, and Tamara Sanders-Woods will follow. The screening and panel discussion are free and open to the public.

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.

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.