On May 22, Film Pittsburgh presents the seventh annual Robinson International Short Film Competition Gala at the SouthSide Works Cinema. Open to independent filmmakers worldwide, the event showcases short works that contain an essence of Jewishness as represented by theme, history or culture. Film Pittsburgh received 108 entries from 13 countries including Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Poland, Russia, Ukraine, the UK, and the US.
See the featured films and their descriptions below:
116 Cameras (dir. Davina Pardo)
A Holocaust survivor preserves her story interactively so that she will be able to tell it forever. (US, 16 minutes)
The Driver is Red (dir. Randall Christopher)
Set in Argentina 1960, this true crime documentary follows the story of secret agent Zvi Aharoni as he hunted down one of the highest-ranking Nazi war criminals on the run. (US, 15 minutes)
Large Soldier (dir. Noa Gusakov)
It’s 1973, wartime in Israel, and all that 15-year-old Sherry wants is a boyfriend. A letter exchange with an unknown soldier makes her believe that he’s going to be her first love. But what will happen when the imaginary soldier becomes real? (Israel, 23 minutes)
Life Will Smile (dir. Drey Kleanthous)
Narrated by Haim Konstantini, this documentary relays not only his story of the dramatic events during WWII, but also the story of every one of the 275 Jews that evaded the Nazis on the island of Zakynthos. (Greece, UK, 35 minutes)
Wendy’s Shabbat (dir. Rachel Myers)
This short documentary follows a group of Jewish senior citizens who celebrate their weekly Shabbat at the local Wendy’s fast food restaurant, with Hebrew blessings over burgers and fries. This is a story of rediscovering the joys of community again in older age, and in the longing for ritual, however unorthodox it may appear. (US, 10 minutes)
The gala begins at 7:30 p.m. and will feature the Pittsburgh premieres of all five films, an awards ceremony where three filmmakers will receive a total of $18,000 in cash prizes, and a catered reception. Tickets cost $12, $6 for students 26 and under with ID.
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.
The JFilm Festival returns to bring 11 days of international Jewish-themed films, guest speakers, and more to various venues throughout the region. This year’s lineup features the Pittsburgh premieres of 20 narrative and documentary films from 12 countries.
The event opens on April 26 with Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel, a documentary about childhood friends from summer camp who visit Israel to make a movie about Jewish baseball players, never dreaming it would turn into a run for Team Israel at the 2017 World Baseball Classic. The screening includes a Q&A with Pittsburgh native and MLB.com reporter Jonathan Mayo, who appears in the film, and a pop-up after-party.
Other documentaries in the line-up include Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me and Monsieur Mayonnaise. Helmed by award-winning filmmaker Sam Pollard, Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me explores the achievements and tensions that surrounded the career of entertainer Sammy Davis, Jr., including his conversion to Judaism and his tumultuous relationship with Black America.
Sponsored by the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh, Monsieur Mayonnaise follows French-born Australian artist and cult filmmaker Philippe Mora as he uncovers his father’s remarkable exploits in the French Resistance and his mother’s miraculous escape from a prison camp. The story is told through a montage of found footage and Mora’s own artistic renditions.
Among the narrative films showcased is the comedy Humor Me. Faced with a midlife crisis, Nate (Jemaine Clement), a struggling playwright, moves into a New Jersey retirement community with his father (Elliott Gould). Filmmaker Sam Hoffman’s directorial debut also stars Annie Potts, Bebe Neuwirth, and Erich Bergen, who will appear at the festival.
Representing Pittsburgh is local filmmaker David Bernabo, who will premiere his work In a Dark Wood. The documentary charts the path of composer and University of Pittsburgh music composition professor Mathew Rosenblum’s “Lament/Witches’ Sabbath,” a highly personal concerto written for world-famous clarinetist/composer David Krakauer.
Other films include the Dutch historical drama An Act of Defiance, the Israeli/German drama The Cakemaker, and Itzhak, Alison Chernick‘s documentary about legendary violinist Itzhak Perlman. The festival will also present a number of Q&As with various directors and actors and three sessions of Film Schmooze, a casual post-film discussion led by local scholars and sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh’s Jewish Studies Program.
See the JFilm website for showtimes and ticket prices. Screenings will take place at SouthSide Works Cinema and other select locations, including AMC Mount Lebanon 6, the Hollywood Theater in Dormont, and Seton Hill University in Greensburg.
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 America. Produced 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 Brown, Waverly Duck, Lovie Jewell Jackson Foster, and Tamara Sanders-Woods will follow. The screening and panel discussion are free and open to the public.
Row House Cinema will offer two weeks of great Japanese cinema with the third annual Pittsburgh Japanese Film Festival (JFFPgh). The event strives to strengthen the general understanding of Japanese culture by providing audiences in Pittsburgh with cutting-edge, original films depicting authentic representations of Japan.
“The festival is growing so fast, we had to expand it to two weeks this year, making it one of the largest Japanese film festivals in the country,” festival director Brian Mendelssohn said in an official statement.
The festival opens on April 6 with the Pittsburgh premiere of Neko Atsume House. Based on the mobile game sensation Neko Atsume, it follows a struggling novelist who develops a special relationship with a cat that has an unusual way of easing his anxieties. VIP guests will get to cuddle kittens in the Bierport Tap Room before the film.
The festival schedule will focus on four selections that push gender roles and sexual boundaries in Japan, including Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter, Urotsukidoji, and Antiporno. Also included are the classic samurai films Yojimbo and Sanjuro from Japanese auteur Akira Kurosawa, as well as a brand new restoration of Ishiro Honda’s 1954 monster masterpiece Godzilla.
The festival schedule will focus on four selections that push gender roles and sexual boundaries in Japan, including Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter, Urotsukidoji: Legend Of The Overfiend, and Antiporno. Also included are the classic samurai films Yojimbo and Sanjuro from Japanese auteur Akira Kurosawa, as well as a brand new restoration of Ishiro Honda’s 1954 monster masterpiece Godzilla.
Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon: The Musical – Le Mouvement Final (2018)
In this filmed version of the Japanese musical, Usagi Tsukino says farewell to Mamoru Chiba as he is set to leave for school in America. As Usagi says goodbye, she faints, and a super idol group called the Three Lights appear to catch her fall. Meanwhile, new groups calling themselves Sailor Guardians appear, but are they friend or foe?
The Day Of The Western Sunrise (2018)
A film expertly animated and produced by local Pittsburghers, The Day of the Western Sunrise tells a true story of a surprise atomic bomb test from the perspective of fishermen on the sea nearby – and in the path of danger.
Wandering samurai Sanjuro finds himself in a rough gambling town run by two warlords and their hired thugs. While Sanjuro sets out to rid the town of all these pestilences by playing the two warlords off against each other, his efforts are complicated by the arrival of the son of one of the gangsters, who owns a revolver.
This sequel to Yojimbo draws wandering samurai Sanjuro into the local politics of a group of young men determined to clean up corruption in their town. However, the town’s evil Superintendent is determined to kill off anyone standing in his way, so it’s up to Sanjuro’s cunning and swordcraft to ensure that the Superintendent’s plan does not come to fruition.
Your Name (2016)
The fourth highest-grossing film of all time in Japan and the fifth highest-grossing non-English film worldwide tells the story of a high school girl in rural Japan and a high school boy in Tokyo who swap bodies. They build a connection by leaving notes for one another until they wish to finally meet, but something stronger than distance may keep them apart.
Director Sion Sono takes on the Japanese movie studio Nikkatsu’s Roman Porno (romantic pornography) works of the 1970s and 80s in this film-within-a-film. Fashion star Kioko is bored in her apartment, waiting for a meeting with Watanabe, a chief-editor who’s interviewing her. In the domination and humiliation game between her and her assistant, the roles will slowly invert. Unless it’s all fiction?
See the monster movie that spawned a multimedia franchise, including 32 feature films and that has been recognized by Guinness World Records as the longest-running film franchise in history. Created by the H-bomb, a 164-foot-tall dinosaur-like monster begins a rampage that threatens to destroy Japan and the rest of the world. Can the monster be destroyed before it’s too late?
Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter (1970)
The third in a series of five films which depict a gang of vicious teenage schoolgirls who get their kicks from gang fights, street muggings, and rock and roll. This time Mako and her gang The Alleycats clash with racist macho pigs The Eagles after Mako starts dating an Afro-Japanese man. Row House will screen a new restoration of the film.
Urotsukidoji: Legend Of The Overfiend (1989)
The precursor to the infamous genre of tentacle porn, this complicated horror/fantasy/erotica tells of parallel realms of demons and man-beasts and a 3000-year-old legend that foretells the coming of the Overfiend—a being of unimaginable power that will unite all three realms into a land of eternity.
* Please note that some films in the festival contain graphic sexual imagery or sexual violence and may not be suitable for everyone.
The Pittsburgh Japanese Film Festival takes place from April 6-19 at Row House Cinema. Tickets cost $9 general admission, $7 for matinees before 6 p.m. Opening night event tickets cost $15-30 and $10 for closing night. Discounts apply to college students, Lawrenceville residents, and guests who come in costume. You can also purchase a full festival pass for $36.
A Halloween treat bag of all the things that go bump in the night. From masked killers to scarecrows, witches, and tricksters, there’s a scare for everyone in this anthology of horror and the macabre. The film is the directorial debut for Rocky Gray, the former drummer of the band Evanescence, and includes a vignette from Justin M. Seaman of the Pittsburgh-produced horror indie, The Barn.
The 10/31 premiere event begins at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $10 at the door.
Body Farm, a joint feature-length movie production between KVT Productions and Nickel 17 Films, follows an independent film company that sends a videographer ahead of a story to investigate a body farm where human decomposition is researched. The footage she sends back leads the rest of her team to follow her footsteps to uncover a grisly medical abyss.
Directed by Nicholas LaMantia and writer Brandon Keenan, the low-budget film was shot around the Pittsburgh area and at the famed West Virginia State Penitentiary, as well as in the mountains of North Carolina and in New York City.
The Body Farm premiere takes place at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $8 online or $10 at the door.
From October 25-29, the August Willson Center will screen 90 films from 20 countries for the first-ever Pittsburgh Shorts Film Festival. Presented by Film Pittsburgh, the event will feature special programs, visiting filmmakers, parties, and more.
The festival opens with an opening night showcase of eight films, including Rated. The award-winning short follows Maggie, a wife and mother who must find the courage to own up to her behavior when she wakes up to find every adult has received a YELP-like star rating floating above their head. While most everyone has a shining 4 and 5-star rating, Maggie’s got just 2.5.
The event also includes an after-party with drinks, schmoozing, and food provided by Big Burrito. Tickets for Opening Night cost $15-25.
From there, the festival includes a diverse array of films, including a family matinee with eight kid-friendly shorts. Among the local films presented are three selections from the annual Pittsburgh 48 Hour Film Project. The group includes Girl Seeking Wood, the story of a young Amish woman whose life changes forever when she finds a cell phone.
Those looking for a fright should check out the Thrills and Chill Program featuring 10 indie horror shorts, including Great Choice, an Overlook Film Festival selection about a woman who gets stuck in a Red Lobster commercial. There’s also a Halloween bash with a photo booth, food and drinks, and a live DJ.
On October 9, local horror fans will get a special treat when the Hollywood Theater presents the Pittsburgh premiere of Victor Crowley, the secretly produced reboot to the popular Hatchet slasher franchise.
Starring Hatchet mainstays Kane Hodder (Friday the 13th 7 – X) and Parry Shen (Better Luck Tomorrow), the new film from writer/director Adam Green takes you on a horrifying journey into the haunted, blood-drenched bayou. In 2007, 49 people were brutally torn to pieces in Louisiana’s Honey Island Swamp. Over the past decade, lone survivor Andrew Yong’s claims that local legend Victor Crowley was responsible for the horrific massacre have been met with great controversy, but when a twist of fate puts him back at the scene of the tragedy, Crowley is mistakenly resurrected and Yong must face the bloodthirsty ghost from his past. [Synopsis courtesy of Drafthouse Films]
Victor Crowley screens at 8 p.m. Doors open at 7 p.m. The event includes a special appearance by Adam Green. Tickets cost $15, $12 for Hollywood members.
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.