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.
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.
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.
Last August, local horror filmmaker Fred Vogel started shooting his eighth feature film in Pittsburgh. On August 17, the Hollywood Theater will premiere the finished product, The Final Interview, a thriller about a desperate reporter and a killer.
Veteran TV journalist Oliver Ross (Grainger Hines) visits Western Penitentiary for a live broadcast. There he confronts Darius Tidman (Damien Maruscak), a death row inmate and infamous Pittsburgh murderer, hours before his execution. The face-to-face interview is a last-ditch effort for Ross to salvage his declining career. While he spars verbally with Tidman on air, behind the scenes he wrestles with his own personal demons as his ex-wife and show director Rhonda Cox (Diane Franklin) attempts to keep him on track and guide him through the broadcast. Oliver must push through a dark world of the murder and his own mind.
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.
The late-1970s was a magical time for American film, with directors like Steven Spielberg spurring the blockbuster age and shaping generations of cinephiles. But on May 25, 1977, George Lucas created a massive pop culture phenomenon with the release of his epic space opera Star Wars. On May 25, the Hollywood Theater will mark the 40th anniversary of the influential hit with the Pittsburgh premiere of 5-25-77.
Writer/director Patrick Read Johnson spins a semi-autobiographical, coming-of-age tale about an aspiring young filmmaker (John Francis Daley of Freaks and Geeks) growing up in 1970s rural Illinois, falling in love, and becoming the first fan of Star Wars.
5-25-77 begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $8-10.
The independent feature film from writer/producer/director John Jaquish follows a group of criminals who, while fleeing a gun possession charge, take over a farm in rural Appalachia and try to secede from the United States. The film, which was shot in West Virginia on black-and-white 35mm film, used an all-Pittsburgh crew, as well as some local acting talent.
The Mutineer premiere takes place at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $7. The screening includes appearances by Jaquish along with a number of cast and crew members.
Cartoonist Dash Shaw recently made waves (pun intended) when he premiered My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea, an absurd animated feature that’s exactly what the title suggests. On April 25, Row House Cinema welcomes Shaw for the Pittsburgh premiere of his new work.
Dash (Jason Schwartzman) and his best friend Assaf (Reggie Watts) are preparing for another year at Tides High School muckraking on behalf of their widely-distributed but little-read school newspaper, edited by their friend Verti (Maya Rudolph). But just when a blossoming relationship between Assaf and Verti threatens to destroy the boys’ friendship, Dash learns of the administration’s cover-up that puts all the students in danger. As disaster erupts and the friends race to escape through the roof of the school, they are joined by a popular know-it-all (Lena Dunham) and a lunch lady (Susan Sarandon) who is much more than meets the eye, in this wild send-up of disaster cinema, high school comedy, and blockbuster satire. (Synopsis courtesy of GKIDS)
The My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea Pittsburgh premiere begins at 7:15 p.m. Shaw and cartoonist Frank Santoro will kick off the event with a live interview followed by the screening. Tickets cost $12, $20 for VIP tickets that include a private meet-and-greet in the Bierport taproom. The film will continue to show as part of Row House’s High School Sucks week.
For over two decades, JFilm Festival has worked to foster a deeper understanding and appreciation of modern Jewish culture and history. From April 20-30, the event will present new films from around the world, along with complementary programming such as visiting filmmakers, guest speakers, and more. See below for highlights and details:
The 2017 JFilm Festival will present a variety of documentaries, including the Pittsburgh premiere of Take My Nose…Please. Directed by veteran journalist Joan Kron, the film looks at the role comedy has played in exposing the pressure on women to attain physical perfection. From Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers to Roseanne Barr and Kathy Griffin, female comedians have been unashamed to talk about their perceived flaws, and the steps taken to remedy them. The film follows two women – up-and coming improv performer Emily Askin and seasoned headliner Jackie Hoffman – as they deliberate about going under the knife.
Also showing in the documentary category is There Are Jews Here, a film about the struggle to keep small-town synagogues open; The Last Laugh, an exploration of how comedians deal with the horrors of the Holocaust and World War II; and On the Map, a look at how, in 1977, an Israeli basketball team gave the country hope.
The festival will also present narrative films such as The Exception. Filled with espionage and romance, the star-studded World War II thriller features Jai Courtney as a German soldier on a mission to investigate exiled German Monarch Kaiser Wilhelm II (Christopher Plummer). As he begins to infiltrate the Kaiser’s life in search of clues, he finds himself drawn into an unexpected and passionate romance with one of the Kaiser’s maids (Lily James of Downton Abbey) who is secretly Jewish. Their relationship becomes even more complicated when SS leader Heinrich Himmler (Eddie Marsan) suddenly shows up with a large platoon of Nazis in tow.
Other narrative selections include The Jews, a dark satire about anti-Semitism in France; Fanny’s Journey, a WWII-era tale about a 13-year-old girl on the run from the Nazis; and Family Commitment, a screwball comedy about an Arab-Jewish gay couple and their dysfunctional families.
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.