The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and the August Wilson Center continue to showcase African-American contributions to cinema with another edition of the Black Bottom Film Festival. From February 23-25, the event features a selection of full-length films, shorts, and documentaries that focus on “the recurring themes of spirituality, race, family conflict, honor, duty and working-class struggle, themes ever-present in August Wilson’s The Pittsburgh Cycle plays.” The event will also include intimate Q&As, a dance party, and workshops for writers and actors.
See event schedule and details below:
Pittsburgh Short Films
The Pittsburgh Short Films program will present two selections, the documentary Wendell Freeland: A Silent Soldier (dir. Billy Jackson) and the drama Tale of Four ( dir. Gabourey Sidibe).
Wendell Freeland: A Silent Soldier tells the story of the late Wendell Grimkie Freeland, a Pittsburgh African American leader, attorney, activist, and Tuskegee Airman who worked quietly, but effectively, on significant civil rights battles. As a young Army Air Corp officer during World War II, he risked court marshall and death for defying racist orders to respect segregated officers’ facilities on an Indiana U.S. Army base. He also engaged in successful Pittsburgh battles for civil rights in public accommodations, police conduct towards Black citizens, fair housing, economic opportunity, and other matters. The film includes interviews with various subjects, including Freeland himself, as well as archival photos and footage.
With Tale of Four, Academy Award and Golden Globe-nominated actress, Gabourey Sidibe makes her directorial debut in a multi-layered story that spans one day in the life of four different women who are connected through their quest for love, agency, and redemption. Inspired by Nina Simone’s song, “Four Women,” this film examines four separate stories reflective of multi-faceted African American women connected by the inner city building that they live in, ultimately converge on one fateful day through unheralded acts of bravery.
TruthSayers Speaker Series Presents: April Reign
This event will feature guest April Reign, creator of the viral hashtag #OscarsSoWhite.
Love Jones (dir. Theodore Witcher)
Say hello to Darious Lovehall and Nina Mosley, two confused lovebirds who discover that you can never underestimate the power of a love jones. Stars Larenz Tate, Nia Long, and Khalil Kain. The event includes a pre-screening Q&A with Kain.
90’S Themed After Party with DJ Selecta
Odds Against Tomorrow (dir. Robert Wise)
Harry Belafonte produced and stars in this 1959 crime drama about a man who hires two very different debt-burdened men for a bank robbery until suspicion and prejudice threaten to end their partnership.
Cinderella Man (dir. Ron Howard)
The work of production designer and 2018 Black Bottom Film Festival Cinematic Excellence Awardee, Wynn Thomas, will be on display when the festival screens the 2005 period drama, Cinderella Man. The Oscar-nominated film stars Russell Crowe as James Braddock, a supposedly washed-up professional prizefighter who came back to become the Heavyweight Champion of the World and a national hero in the 1930’s. A Q&A and awards ceremony for Thomas will take place at 3 p.m. before the screening.
Double Play (dir. Ernest Dickerson)
Based on the book by Frank Martinus Arion, Double Play is a vibrant, multi-textural drama set against the beauty and bittersweet complexity of Curacao, where poverty and wealth are two sides of the same coin. In a high stakes game of dominoes, players confront their lust, desperation, rage, and remorse with deadly consequences. Directed by Ernest Dickerson, this film stars Lennie James and Louis Gossett, Jr. The movie’s producer, Lisa Cortes, will attend the Black Bottom Film Festival.
Pittsburgh Short Films
The Pittsburgh Short Films program will present two selections, Night Shift (dir. Marshall Tyler) and Inamorata ( dir. A-lan Holt). In Night Shift, a night in the life of a bathroom attendant at a Los Angeles nightclub goes haywire. In Inamorata, a clairvoyant woman finds something unexpected during an intimate encounter with her fiancé’s lover.
Magnificent Life of Charlie (dir. Bobby Huntley)
After her sister Brandy’s untimely death, everyone is taken aback by Charlie’s unorthodox (and seemingly chipper) approach to her grieving process. Follow Charlie and her friends Kayla and Keturah as they go along for a wild, hilariously exhilarating and bittersweet ride – which will surely be the craziest day of Charlie’s life. A Q&A with director Bobby Huntley and star Ashley Evans will take place before the screening.
Last Life (dir. Michael Phillip Edwards)
Produced written and directed by Michael Phillip Edwards, Last Life is a tale about two African-American lovers who learn they’ve been together over the course of many lifetimes and that they must come to terms with the purpose of their repeated union. They are told by their doppelganger spirits that they only have days to live and achieve their goal (healing the divide between a former slave woman and slave man) after which they will die and never return. Edwards stars in the film as well, along with Tamika Lamison and Kobe Reverditto. A Q&A with Edwards and Lamison will take place before the screening.
Betty Davis: They Say I’m Different (dir. Phil Cox)
Betty Davis is known for her outsized life, fashion and music in 1970s America. She arrived on the scene to break boundaries for women with her daring personality, iconic fashion style, and outrageous funk. But her raunchy lyrics and explosive stage energy clashed with the race and gender stereotypes of her time, leading the NAACP and black middle class to object to her music and boycott her performances. She befriended Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone, wrote songs for the Chambers Brothers and the Commodores, and married Miles Davis, turning him from jazz to funk. Then she vanished. The documentary explores how she became a major influence on a diverse array of artists. A Q&A with director Phil Cox will take place before the screening.
Black Bottom Film Festival Closing Reception
All events take place at the August Wilson Center unless otherwise noted. Tickets cost $25 for a day pass $55 for a festival pass, and are available for purchase online, over the phone at (412) 456-6666 or in person at the Theater Square Box Office.
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 6:30–8:30 p.m. The film is rated PG and will have closed captioning. Register for free at Eventbrite.
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 March 3rd, the August Wilson Center for African American Culture will spotlight an important moment in fashion history with a special screening of the documentary Versailles ’73: American Runway Revolution. The film will be shown as part of Glamazonia, a photography exhibition presented by FashionAFRICANA.
The film focuses on a chilly night in November 1973 , when the Americans stormed France in an epic battle that would pit the French haute couture establishment against innovative American ready-to-wear designers in a runway rumble for industry dominance. In front of a who’s who audience of royalty, jet-set millionaires, and icons, African-American models Billie Blair, Pat Cleveland, Alva Chinn, Norma Jean Darden, Charlene Dash, Bethann Hardison, Barbara Jackson, Jennifer Brice, Ramona Saunders, and Amina Warsuma walked the catwalk and helped American designers pull off a fashion coup that would be remembered for decades.
Essence Magazine Editor-at-Large Mikki Taylor, featured model Cleveland, and writer/director Deborah Riley Draper will host the screening. The event begins with a VIP reception at 4 p.m., with the film starting at 5:30 p.m. A Q&A featuring the director and cast members Taylor and Cleveland will follow, along with a tour of the Glamazonia exhibition. Tickets are $25, $50 for the VIP reception, and are available for purchase at Showclix.