News Column

Three Rivers Film Festival: Movies for movie lovers

November 7, 2013

YellowBrix

Nov. 07--Most people like movies and consider going to see a movie in the theater a perfectly acceptable way to spend an evening.

Some people, however, truly love movies -- love seeing them, talking about them, thinking about them.

For a few, however, "love" is too debased and simplistic a concept for how they feel about film. No amount of movies is too much. They'd be happy to be cast adrift on an endless sea of movies in a tub of popcorn.

Pittsburgh Filmmakers' annual Three Rivers Film Festival is for all three types of moviegoers -- but especially that last category.

With nearly 80 feature films, the 32nd Three Rivers Film Festival goes way beyond the predictable products of the multiplexes, offering everything from art cinema to documentaries, American indies to animation, Polish love stories to French film-noir thrillers.

The festival starts Nov. 8, with screenings at Pittsburgh Filmmakers' three theaters -- the Harris Theater, Downtown; Melwood Screening Room in Oakland and Regent Square Theater -- and the Waterworks Cinemas in Aspinwall, new to the festival this year. Then there's the Microcinemas (see below), bringing smaller films to smaller, less-formal screening rooms.

The festival also seems a little more organized in catering to specific interests and niches this year. Here are a few of them:

Opening night

The festival starts with a reception at Pittsburgh Filmmakers' Melwood Screening Room in Oakland and four movies at four theaters on Nov. 8 (all at 7:15 p.m., $15 each).

--At the Harris Theater, Downtown, is "A Perfect Man," a romantic drama starring Liev Schreiber as a philandering husband who accidentally falls in love with his wife (Jeanne Tripplehorn), who is posing as another woman.

--At the Melwood Screening Room is "Brasslands," a beautifully shot documentary about the wildly energetic, high-spirited brass bands of the Balkans, and the tiny town in Serbia that hosts the world's largest trumpet festival and competition. For the first time ever, the competition is opened to bands from outside Serbia, including a band from New York City with no native Serbians.

Pittsburgh's own Balkan-influenced brass band, Lungs Face Feet, will perform before and after the film.

--At the Regent Square Theater is "The Girl From the Wardrobe," a surreal fantasy from Poland about two lonely, alienated brothers and how their lives are changed by an encounter with beautiful, mysterious woman in their building. The director, Bodo Knox, will introduce the film.

--At Waterworks Cinemas is "The Rocket," Australia's Oscar entry for best foreign-language film (it's in Lao). Set in Laos, this is the story of a 10-year-old boy whose village is to be demolished to make way for a massive dam. He and his family travel the countryside, searching for a new home in this time of great economic upheaval. Along the way, he dreams of building a rocket to enter into the prestigious, dangerous Rocket Festival.

Music and film

The rise of the "talkies" chased live music out of movie theaters back in the 1920s. Lately, though, it's been coming back -- thanks to innovative musicians like the Alloy Orchestra, whose startlingly modern, percussive live scores for silent films respectfully illuminate some of early cinema's true treasures. On Nov. 23, they'll be accompanying Buster Keaton's slapstick-and-suspense Civil War classic "The General" (4 p.m., Regent Square, $15) and Lon Chaney's strange sad-clown story "He Who Gets Slapped" (8 p.m., Regent Square, $15).

In addition to playing at opening night's "Brasslands," Pittsburgh brass band Lungs Face Feet will provide a live score to the experimental short film "Emak Bakia" (1926) by surrealist legend Man Ray, before a screening of "The Search for Emak Bakia" (8 p.m. Nov. 17, Melwood), a playful response to that mysterious movie.

Another live music-and-movie combination is "The Punk Singer" (7:30 p.m. Nov. 13, Harris), a documentary about Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre, whose music kicked off the "riot Grrrl" feminist-punk movement of the '90s. The film will be followed by a performance by the band Brazilian Wax.

Polish cinema

In addition to opening night's "The Girl From the Wardrobe," there are four other acclaimed Polish films, co-presented by the Polish Cultural Council. They include the disturbing true story of "Loving" (3:30 p.m. Nov. 9 and 7 p.m. Nov. 10, Harris), the romantic psychological drama "Lasting" (3:15 p.m. Nov. 17 and 8 p.m. Nov. 18, Melwood), and a biopic of Roma poet Bronislawa Wajs in "Papusza" (9:15 Nov. 20 and 7 p.m. Nov. 22, Regent Square).

"The Closed Circuit" (6:30 p.m. Nov. 13 and 7:30 p.m. Nov. 14, Melwood) is a political thriller about a high-tech company accused of money-laundering by corrupt government officials. There will be a special reception with the Polish Cultural Council ($15) after the Nov. 14 screening.

Star power

The constellation of stars on the art cinema/film festival circuit looks a bit different from those that orbit Hollywood, revolving around directors as much as actors. Still, there's always some overlap between the two, like actor James Franco's biopic of troubled 1950s idol Sal Mineo, "Sal" (2 p.m. Nov. 17 and 4 p.m. Nov. 23).

And even some big names in mainstream films will get an early showing here. Oscar winner Dame Judi Dench stars in "Philomena," directed by Oscar nominee Stephen Frears ("The Queen"). The film about a woman searching for the son taken from her decades earlier will be shown here at 5 p.m. Nov. 9 and 7 p.m. Nov. 12, two weeks before its Nov. 27 U.S. release.

A legendary indie-film weirdo gets his due in "Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction" (9:45 p.m. Nov. 16 and 3:45 p.m. Nov. 17, Regent Square).

There's also a new movie from American independent film's social conscience, John Sayles. "Go for Sisters" (6:45 p.m. Nov. 9 and 9:30 p.m. Nov. 12, Waterworks) is about two best friends, a parole officer and an ex-con searching for one's son across the Mexican border.

Local interest

Pittsburgh has a long and fruitful filmmaking history, from "the Perils of Pauline" (1914) to the "Night of the Living Dead" (1968) to the recent influx of big-studio productions. This tradition continues, and no fewer than eight feature films by local filmmakers will be showcased at this year's festival.

For horror fans, there's the off-the-wall "Corpsing" (8 p.m. Nov. 14, Regent Square), and a documentary about the mysterious career and death of slasher-film progenitor Karl Atticus, "Mortal Remains" (9 p.m. Nov. 16, Harris).

Documentaries appear to be a local strength, particularly Kenneth Love's "Margo Lovelace and the Magic of Puppetry" and "Thaddeus Mosley: Sculptor" (two short films shown consecutively starting at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 17, Regent Square).

There's also "Blood Brother" (4:30 p.m. Nov. 16), about a Pittsburgh man who moves to India and starts life anew caring for HIV-infected orphans. It was made by the subject's best friend, Steve Hoover (who will be at the screening), and won best U.S. documentary at Sundance.

Microcinemas

An addition to the festival this year is the concept of "microcinemas" -- screening films in small, intimate, nontraditional spaces. The films, for the most part, aren't traditionally shaped, either, ranging from rarely seen underground classics to experimental short films of every stripe.

"I'd imagine that this is slightly in reaction to how polished moviegoing is," says Pittsburgh Filmmakers' exhibition coordinator Laura Jean Kahl. "People can feel so removed from making movies. Microcinemas help break down that wall between the projector and the audience -- the audience feels connected and participating in the screening itself."

Venues range from the raw industrial space of The Shop, host to PERV (Pittsburgh Extreme Radical Video) at 8 p.m. Nov. 11, to Brooklyn's Spectacle Presents: "South Third Street Forever: Like Tears in the Rain" (7 p.m. Nov. 15) at Bloomfield rock club Brillobox.

Pittsburgh microcinema veterans Orgone Cinema and Jefferson Presents ... also return for a screening at the Irma Freeman Center for Imagination in Garfield (7 p.m. Nov. 21).

Animation

Two of the best animated films of all time, both made in 1988, will be part of the film festival this year. There's "My Neighbor Totoro" (2 p.m. Nov. 9, Waterworks; 2 p.m. Nov. 10, Regent Square), from Japan's master of animation, Hayao Miyazaki. Then, there's the beautiful, heartbreaking anti-war film "Grave of the Fireflies" (2:30 p.m. Nov. 9 and 8 p.m. Nov. 12, Regent Square).

There's also the whimsical tale of "Moon Man" (4:30 p.m. Nov. 12, Waterworks; 2 p.m. Nov. 16, Regent Square), a French film about the man in the moon, whose boredom gets the better of him. He hitches a ride to Earth on a passing comet -- leaving the children of the world unable to sleep.

For something completely different, there's "Animated Films by Jean Michel Kibushi" (2:30 p.m. Nov. 10 and 6 p.m. Nov. 14, Harris) whose illustrated Congolese folk tales and political commentaries are assembled from paper drawings, cutouts, models and claymation.

Foreign language Oscar entries

In addition to Opening Night's "The Rocket," there are several Oscar contenders at the festival this year. There's "Bethlehem" (8 p.m. Nov. 9 and 5 p.m. Nov. 10, Regent Square), a thriller about an Israeli Secret Service agent and his Palestinian informant. There's also "Broken Circle Breakdown" (4:30 p.m. Nov. 12 and 9:30 p.m. Nov. 14, Waterworks) a Belgian film about a romance between a tattoo artist and a bluegrass banjo player.

Other Oscar nominees include "Ilo Ilo" (2 p.m. Nov. 10 and 4:45 p.m. Nov. 13) about a Filipino maid and nanny adjusting to a new family in Singapore, and "In Bloom" (9:15 p.m. Nov. 15 and 7 p.m. Nov. 19), a coming-of-age story about teenage friendship and class from the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at mmachosky@tribweb.com or 412-320-7901.

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