Images from films (left to right): "Terror's Advocate," "Dhamma Brothers," "Strange Girls," "Underworld" and "Walkabout."
By Barbara Vancheri Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pittsburgh, alas, isn't on the festival circuit for George Clooney, Jude Law or Keira Knightley. But the Three Rivers Film Festival doesn't have a $12 million operating budget like the Toronto fest or the power to draw from around the globe -- unless you count movies from places such as Argentina, Israel, Mexico and Russia.
Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania will be represented as well, of course. Rona Mark's "Strange Girls" features an elderly landlady named Mrs. Warhola, a shot of Gooski's in Polish Hill and a Pittsburgh accent so thick even the Steel Curtain couldn't penetrate it.
It's always easy to revert to the default position of being slouched in front of the television with the remote or simply gravitating to the blockbuster of the week. Those movies will still be around in late November, but the festival will not.
Here, then, are 10 reasons why the festival matters, even during an increasingly crowded fall movie season:
Age counts, in Pittsburgh -- Now in its 26th year, it's the oldest and biggest of the homegrown festivals. Organizers from Pittsburgh Filmmakers have made all the mistakes and fixed them (they hope) and know what works here.
Cinematic cachet -- You can be the first in your book club or neighborhood to see "Grace Is Gone" with John Cusack or "The Walker" with Woody Harrelson and Lauren Bacall or director Barbet Schroeder's "Terror's Advocate."
The 2006 festival, for instance, opened Nov. 2 with "Pittsburgh," a bubbly blend of fact and fiction about Jeff Goldblum's star turn in "The Music Man." That was 10 months before the movie hit the premium cable channel Starz and, then, DVD. Last year's lineup also included "The Lives of Others," long before it won the Oscar for foreign language film and arrived for a regular run.
Don't take the lack of reviews or interviews as a sign that the movies are bombs. In fact, the opposite may be true. A studio may withhold an advance screening of a movie or related interview because it wants to keep its gun powder dry until the movie has its commercial opening.
Cusack on the home front -- Moviegoers have embraced horror this fall, just not the horrors of war. Witness the tepid reaction to "The Kingdom," "In the Valley of Elah" and "Rendition," fine movies all but not a box-office winner in the bunch.
Now comes another take on the Iraq war, filtered through an average husband and dad (John Cusack) whose soldier wife dies and who must tell their daughters, ages 12 and 8. If any movie, so far, can touch a nerve, this one may. With its concentration on the homefront, it likely won't resemble the sort of war coverage that's become a TV news staple.
"Grace Is Gone" plays at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Regent Square Theater. It's rated PG-13 for thematic material, brief strong language and teen smoking.
Early Oscar homework -- Although there is no guarantee it will land in the final five, France has named "Persepolis" as its official submission for foreign language film.
It's an acclaimed animated film about an outspoken Iranian girl's coming of age. Based on Marjane Satrapi's graphic novels, it features the voices of Catherine Deneuve and her daughter, Chiara Mastroianni. "Persepolis" plays just once: Nov. 10 at 9:15 p.m. at Regent Square Theater.
Also booked is "Beaufort," Israel's submission for the Academy Awards. A winner at the Berlin Film Festival for director Joseph Cedar, it's set in Southern Lebanon in 2000 and focuses on a 22-year-old commander and his band of increasingly taxed soldiers.
Bonus hockey nights -- Pittsburgh Filmmakers has found a way to combine hockey with moviegoing, and the $8 admission ticket is far cheaper than a Penguins seat. Besides, the Pens aren't at home two of the three nights "The Rocket: The Legend of Rocket Richard" shows.
Roy Dupuis plays the title role, a former factory worker who became a hockey superstar and whose name graces an NHL award for goal scoring. In the land where hockey is king, "The Rocket" won nine Canadian Genie awards, including for leading actors Dupuis and Julie LeBreton, plus supporting player Stephen McHattie.
"The Rocket" will play Nov. 9 at 7 p.m., Nov. 10 at 2 p.m. and Nov. 12 at 9 p.m., all at the Harris Theater.
Over the moon about Manhattan -- Pittsburgh Filmmakers has secured a new print of "Manhattan," Woody Allen's valentine to his hometown. It's been more than 28 years since it arrived in theaters, with its swoon-worthy shots and gorgeous Gershwin music.
You can see it Nov. 8 at 7 p.m. at the Melwood Screening Room and Nov. 14 at 7:30 p.m. at the Harris Theater.
In a new book called "Conversations With Woody Allen," the director says with a laugh, "People really latched on to 'Manhattan' in a way that I thought was irrational."
But then again he often is not bowled over by his own work. In that same Eric Lax book, Allen says, " 'Manhattan,' two weeks before it came out, I wanted to buy it back. I remember saying to [manager] Jack Rollins, 'I just can't believe with my experience in the game that I could come up with this picture.' "
Movie plus music -- Many theatergoers love the experience of sitting through a performance that will never be replicated again. The mood in the house, the receptivity of the audience and how the actors connect on stage are different each night.
A couple of events will approximate that: The Alloy Orchestra, a three-man band from Boston, plays a new score for the silent movie "Underworld" Sunday at 8 p.m. at the Regent Square, and William Barton will give a live didgeridoo performance in connection with the documentary "Kalkadoon Man" Nov. 10 at 7 p.m. at the Harris Theater.
Short on attention, long on talent -- If your attention span has shrunk to the length of an iPod tune, consider the shorts programs Nov. 11 and Nov. 14. Together, they will present 21 shorts in a variety of filmmaking styles, from animation to experimental.
Support your local filmmakers -- Pittsburgh Filmmakers has showcased or spawned a number of famous alumni, including writer-director Greg Mottola, who is now shooting "Adventureland" in Pittsburgh. He directed "Superbad" and directed and scripted "The Daytrippers."
Quiz show -- Who hasn't walked out a movie wishing you could ask the director or writer or editor a question? Where in the world did the director find those red-haired twins for "Strange Girls"? How did editing "Babel" compare with assembling "The Nines"? Is punk dead?
You can ask all of those questions when director Rona Mark, editor Douglas Crise (Oscar-nominated for "Babel") and director Susan Dynner appear. A quick look at appearances during the first week:
• Director Rona Mark will attend a 7:30 p.m. screening of "Strange Girls" at the Melwood Screening Room.
• Director Jenny Phillips will attend a 6 p.m. showing of her movie, "The Dhamma Brothers," at Melwood. • Jacob Ciocci, artist-in-residence, will present a program combining original animation with found footage from VHS tapes, videogames and the Internet, at 9 p.m. at Melwood.
• Phillips returns for a 2 p.m. showing of "Dhamma Brothers" at Melwood. • Director Chris Suchorsky will attend a 4:30 p.m. showing of "Golden Days" at Melwood. • "Underworld" screens at 8 p.m. at Regent Square, with live music by Alloy Orchestra.
• Suchorsky returns for 7:15 p.m. "Golden Days" at Melwood.
• Linda Benedict-Jones, executive director of Silver Eye Center for Photography, will introduce "Eloquent Nude" at 7 p.m. at Melwood. • Director Susan Dynner will attend the 9 p.m. showing of "Punk's Not Dead" at Melwood.
• Director Carolina Loyola-Garcia will attend the 7 p.m. screening of "Pascua Lama" at Melwood. • Director Dynner will attend the 9 p.m. "Punk's Not Dead" at Melwood.