Three Rivers Film Festival rolls out new features for its second week

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Glen Powell Jr., left, Savannah Welch, Bryan Chafin and Katie Lemon star in "Jumping off Bridges."

The Arcade Theater on the South Side burned down more than two decades ago. George Romero tends to work in Canada these days. And barely a month goes by without someone in town presenting a film festival.

But the Three Rivers Film Festival is still the granddaddy of them all. It started in 1982 when staffers from Pittsburgh Filmmakers and the Film Section of Carnegie Museum of Art suggested the Three Rivers Arts Festival add a film component to its spring event.

The first festival showcased a dozen films, including Romero's "Knightriders" starring Ed Harris, at the Arcade and a 60-seat screening room on Oakland Avenue since torn down. The festival eventually moved to the fall, when the weather is more conducive to moviegoing, and became the province solely of Filmmakers.


Cinematographers find themselves in front of the camera in the documentary "Cinematographer Style," part of the Three Rivers Film Festival.
Click photo for larger image.

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The 25th festival started Nov. 2 (go to www.post-gazette.com to find our first round of reviews and interviews) and continues through Nov. 16. A look at some of the second-week selections:

'Cinematographer Style'

A cinematographer, one practitioner of the art and craft says, is a visual psychiatrist who moves the audience from here to there, someone who paints a picture in the dark. It's his (and only occasionally, her) job to light, compose and create movement.

This documentary, a must-see for film students or aficionados, introduces 110 cinematographers (including the men who shot such stunning movies as "Chicago," "Seabiscuit," "The Matrix," "Black Stallion" and "The Godfather") and asks them about first jobs, influences, inspirations, equipment advances, storytelling and relationships with directors and production designers.

As fascinating and instructive as "Cinematographer Style" is, and just watch what the placement of a single bulb can mean, it suffers on two fronts: It uses no movie clips, which might have been a rights or cost issue, and it casts too wide a net.

Although director Jon Fauer should be commended for wrangling such an enormous, diverse field, he is too ambitious, trying to include far too many people. I wanted more war stories like the one Dion Beebe tells about how it took three men three days to screw in all of the light bulbs for the finale of "Chicago."

On a practical note, it might have been useful to flash the person's name and three most important credits on screen after the initial introduction. Not everyone will recognize Gordon Willis, Vittorio Storaro, Ernest Dickerson or others on sight although they will be familiar with their wondrous work.

-- Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette movie editor

'Delwende'

When children in an African village mysteriously begin to die, the adults can think of only one explanation: a witch is in their midst.

A ritual designed to unmask the "evildoer" points directly to Napoko (Blandine Yameogo), a wife and the mother of 16-year-old Pougbila (Claire Ilboudo) who has just been raped but refuses to identify her attacker. Napoko is attacked and driven from her village, sent wandering through the country in fear of her life.

This subtitled movie from Burkina Faso shows the toll of both superstition and a male-dominated society where girls are reminded, "You know that women can't decide their own lot."

"Delwende" is a better message picture than drama (the audience learns the reason for the deaths early on and suspects the identity of the rapist), but it shows the peril and injustice of clinging to ancient beliefs. A refugee center for so-called witches is horrifying for both its conditions and its vast population.

It's been 300 years since the last witch trial in North America but that means nothing in this world. But, as the spirited Pougbila argues, "The world is changing and customs must change, too."

-- Barbara Vancheri

'La Moustache'

In the 1927 Paramount silent "Love 'em & Leave 'em," there's a great title card introducing ladykiller Osgood Perkins (father of Anthony) as: "A man who spent six months curing halitosis, only to find out he was unpopular anyway."

An aggravated variation of that problem is driving the protagonist bananas in director Emmanuel Carr???'s oh-so-droll "La Moustache," a kind of existential psycho-mystery-comedy. Marc (Vincent Lindon), a contentedly married architect, has sported a moustache his whole adult life but one day boldly decides to shave it off.

Marc can't wait to get his wife's and friends' reactions. Trouble is, nobody notices. Not only that, but they don't even recall that he ever HAD a moustache, and nothing he does by way of trying to prove it can convince them.

Talk about identity crisis. Who's crazy here -- Marc or everybody else? Is some foul conspiracy afoot to "gaslight" him? What is real, and what is surreal? Is it his memory -- or Memorex -- that has gone? And while we're at it, Ou sont les neiges d'antan?

Lindon delivers a lovely performance, and the questions are fascinating ... for a while. The answers, or non-answers, are elusive. You keep wanting to laugh, more than actually laughing, though occasionally you do, even as you keep wondering about Gallic-existentialist humor.

"La Moustache" might be a real knee-slapper for Jean-Paul Sartre. Lower-brow mortals, like me, might tend to wander out of the theater vaguely yearning for the Three Stooges.

-- Barry Paris, Post-Gazette film critic

'Jumping Off Bridges'

Eager to be another "Ordinary People," this profile of adolescent angst revisits the touchstones of teen alienation, depression, guilt and loss without the advantages of compelling characters and fresh direction. Writer-director Kat Candler invites us into the small world of four high school friends who escape the pressures of daily life by meeting clandestinely to plunge off local bridges into the safety of the waters below.

One boy, punishing himself for a family tragedy, goes off the deep end, literally. The circle of friends closes in around him, and even his distant dad finally comes around. It's a nice story, if familiar, marred by weak acting from most of the performers and no presence from the director, save the intentional bleakness of the photography.

-- John Hayes, Post-Gazette staff writer

'The Tales of Rat Fink'

"Tales of the Rat Fink" is Canadian director Ron Mann's fond documentary -- and razzle-dazzle history lesson -- on the life and times of gearhead hot-rod designer Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, whose cool pop-cultural contributions included the cartoon character "Rat Fink" (the equivalent of Mickey Mouse's evil twin Skippy).

Roth's uniquely un-Detroit cartoon cars were grotesque, fantastic creations with names like Mysterion and Rotar. He and they were immortalized by Tom Wolfe's famous '60s piece, "The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby," which declared that Roth "has kept alive the spirit of alienation and rebellion so important to the teenage ethos that customizing grew up in."

Mann's technique mixes hip animation and digital F/X with pixilated newsreels and archival footage. To get around the doc-oc (that's "documentary-occupational") hazard of talking heads, he lets the cars -- or car-stars -- talk for themselves, their voices supplied by the likes of Ann-Margaret, Matt Groening, Jay Leno, the Smothers Brothers and Brian Wilson. John Goodman voices Roth, who died during the making of the film.

As a device for imparting factoids and basic exposition, it's cute -- a little too cute.

"Tales" is a hagiography that supplies no profound insights into What Made Big Daddy Run (or the negative cultural side of his merchandising). But however superficial, it's an entertaining portrait of a multitalented pioneer.

You gotta love a guy who hates Mickey Mouse.

-- Barry Paris



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