Tonight: Travel along the Great Allegheny Passage in 'The Trail' at The Hollywood Theater


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The Hollywood Theater in Dormont tonight hosts another in its "Screen & Be Seen" series of films: "The Trail," a documentary by local filmmaker Robert Isenberg, telling of his bike trip from Pittsburgh to Washington D.C.

I know you hate it when I give away the end of movies, but ... he survives.

How else would he have been able to be on hand for the question-and-answer session that follows tonight's screening?

The Hollywood Theater, one of the last single-screen movie houses in the area, is there to do more than sell popcorn. Hence, "Screen & Be Seen," a projector project intended -- according to their Facebook page -- "to promote Pittsburgh's future in the film industry, a future that begins with you. We want to provide the talented filmmakers of the Pittsburgh area with a fantastic venue in which to showcase the product of their hard work."

An invitation like that is not going to slip past Mr. Isenberg unnoticed.

A native of Vermont, his New England modesty precludes him from listing his accomplishments. I, however, have no such constraints.

Mr. Isenberg, 33, moved here in 1997 to study creative writing at the University of Pittsburgh and -- despite an unquenchable desire to travel -- still calls Point Breeze home. To say he makes his living as a free-lance writer is to take the easy way out.

He is a contributing editor for Pittsburgh Magazine and writes for City Paper. He has contributed to the pages of the Post-Gazette and wrote "Enough Rope," a play about a spelunker who spends the production hanging from a rope above the stage. (The suspension is full of suspense: Will her sister pull her up or toss her more rope?)

He is co-creator of The Hodgepodge Society, a humorous lecture series, and co-author of The Pittsburgh Monologue Project. He is a photographer and participates in reading forums.

His "pride and joy," as he calls it, is his book, "The Archipelago: A Balkan Passage," in which he goes in search of "the changed landscape of the Balkans in the aftermath of the ethnic violence that raged there in the 1990s."

"I guess I always want to try something new," he said after the reporter rattled through his resume. "There's an excitement when you pick a new skill and you try it for the first time. With each new thing, you have a chance to learn how your brain works.

"One of the nice things about the arts is that if you learn one thing, it often has a familiarity with something else. Like once you learn one instrument, it's easier to learn another. For me, writing led to photography and the move to video just seemed like the next logical step. Fortunately, we're living in an age where it's a reasonable thing to do in terms of cost and time."

"The Trail" is a 43-minute film about a six-day bike trip that was years in the making.

"I had tried to make the trip 10 years ago," Mr. Isenberg said, "but I only got about halfway -- to Cumberland [Md.], which is about 150 miles -- when I ran out of time. My friend always said it became my white whale."

Last June, he set out to do it from start to finish, 300-plus miles along the Great Allegheny Passage and the C&O Canal. Just him, his camera, and two wheels.

"I'm not a crazy avid cyclist. I'm more of a typical bike commuter," he said. "I hope that people see this and it demystifies the trail, makes it accessible."

The trail is the star, although there are co-stars.

"In the beginning, there were really big groups of people, and then other stretches, especially along the C&O Canal, I just wouldn't see people for hours. The ones I saw ... a lot of people who looked like me. You know, these younger, red-bearded, hippie-looking guys going in the opposite direction.

"Mostly, it's a real nice chance to get away from civilization and get inside your head."

Tonight's presentation will begin with a few short videos Mr. Isenberg has shot over the years, including a short documentary about being in a low-budget zombie movie. Then there's "The Trail."

"It's my first feature-length video," Mr. Isenberg said. "It was a lot of fun to put together. QED aired it about a month ago. It's been much more successful than I expected. It's really cemented this evolution I've had from writing to photography to filmmaking."

The evening begins at 8 at the Hollywood Theater, 1449 Potomac Ave. in Dormont. Admission is $5.

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If you have a suggestion for something to do some evening, let us know about it and we'll see if we can get some of our friends to join you. Contact Dan Majors at dmajors@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1456. This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to: http://press.post-gazette.com/


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