Greetings, let's go to the movies
Jeremy Braverman, center, directs actors, from left, Sam Turich, Carla Bianco, Bingo O'Malley and Rita Gob during the production of "Regent Square," a film for the Neighborhood Narrative project. Cinematographer John Rice is in the background.
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Rediscovery, regret, adaptation and a comedic twist on the city's most beloved genre, the zombie movie, all will play out in a 90-minute film to be screened this fall as part of the Pittsburgh 250 celebration.
Ten neighborhood stories made the cut for "Greetings from Pittsburgh: Neighborhood Narratives" and are now being cast, rewritten or filmed in a neighborhood near you.
Kristen Lauth Shaeffer and Andrew Halasz, filmmakers and college instructors, initiated the project with a $5,000 Sprout Fund grant last fall. They put out a call for local filmmakers to send treatments of 10-minute narratives in which the personality of a neighborhood shines through its characters. They will unite all 10 stories in the final product.
An advisory committee of local film professionals considered more than 30 entries.
In starring roles are Bloomfield, the Strip District, the Hill District, Lawrenceville, Oakland, Regent Square, Homestead, Mount Oliver, South Side and Downtown.
Ms. Lauth Shaeffer and Mr. Halasz said their inspiration was "Paris, Je T'Aime," a 2006 paean to the City of Love -- a compilation of 18 short films that were woven to create a whole, not an anthology.
"There's 'Paris I Love You' and now there's a 'New York, I Love You,'" said Mr. Halasz, a film instructor at Point Park University. "But we've got dibs on Pittsburgh."
"The plan is to screen it in all the neighborhoods where there's a theater, and, for others, show it in community settings where there's space," said Ms. Lauth Shaeffer, who grew up in Oakwood and teaches at Chatham University.
All the filmmakers are paying or finding support for the costs of their productions, with friends and relatives pitching in services.
Like Mr. Halasz, a New Jersey native, a majority of the contributing filmmakers and their characters are either transplants or returnees, often with an unwitting and initially chagrined mate in tow.
The mother of all transitions in Pittsburgh's story -- the leaving -- figures into a few of the films.
In Justin Francart's "PPT" -- "Pinkie, Pointer, Thumb" -- a conflicted young man is saying goodbye to a former lover in an awkward tour of their favorite places.
Leaving Pittsburgh is an almost iconic passage for young adults, said Mr. Francart, a native of New Kensington, who returned to attend the University of Pittsburgh after attending college in upstate New York. He said he has rediscovered a city "that interests me no end."
"This town has a way of both holding onto and casting out," he said. "We all say we want to leave, but I'm afraid that if I do, Pittsburgh's going to blow up into the coolest place on earth."
Gabrielle Resnek and Sam Turich joined the influx of artists and transplants that has fueled Lawrenceville's transition. They moved back to his hometown last year from Brooklyn, where they met.
"When we decided to become parents, we decided to move to Pittsburgh," he said.
"He lured me here," said Ms. Resnek, Mr. Turich's wife and collaborator on "Mombies."
She said she wanted to live somewhere ultra leafy, "but instead we live in a neighborhood that's almost like our hipster neighborhood in Brooklyn."
The couple has written together, produced short films and acted; Ms. Resnek also does stand-up comedy. Once settled in Lawrenceville, they had Mathilda, now 11 months old, and began noticing they weren't alone.
An outbreak of strollers triggered their film, a comic turn on "Night of the Living Dead," in which two young hipster-artist women "are horrified to see their neighborhood infested by moms pushing strollers," said Ms. Resnek.
"We enlisted all the moms in our play group to be the mombies in the cemetery scene."
Two other transplants interpret their neighborhood in "Regent Square."
Jeremy Braverman, a Missouri native, and Nelson Chipman, a North Carolinian who moved here from Brooklyn, both teach film classes at Point Park and brainstormed for the film by "sharing stories about what we love about the neighborhood," said Mr. Braverman.
"I think in the first weeks of being here, I knew more people than I knew in Brooklyn in seven years," said Mr. Chipman. "Usually every Friday, someone has a front-porch happy hour," an event that figures into their film.
The two main characters are an elderly blind gentleman and a young New York transplant he tries to befriend. The young man's wife got the job that moved them here, so he is home to interact with this elderly neighbor. Their relationship changes their lives in unexpected ways.
"We hope the screenings are social occasions for people in these neighborhoods," said Ms. Lauth Shaeffer. "We suspect that Pittsburghers will be able to make connections to their own experiences, but on our blog, someone wrote that it's really people from outside the city who need to see this."
For more information on the project, visit www.pghneighborhoodnarratives.com.
First Published July 4, 2008 12:00 am