Coffee, like tobacco, contains a drug as perfect for the postindustrial era as it was for its machine-age predecessor. Nicotine and caffeine are small-gauge stimulants. They are cheaply purchased, quickly consumed and as quick to the bloodstream, spiking alertness and dulling hunger for that extra push on the shop floor or behind the cubicle wall.
Indeed, workplace compatibility is probably why ... smoking police notwithstanding ... neither nicotine nor caffeine has been subject to the outright prohibition foisted upon psychoactive brethren with more dubious effects on productivity.
The workplace known as the movie set is no exception. While its presence on-screen is neither as sexy nor as politically controversial as lighting up, behind the camera strong coffee has probably fueled even more shoots and editing-suite all-nighters.
Thus one reason that this ubiquitous object of our consumption provides the theme for the fourth annual Film Kitchen Contest and Mini-Festival. For "Coffee Movies," the monthly screening series (co-sponsored by City Paper) solicited local artists for films and videos of four minutes or less. On Tue., May 9, seven finalists will screen for the public and a panel of judges including filmmaker Tony Buba, La Prima Espresso chief Sam Patti and WQED TV producer Minette Seate. Cash prizes and an audience-favorite vote follow.
Finalists include Ron Douglas ("A Brush With Gum Disease"); R.J. Hreha ("Caffeinated"); Michael Knight ("Caffeine is Murder"); Ben Shannon ("Happy Father's Day From Your Son"); Brian Staszel ("Over Coffee"); Keith Tassick ("Coffeeland"); and Janette Toth ("Coffee Crowd").
In addition, a roster of invited area artists including Matthew R. Day, Chris Ivey, Carolina Loyola-Garcia, Jerry King Musser and Liz Richards further demonstrate that a coffee theme doesn't limit one to grind, perk and guzzle.
Musser offers "circumstantial evidence," a surreal short in which a signature character of his, a Beckettesque tramp, finds in an old aluminum coffee pot an unexpected boon and an unnerving denouement. Loyola-Garcia's "Untold Coffee Stories" imagines the whispers of social conscience that might accompany every cup. Ivey's "Spitting Java" records writer and performer Christiane Leach holding the sugar while holding forth on the obstacles facing independent artists in Pittsburgh. Richards' "Caution ... Hot," meanwhile, is a comic daydream about how one's favored beverage can burn, both literally and metaphorically.
Richards cultivated her own caffeine dependency at the coffeehouse and roastery where she worked in the early '90s while a student at Millersville University, in central Pennsylvania. Those were the early days in the mainstreaming of gourmet coffee, before travel mugs were standard accessories and Starbucks were more numerous than stop signs.
"Caution ... Hot," she says, is about "agony-slash-ecstasy." While that's a natural theme as regards an addictive substance, in feeding her own jones, Richards tries to keep the hassle to a minimum. Despite her insider's knowledge about beans prep, for instance, Richards usually grinds her coffee in the store rather than at home: "I don't have that kind of time in the morning."