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Getting the Picture

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Despite, or perhaps because of, their commercial successes, film and video are often given short shrift as art. But admirers of the moving picture view it not only as a medium worthy to stand alongside the classic art forms, but as the place where, in fact, all the other arts meet: sculpture's exploration of form and space, for instance, plus music's play with sound, dance's use of movement.

 

That's what Matthew R. Day figured, too. He studied art at Purdue, then Edinboro, but never felt like he was getting the most out of college. He left school and did paint and repair work at an auto-body shop in Erie, eventually returning to Moon Township, where he grew up. Two years ago, Day enrolled in classes at Pittsburgh Filmmakers. "I guess I kinda missed school," he says.

 

Day had made videos in high school and college. But now he started creating in earnest, and putting all his art skills to use. A selection of Day's often-whimsical short work will highlight the Dec. 13 installment of the Film Kitchen screening series, which will also feature "This Ain't the Garden of Eden," a short by John Allen Gibel, Greg Pierce and Joshua Roberts.

 

Studying movie production formally at Filmmakers, Day found inspiration unexpectedly. One assignment involved re-editing footage from an old classroom film that had been transferred to videotape. Day was struck by images of a masked parade in Africa, its participants dressed in street clothes. "The people just looked like they made their own masks and showed up with them," he says. Day went on to create the wild papier-mí¢ché masks and marionettes that populate "The Flu Bug," a lively piece set to a Squirrel Nut Zippers tune.

 

Day's eclectic approach makes use of what's at hand. In "Hum," he set to music a montage of his grandfather's home movies, which evoke genuine sentiment even if you aren't one of the family. "Sum Parts" is a series of quick, almost surreal sketches featuring local landmarks. "The Helicopter vs. Junior" stars a toy aircraft and Day's 4-year-old housecat in a cleverly edited battle royale.

 

Day, 27, squeezes in shoots around classes and his night-shift customer-service job. His casts and crews are cobbled from among classmates, family and friends; Nathan Jay, the star of the mini-thriller "In for the Night," was a college roommate (the short also features Day's aunt's brother, his sister and, in a cameo, Day himself).

 

And Day continues to see how the arts overlap in movie-making, and indeed how movie-making feeds on itself. Take "Beached," a short that began as a summer project with some Edinboro buddies. The footage for this Robinson Crusoe update, shot on the shores of Lake Erie, sat for a couple of years because Day couldn't figure out how to make it work.

 

Finally, last year he visited the Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium to gather animal noises for "The Helicopter vs. Junior." Though he learned that zoo denizens don't roar on cue, at the aquarium he grabbed some piscine footage that let him complete "Beached."

 

"One project is built into another," says Day. "The skills on any one probably work for any other one."

 

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It started with some blurry Super 8 footage of a sasquatch. The creature was entering the North Side's famed Garden Theater. Three local filmmakers -- John Allen Gibel, Greg Pierce and Joshua Roberts -- got hold of it, and their investigation led them to unearth credible eyewitness accounts of UFO sightings on the North Side and Downtown.

 

"We thought that it was essential to disseminate the information, because the local news media had neglected the story," says Gibel, asked about the creation of the short video "This Ain't the Garden of Eden." "We took it upon ourselves as activists, artists and journalists to make the information available to help [reveal] some of the supernatural events occurring on the North Side."

 

Why there? Areas where three rivers meet are associated with unusual levels of geomagnetic energy; they have long been regarded as holy, says Gibel -- fertile ground for the paranormal and attractive to the secret brotherhoods that feed on such energy. The theory puts the Point and vicinity in a league with Stonehenge and the Valley of the Kings, in Egypt.

 

 

"This Ain't the Garden of Eden" brings it all to light. "It's important for us to examine current events and sightings with the knowledge of local history," says Gibel.

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