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It's Not the Arrival, But...

A standout film is left out of a local retrospective

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When the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust announced its "Films With The Pittsburgh Connection" summer movie series, you could hear head-scratching around town.

Sure, there's Chicago, directed by local-boy-made-good Rob Marshall; the famously shot-in-Pittsburgh Flashdance; and even favorite son Gene Kelly dancin' and Singin' in the Rain. But some of the connections seemed tenuous. A 1940s double-feature of To Have and Have Not and The Maltese Falcon, simply because the films were produced by Warner Brothers, whose founders had decades earlier opened a movie house in New Castle & after seeing the first nickelodeon in Downtown Pittsburgh? Amadeus, because co-star F. Murray Abraham was born here, even though he's had little to do with Pittsburgh since?

The flip side is movies left out. Of course, countless films have some Pittsburgh connection. But if we're commemorating, as a Cultural Trust press release states, "the city of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh-related actors, writers, directors and producers," what about independent films? For instance, what about The Journey, a 1997 feature-length comic drama written, produced and directed here by Pittsburgher Harish Saluja?

That's what some in Pittsburgh's Indian community are asking about the film, which depicts a retired Indian schoolteacher (played by acclaimed actor Roshan Seth) making his first visit to America, where he stays in the Pittsburgh home of his son, the son's American wife and their daughter. The Journey screened at about two dozen festivals worldwide, including the Chicago International Film Festival and the Singapore Film Festival; it got good reviews and won Best Independent Film at the Cleveland Film Festival. While Saluja never landed a U.S. theatrical distributor, The Journey also played in theaters throughout India and has aired on cable in Great Britain and South America.

The week before the series began Aug. 1, an e-mail with the subject line "People of color need not apply" circulated to the media asking why The Journey wasn't included. The sender didn't respond to an e-mailed interview request.

Fran Egler, the Cultural Trust's vice president of programming, said that the Trust knew of The Journey and that "a couple of people have mentioned" the fact that it wasn't included. "The series is just a sampling of Pittsburgh films with a Hollywood connection," says Egler. "We never presented it as comprehensive."

The series isn't just for Hollywood, though; it also includes the independently produced Talking Heads concert documentary Stop Making Sense (Heads drummer Chris Frantz is a native) and The Bread, My Sweet, a locally produced 2000 romance that played in local theaters for a year (and is still making its way around the U.S.). Then there's the Hollywood drama St. Elmo's Fire, which was scripted by Pittsburgh native Carl Kurlander, who's a visiting assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh and who helped select films for the series.

"We probably should have played The Journey," says Gary Kaboly of Pittsburgh Filmmakers, who also helped program. "It was an error of omission."

For his part, Saluja says he's aware of e-mails about his movie and has asked people to stop sending them. Still, he sounds a little miffed that The Journey wasn't taken.

"I don't know what else I have to do, get an Oscar?" says Saluja, who says his film will air on the Independent Film Channel in September. "Millions of people are going to see it, but it's not good enough for Pittsburgh."

"I think what happens is & what the African-American community has been talking about," says Saluja, a native of India. "Lots of white people don't see people of color. They just find them invisible.

"I don't think it's intentional," he adds. "People just don't see us. Maybe we need to be taller and more handsome."

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