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Monster Mash-Up

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A water bear in "Tardigrades"
  • A water bear in "Tardigrades"

"Tardigrades": It's not a lost Star Trek episode where Spock fails Kirk at calculus. But this charming, independent short nature documentary does suggest science fiction.

It profiles the real but rather mysterious microscopic, multicellular invertebrates known as "water bears" and "moss piglets." Each has a mouth and multiple legs. Tardigrades dwell in the earth's most extreme habitats and your neighborhood stream; they're among the few species capable of "cryptobiosis," or the reversible suspension of metabolism enabling them to "die" and later be "reborn."

Filmmaker Julie Mink screens "Tardigrades" (2008) at "Bride of Film Kitchen," the Halloween-themed Oct. 14 installment of the monthly series. Also screening are Charlie Cline's "Monsters in Autumn" and Chris Nicholson's "Jack Ale Lantern."

Mink double-majored in filmmaking and and natural history at Chatham University, where she needed a thesis project. "What about tardigrades?" an advisor asked. Mink says, "I was like, 'I love tardigrades!"

Mink shot most of the 20-minute film in a Chatham lab, in slides and petri dishes, her camera attached to a microscope that magnified the critters 10 to 100 times. The captivating visuals of these charismatic arthropods are set to danceably atmospheric music by Alexa Casciato, whose voiceover narration (written by Mink) emphasizes that science still knows relatively little about tardigrades -- even compared to such microscopic colleagues as rotifers and nematodes.

Mink, 24, lives in Cheswick and is a research assistant the the University of Pittsburgh. "Tardigrades" has aired on a local cable channel, and Mink is seeking other venues. "I've had a hard time finding film festivals for it," she says.

 

What if the three most famous movie monsters had grown up together, in the same small town? What would a documentary about them -- as they reflected on their shared past -- be like?

The drily funny and suprisingly poignant "Monsters in Autumn" began with Charlie Cline pondering how characters like Dracula, the Wolf Man and Frankenstein's monster were conceived to frighten adults but evolved into off-the-shelf Halloween costumes. Cline, who teaches media-related courses at Webster University, in St. Louis, sought a bridge to our nostalgia for "a more innocent time, and an almost more innocent idea of what's scary."

The 27-minute "Monsters" (2006), shot while Cline taught at Penn State, features grainy, home-movie-style film footage of three kids -- the pre-adolescent monsters -- capering in costume, interspersed with talking-head interviews with the graying icons themselves. Retired Penn State professor Wayne Hilinski (Wolf Man), community-theater actor Ken Byrnes (Frankenstein) and, as Dracula, Cline's uncle Herb Best, improvised their lines during play-acted interviews.

"I don't think he's really happy," Wolf Man says of Dracula. "I rip people's limbs off, but that's not like drinking blood."

Cline, 35, is a West Virginia native and one-time Pittsburgher. "Monsters" has screened at a dozen festivals, including the Sedona (Az.) International; the East Lansing (Mich.), where it won best short; and the Kentucky Bluegrass, where it won best mockumentary.

 

Film Kitchen 8 p.m. Tue., Oct. 14 (7 p.m. reception). Melwood Screening Room, 477 Melwood Ave., N. Oakland. $5. 412-681-9500 or www.pghfilmkitchen.org

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