If you set American Graffiti in Pittsburgh, crossed it with an animated Wings of Desire starring ballet dancers and scored it with churchy choral music that segues seamlessly into doo-wop, you'd have something like "Hill Dancers." Artist Doug Cooper's extraordinary 13-minute film highlights the next installment of the Film Kitchen screening series for independent film and video.
Cooper is known for his fantastical, large-scale graphite renderings of Pittsburgh landscapes. These panoramic views from vantage points like the South Side Slopes seamlessly blend the big picture with intimate detail; they're nearly cinematic to start with. Here, with help from animators, Cooper turns his drawings into virtual sets into which he inserts real actors. (Picture live actors riding in hand-drawn cars.) The results include dialogueless shorts like "Pinburgh," in which, amidst everyday goings-on like a streetcar ride, the city becomes a giant pinball game.
"Hill Dancers" is even more impressive. Set in 1960, it follows a young woman — a simple narrative that becomes a poetically nostalgic evocation of everyday urban life at mid-century, as finely tuned to gesture as to landscape. The crowning touch is Thomas W. Douglas' gorgeously light-hearted score, performed by the Bach Choir of Pittsburgh.
Courtesy of Film Kitchen curator Matthew Day, of Pittsburgh Filmmakers, the May 15 screening also includes Jamie Martina's "It's All Play," a perhaps-surprising 14-minute documentary about how nightclub strippers view themselves. "We're really just dressed-up, sexier counselors," says one. "There is only objectification if you allow it," says another.
Meanwhile, Brooke Schooles offers a series of short, dreamlike videos set to work by local spoken-words artists including Vanessa German, and Jack Wilson with Christiane D. And "Behind the Tube" is a series of short videos by Kaoru Tohara. Fifteen years ago, the Japanese-born Pittsburgh transplant noticed that the same actors appeared in different TV commercials. In "Behind the Tube," unavailable for preview, Tohara re-edits footage to give these nameless men and women their own narratives spanning various consumer products.