All films screen in McConomy Auditorium, CMU campus, except where otherwise noted. Call 412-268-5097 or see www.cmufilmfestival.org for more information.
Following are brief reviews and descriptions.
Wed., April 23
5:30, 7:30 and 10 p.m., and 12:30 a.m. Student Film Festival. Four different programs of narrative, documentary, non-narrative, animated and experimental films by Carnegie Mellon students.
Thu., April 24
1 p.m. Titicut Follies. Master documentarian Frederick Wiseman's first feature-length film was this harrowing, 1967 cinema vérite look inside the State Prison for the Criminally Insane at Bridgewater, Massachusetts. Built around the annual inmate stage show, or "follies," the film so unflinchingly depicts staff and inmates that it was suppressed by Massachusetts courts. It remains among the most memorable and important American documentaries ever made. * * * *
3 p.m. La Noire de ... /Black Girl. Anyone who's seen the charming and incisive Faat-Kine, the latest feature by revered Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane SembÃ¨ne, knows the octogenarian's still got it. Here's a chance to see where he began, with a rare screening of his 1966 first feature, which is also considered sub-Saharan African cinema's first major production. SembÃ¨ne -- a tradesman, Free French sharpshooter, dock worker, union leader and novelist before turning to film at age 40 -- relates a tragic drama about an African servant working in France.
5 p.m. Killer of Sheep. A laid-off African-American slaughterhouse worker in Watts and his family are the subject of this stunning 1977 first feature by Charles Burnett. The film, shot in black and white, is part of the Library of Congress's National Film Registry. Burnett went on to direct 1990's excellent To Sleep With Anger.
7 p.m. The Decay of Fiction. As both a business model and an aesthetic proposition, classic Hollywood died ages back -- more than 50 years ago, to be more exact. So it's fitting that veteran experimentalist Pat O'Neill turns to the cinema of his youth to suggest the tricks memory can play when mixed with the movies. Decay (2002) is a gorgeous yet unsettling 70-minute anti-narrative shot in an abandoned Hollywood luxury hotel in which the ghostly images of film noir dames, gangsters, G-men, maids, cooks and show-biz types come and go. The actors are shot in transparent black-and-white at normal speed, while the settings -- passing sunlight, billowing curtains -- blink by in time-lapse color, giving the sense that the fiction is at once more real and more evanescent than O'Neill's nerveless appraisal of a building beautifully gone to rot. The actors' words and gestures coalesce into a collective dream, seasoned with a little bit of nightmare. The film's craftsmanship is amazing (besides his experimental work, O'Neill has done special effects for Hollywood movies). O'Neill and Decay of Fiction cinematographer and sound designer George Lockwood will visit from Los Angeles for a question-and-answer session after the screening. Also screening: O'Neill's 1996 short Trouble in the Image. (BO) * * *
10:30 p.m. Ratcatcher. The 1999 debut feature of Scottish director Lynne Ramsay (Morvern Callar) is a coming-of-age story about a 12-year-old boy during a summer garbage strike in Glasgow. This is its Pittsburgh theatrical premiere.
12:30 a.m. Easy Rider. Directed and co-written by Dennis Hopper, this low-budget 1969 road movie -- featuring songs by The Byrds, Jimi Hendrix, Steppenwolf and others -- was an anti-Hollywood statement ... but also a box-office smash that convinced Hollywood to aggressively pursue the youth market. Hopper and Peter Fonda star in the story of two bikers out looking for America; Jack Nicholson co-stars.
Fri., April 25
1 p.m. Spanking the Monkey. Writer-director David O. Russell (Flirting With Disaster, Three Kings) debuted with this dark 1994 comedy about a teenager's obsessive masturbation and taboo relationship with his mother.
3 p.m. Taste of Cherry. Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami's spare drama follows a middle-aged man driving about the countryside, trying to find someone to help him commit suicide. The 1997 feature won the Golden Palm at Cannes.
5 p.m. Animation Program I. Shorts include an impressionistic take on Mount Fuji and a Canadian surprise party gone awry.
6 p.m. Animation Program II. Pittsburgh's Jim Duesing lectures and presents a retrospective of his work, which combines computer animation and social criticism.
8 p.m. The Decay of Fiction. A reprise of the April 24 program with filmmaker Pat O'Neill. Melwood Screening Room
9 p.m. Shadows. Actor John Cassavetes arguably launched the modern American independent film movement with this improvisational, self-financed 1959 drama about an interracial romance.
Midnight. The Last Dragon (USA, 1985). Michael Schultz directed this 1985 American-made kung fu comedy -- set in Harlem -- about a would-be martial-arts master.
Sat., April 26
1 p.m. "Eulogies to the Undead: Private Rockers Meet Little Lieutenants." A program of contemporary experimental shorts features works by Scott Stark, Henry Hills, Keith Sanborn, Suzie Silver and more.
3 p.m. "Stan Brakhage Tribute." (see below)
5:30 p.m. Gates of Heaven. The first feature film by documentary maverick Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line) was this hilarious yet disturbing 1978 anatomy of a Northern California pet cemetery.
8 p.m. She's Gotta Have It. Spike Lee's first feature film was this spirited, engaging 1986 comedy about a sensual young woman and her various suitors.
9 p.m. Special Event. New York-based artist Benton Bainbridge (a.k.a. "Valued Cu$tomer") plays live audiovisuals, performing movies as a real-time art. With special guest Colongib (a.k.a. local sound artist Chris Graves). Regina Miller Gallery, Purnell Center, CMU campus.
12:30 a.m. Gummo. Harmony Korine, who first gained notice with his script for Larry Clark's Kids, made his directorial debut with this bizarre, disturbing and darkly comic 1997 film about aimless poor kids in a small Ohio town.
Sun., April 27.
5:30 p.m. Stranger Than Paradise. This early film by indie icon Jim Jarmusch is a 1984 road-movie comedy about a young man, his best friend and a visiting cousin from Hungary. With John Lurie, Ezster Balint.
7:30 p.m. "Looking is Better than Feeling You." Visiting curator Astria Suparak presents a collection of contemporary film and video shorts by women artists including Dancing Girls, by Jennifer Sullivan; You Think You're Punk Rock But You're Not and Self-Reflecting, by Kirsten Steitmann; and Drop That Baby Again and Fear, by Karen Yasinsky. Also includes special audio by multimedia artist Miranda July.
10 p.m. Tape. Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard and Uma Thurman star in this literal chamber piece from 2001, a three-actor drama that takes place entirely in one motel room. Directed by Richard Linklater (Slacker).
Midnight. The Toxic Avenger. The defiantly independent Troma Studios put itself on the cult-film map with this 1985 comedy, a gory spoof of the superhero and horror genres.
Mon., April 28
8 p.m. "Broken Music." Visiting curator Astria Suparak presents a 75-minute program of experimental video shorts in which various conventional objects are conscripted to make music in unconventional ways. Included: Christian Marclay's Record Players (1984), in which vinyl records are flapped, slapped and scratched with fingernails; and Piano Piece #13 (1999) in which Sonic Youth make a piano shut up with finishing nails. The bulk of the program is the 43-minute Kick That Habit (1990), in which Swiss electronics duo Voice Crack deploy everyday materials and electronic implements to their own ends. The music is sparse and intriguing, while the camerawork and editing are supremely artful. Melwood Screening Room * * *
Stan Brakhage Tribute
When Stan Brakhage died in March, experimental film lost a spiritual forefather. The dominant figure in radical American filmmaking in the 1950s, Brakhage is credited as the virtual originator of the lyrical film -- the film as poem -- as we now know it.
Brakhage, who wrote, lectured and taught film as well as making it, championed what he called "the adventure of perception." Key films -- such as 1959's Window Water Baby Moving, a record of his first child's birth -- have the spirit of Romantic poetry and visually parallel Abstract Expressionist painting. Brakhage was a thoroughgoing experimentalist, distorting images, scratching film stock and, in cases such as his epic Dog Star Man (1965), layering the screen with multiple superimposed images.
The Splice film festival pays tribute to Brakhage on Sat., April 26, with one of his best-known experiments and three Pittsburgh-related anomalies.
Mothlight (1963) is a three-minute film consisting of light projected through a continuous strip of pasted-up insect parts. Then there's Brakhage's so-called "Pittsburgh Trilogy," three half-hour films shot in the early '70s, when he frequently visited to present his work here. Rare for Brakhage, all three are documentaries, albeit silent, impressionistic ones. eyes records several days spent riding around in a Pittsburgh police cruiser. Deus Ex interprets an autopsy at the Allegheny County Coroner's office. And The Act of Seeing With One's Own Eyes looks inside the Western Pennsylvania Hospital. Together they comprise a small slice of the legacy of a filmmaker whose impact was immeasurable. 3 p.m. Sat., April 26, only. McConomy