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The Three Rivers Film Festival

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The 22nd annual Three Rivers Film Festival, presented by Pittsburgh Filmmakers, continues through Nov. 23. The program of more than 45 films includes foreign-language works, American independents and experimental cinema. New this year is a competitive, juried component for the Shorts Program, with prize winners being announced during the festival.

Tickets for most films are $6 each; exceptions are tickets for the closing night event with filmmaker Stephanie Beroes ($10); Text of Light, with live music ($15); and the Shorts Programs, which are $4 each. A Super Eight festival pass offers 8 single admissions for $35. All films screen at the Harris Theater, Downtown; the Melwood Screening Room, North Oakland; and the Regent Square Theater, Edgewood. For more information, call 412-681-5449 or see www.pghfilmmakers.org.

Following are reviews and descriptions of films screening Nov.12-20.

ANONYMOUSLY YOURS. The Burmese sex trade industry is hardly a "victimless crime" in Gayle Ferraro's documentary, in which she follows the lives of four women who make a living as prostitutes from an early age. The most heartbreaking story belongs to 17-year-old Zu-Zu: Her mother sells her to a brothel, which in turn sells her to a Chinese leech-breeding business, where kidnapped girls are submerged in leech-filled ponds to their necks until they pass out from blood loss. She recounts episodes of rape, sorrow and hunger -- sometimes with both an innocent girlish disposition and a hollow sadness. While few would doubt this stark story in which the poverty is almost more gruesome than the sex, Ferraro's lack of narration makes it clear that she aims to make a film that resonates emotionally rather than intellectually -- often at the expense of her honest subject's efforts to tell it straight. The director, a former Pittsburgher, will be present at the screenings to discuss the film. 9:15 p.m. Thu., Nov. 13; 9:30 p.m. Fri., Nov. 14; and 4:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 15. Harris (Sharmila Venkatasubban)


THE BARBARIAN INVASIONS. In this sequel to The Decline of the American Empire, director/screenwriter Denys Arcand revisits his characters from that 1986 comedy-drama, and finds that while they are still lively and contentious, time has only brought more troubles. In French with subtitles. 8 p.m. Sun., Nov. 16. Regent Square

THE BEST OF EARLY BRAKHAGE. Given his prodigious output and incalculable influence, calling this three-film program "the best" of Stan Brakhage's early works might be oversimplifying a bit. Nonetheless, following the avant-garde pioneer's death in March, these films -- none of them screened publicly in Pittsburgh for years -- constitute a fine tribute to his talent for reinventing the medium by viewing the world unencumbered by received ways of seeing. (And the "seeing" is purely that, since these films, like almost all of Brakhage's, are silent.) The 12-minute Window Water Baby Moving (1959) poetically documents the birth of Brakhage's first child by his wife, Jane. In the remarkable Mothlight (1963), he dispenses with photography entirely; conceived when he couldn't afford film stock, it's a four-minute vision of light passing through dead moths, flowers, leaves and seeds taped to a length of transparent celluloid. Finally there's Dog Star Man (1961-64), a mythically scaled film characterized by superimposed images and painting and scratching on the film's surface. In four parts and 75 minutes, writes film scholar P. Adams Sitney, Dog Star Man describes "the birth of consciousness, the cycle of the seasons, man's struggle with nature, and sexual balance in the visual evocation of a fallen titan bearing the cosmic name of the Dog Star Man." 10 p.m. Fri., Nov. 14, and 4 p.m. Sat., Nov. 15. Melwood (Brakhage fans should also note the Andy Warhol Museum's Nov. 14 screening of The Governor (1977).) (BO)

BEYOND THE SOUL. Filmed in both India and the United States, this drama from Rajiv Anchal portrays an American physician who on a quest to help a patient begins to examine alternative medicine and the role of spirituality. 7:15 p.m. Thu., Nov. 20, and 5:15 p.m. Sat., Nov. 22. Harris

BLIND SHAFT. In this psychological drama from Li Yang, workers at a coal mine in Northern China hatch schemes that take advantage of the appalling labor conditions. In Mandarin with subtitles. 9:45 p.m. Fri., Nov. 14; 4:15 p.m. Sat., Nov. 15; and 9:30 p.m. Mon., Nov. 17. Regent Square

BLUE VINYL. Filmmaker Judith Helfand's quest to find a less-tacky siding material for her parents' Long Island home leads her on a muckraking journey to discover the hidden social and environmental costs of vinyl in this documentary. Forefronting herself a la Michael Moore, as well as her amusing relationship with her parents, Helfand is a charming and funny if occasionally querulous tour guide, persistent without being judgmental. In the end we're left with the same old consumer dilemma: Vinyl siding is as convenient and affordable as it is environmentally and aesthetically ruinous. It's a conundrum Helfand can't really resolve, but the way she defines its parameters is quite engaging. John Sipo, of the New York State Attorney General's office and lead attorney in the successful defense of New York State's GreenBuilding tax credit regulations, will speak at the screening. 8 p.m. Wed., Nov. 12. Harris (BO)


BOLLYWOOD/HOLLYWOOD. (See review.) 7:30 p.m. Fri., Nov. 14; 9 p.m. Sat., Nov. 15; and 3:15 p.m. Sun., Nov. 16. Regent Square

BONHOEFFER. German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the first within Germany to speak against the rising power of Adolf Hitler, was a pacifist who joined unsuccessful attempts to assassinate the dictator and was executed shortly before the end of World War II. This documentary does much to illuminate how Bonhoeffer challenged the widespread complacency of the Christian churches to Hitler's rise and atrocities, but for such an explosive subject this film proves surprisingly dry. Filled with tweedy theologians droning on about Bonhoeffer's novel view of the Sermon on the Mount, the film at times feels less like something that transfixes a general audience and more like required viewing at a seminary. Filmmaker Martin Doblmeier's style amasses an impressive array of archival footage and photography, yet is straightforward to a fault, bringing little creativity to the process -- slow pan on photos, narrator talking over footage, subjects speaking to off-camera interviewer -- and lending to an overall effect that this is more of an educational work than creative one. In English and German with subtitles. 7:30 p.m. Fri., Nov. 14; 7 p.m. Sat., Nov. 15; and 9:15 p.m. Mon. Nov. 17. Harris (Andy Newman)


BORDERS. The bonds of solidarity are tested as seven African refugees traveling together arrive at their final stop, Tangiers, before attempting to enter Europe illegally. At what price should freedom be won? Directed by Mostefa Djadjam. In French with subtitles. 5 p.m. Sun., Nov. 16; 7:15 p.m. Mon., Nov. 17; and 9 p.m. Tue., Nov. 18. Harris

THE BURNING WALL. Surveillance cameras in churches. Elementary school children coached that their parents had betrayed the state. These were just some of the methods of the East German Ministry of State Security -- or Stasi. At its peak it kept files on 5,500,000 people -- a third of the Communist state's population -- and employed 100,000 agents, as well as countless members of the public as informants. In this 2002 documentary written and directed by Hava Kohav Beller, the title subject could be the Berlin Wall, erected to keep one ideology away from another. Or it could be the wall between reality and political fantasy, which the Stasi manufactured and then defended at gunpoint. "We couldn't imagine anyone disagreeing with us," says one Stasi employee. "We had to build the wall," explains a border guard, "or the rulers would have had no one to rule." While the film sometimes employs a ponderous mix of static drawing-room interviews, white-on-black historical explanations that fill entire screens and a way-too-sonorous voiceover, the subject matter -- and the news and archival footage and photos -- can't help but move us once again with images of people freeing themselves. For that is what they feel happened. Nowhere in the film is Ronald Reagan even mentioned. And ironically, the dissidents still cannot be happy. They wanted a better GDR, with true freedoms and actual social programs, not the West. In English and German, with subtitles. 7:15 Wed., Nov. 12 and 7:30 p.m. Fri., Nov. 14. Melwood (Marty Levine)


CARNAGE. After a young bullfighter is gored by a bull, the bull is killed and rendered. As the bullfighter lies in a coma, parts of the bull find their way to characters throughout Europe in Delphine Gleize's film. A little girl on Valium, Winnie, gets one of the bull's bones for her Great Dane, Fred; a scientist gets the eyes to study; a middle-aged taxidermist who lives in a trailer with his elderly mother gets the horns; and a Spanish woman dines on meat from the bull in a restaurant. While the film's reliance on coincidence -- the bull-parts-acquiring characters somehow end up interacting not just with each other but with the comatose matador as well -- can be a bit precious, Carnage has a well-developed sense of humor and of the absurd. Chiara Mastroianni is terrific as a kooky actress, as is Raphaelle Molinier, who plays the little girl, Winnie. In French, Italian and Spanish with subtitles. 9:45 p.m. Wed., Nov. 12, and 7:15 p.m. Thu., Nov. 13. Regent Square (AN)


CRIMSON GOLD. From its stunning first scene to its deliberate delineation of a single, ill-fated life, Jafar Panahi's Crimson Gold is another in a long line of socially conscious dramas from Iran. The focus here, though, isn't the repression of women Panahi mapped so thoroughly in The Circle, but rather the growing rift between the rich and poor in Teheran, where good-hearted, slow-witted Hussein is a pizza deliveryman whose prime desire is to acquire gold for the young woman he wishes to marry. Bloated by cortisone he takes for an unspecified medical condition, Hussein plots crimes with his co-worker Ali (who's also his intended's brother), but the ex-soldier is even worse as a criminal than as a deliveryman. After a pair of humiliations at a jewelry store, his frustration is sharpened to a deadly point during a lengthy, disorienting encounter with a pizza customer, an angry playboy living unhappily in his father's huge, opulent condo. Crimson Gold is deliberately paced, but working from a screenplay by master filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami (And the Wind Will Carry Us, Ten) , Panahi paints an incisive portrait of a culture where relative deprivations come to seem enormous as an emerging elite pulls away economically from an unlucky working class. In Farsi, with subtitles. 6:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 15, and 5:30 p.m. Sun., Nov. 16. Regent Square (BO)


THE EVENT. AIDS patient Matt throws himself a farewell party; his desire for assisted suicide leads his friends and colleagues to examine their feelings regarding Matt's life -- and death -- in this provocative film from writer/director Thom Fitzgerald. 7:15 p.m. Tue., Nov. 18, and 9:30 p.m. Thu., Nov. 20. Regent Square

THE FIRST MEN IN THE MOON. This 1964 film based on H.G. Well's story tells of an 1899 expedition to the moon. When the scientist and his assistant land there, they encounter an alien colony. Directed by Nathan Juran, this family-fun film features stop-motion animation from Ray Harryhausen, and Albert Finney in a bit part. 2 p.m. Sat., Nov. 15, only. Regent Square

THE FLOWER OF EVIL. Director Claude Chabrol (Merci Pour le Chocolat) unfolds a domestic murder mystery concerning three generations of a bourgeois Bordeaux family. In French with subtitles. 7:15 p.m. Mon., Nov. 17, and 9:30 p.m. Tue., Nov. 18. Regent Square

GIRLHOOD. You may be disturbed by this documentary and the crimes committed by its two teen-age protagonists: Megan, a runaway, and Shanae, who stabbed a friend to death at age 12 but still thinks her victim "has the easiest part of the whole situation." But what may be more troubling, yet also more hopeful, is that you could end up liking the girls anyway. Girlhood (note the play on words) offers an unsparing look at Megan and Shanae and the circumstances that produced them: One refuses to condemn drug dealers and pimps because, after all, her own mother is a drug-addicted prostitute. The other was an alcoholic by age 10 ... and, as the film casually tells us, she was gang-raped a year later. We meet both girls in a Maryland juvenile center, where documentarian Liz Garbus' time-lapse approach to their years in detention shows them fumbling toward adulthood -- and the conscience which comes with it. They are released eventually, thanks to social workers whose patience appears to verge on the saintly. But Garbus posits no easy answers: One girl committed her crimes despite having a loving, supportive family; the other will find that her family confines her more than the juvenile center ever did. In both cases, Garbus shows that hope and redemption are more common, and more painful, than you think. 7:15 p.m. Sun., Nov. 16, and 7:15 p.m. Tue., Nov. 18. Harris (Chris Potter)


MELVIN GOES TO DINNER. Actor Bob Odenkirk (HBO's Mr. Show) makes his directorial debut with this adaptation of Michael Blieden's play Phryogiants!. Coming off a break-up, Melvin and three others meet over dinner and discus everything from stewardesses to their innermost secrets. 4:15 p.m. Sun., Nov. 16; 7:15 p.m. Mon., Nov. 17; and 7:15 p.m. Tue., Nov. 18. Melwood

MILK AND HONEY. A marriage goes awry in this film about lost loves, intersecting lives and missed opportunities. Directed by Joe Maggio and shot on digital video, this film was presented at this year's Sundance Film Festival. The film's producer, Matt Myers, a former Pittsburgher, will present and discuss the film. 9:15 p.m. Thu., Nov. 13, and 6:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 15. Melwood

THE RETURNER. This sci-fi action flick from Japanese director Takashi Yamazaki has gun ballets, time travel, post-apocalyptic woes, aliens and robots. In Japanese with subtitles. 9:15 p.m. Thu., Nov. 20, and 7:30 p.m. Fri., Nov. 21. Harris

SCUMROCK.

Miles Morgan doesn't know exactly how to make the indie flick bubbling over inside him. But Morgan, played to a pretentious "T" by Pittsburgh native Kyp Malone (now of Brooklyn band TV on the Radio), is absolutely certain of what kind of film he wants his allegory on death to be: "I want this movie to be really artsy." It's just one front on which director Jon Moritsugu launches his funny, if often painfully slow, attack on the absurdly self-consumed worlds of several indie filmmakers and musicians. On one level, Moritsugu seems interested in making fun of his pretentious characters -- a noise-punk musician, played by Amy Davis, who fines her bandmates for "mistakes"; Morgan, who explains that he needs a topless woman because, "If we're going to have any chance of getting this into any respectable festivals, we need that sort of nudity." (Scumrock proves that's not true.) But Moritsugu also cares for the characters, exploring the way these artists turn desperate when approaching their 30s. The result is a film that's shaky, purposefully tedious and rickety, and generally difficult to consume, but ultimately rewarding -- at least to the artsy rockers with whom it's most likely to resound. Director Jon Moritsugu will present and discuss the film. 7 p.m. Sun., Nov. 16, and 9:15 p.m. Mon, Nov. 17. Melwood (Justin Hopper)


SEASIDE. (See review.) 7:15 p.m. Thu., Nov. 13; 9 p.m. Sat., Nov. 15; and 3 p.m. Sun., Nov. 16. Harris

SHORTS PROGRAM NO. 2. Featuring works submitted by artists around the country, the Shorts Programs includes narrative, experimental, animated and documentary short films. Filmmakers include Liana Dragoman, Caleb Smith, Mike Bonello, Erik Brandt, Licia Slimon, AndreFake, Peter Rose, Nicole Koschmann, Eric Fleischauer, Gary Adelstein, Smilen Savov and Anna Kelly. 7:15 p.m. Thu. Nov. 13. Melwood

SHORTS PROGRAM NO. 3. A program of short films includes works by Heather J. Thomas, Kathrynn Ramey and L. Marcus Williams. 9:30 p.m. Tue., Nov. 18, and 7:15 p.m. Thu., Nov. 20. Melwood

STOKED: THE RISE AND FALL OF GATOR. Marginal kid shoots to fame, can't handle it and crashes spectacularly, brutally murdering a casual date -- a typically sad tale. That it's set in the off-center milieu of pro skateboarding is what adds a compelling layer. In essence a sequel to Dogtown and Z-Boys, Stacy Peralta's 2001 film about funky 1970s skaters, Stoked snapshots the mid-to-late '80s, when video exploded vertical skateboarding and made a star of brash, telegenic Mark "Gator" Rogowski. Filmmaker Helen Stickler tells Gator's story in a linear fashion, with interviews from Gator's contemporaries, plus archival footage and photographs. Stoked's eyewitness accounts don't leave much room for deeper analysis -- of either Gator's demons or the commercial strip-mining of youth cultures that can turn so toxic. His skater buds' comments can mostly be summed up thus: Gator was an awesome skater, then he turned into a prick, and after what he did -- man, I don't want to know him. Curiously, there's a certain poignancy in their inarticulateness, as if time hasn't made understanding how their pal could have screwed up so badly any easier. 9 p.m. Sat., Nov. 15, and 2 p.m. Sun., Nov. 16. Melwood (Al Hoff)


THE STONE READER. The director Mark Moskowitz reads a book he picked up nearly 30 years ago, and becomes intrigued to learn what became of the author. Thus begins his quest -- documented in this film -- not only in search of the forgotten author, but of the excitement that reading and literature can generate. 7:15 p.m. Wed., Nov. 12, and 9:45 p.m. Thu., Nov. 13. Regent Square

TEXT OF LIGHT. As an adolescent, avant-garde filmmaker Stan Brakhage once boasted that he could shoot a feature film in a wastepaper basket. Perhaps the closest he came was this 1974 film, a slow montage of the play of light through a large crystal ashtray. The silent, 67-minute film will be accompanied by a live improvised musical score performed by guitarists Lee Ranaldo (of Sonic Youth) and Alan Licht, turntablist Christian Marclay, DJ Olive and drummer William Hooker. 7:30 p.m. Wed., Nov. 19. $15. Regent Square. (Brakhage fans should also note the Andy Warhol Museum's Nov. 14 screening of The Governor (1977).) (BO)

TO BE AND TO HAVE. Nicolas Philibert's quiet documentary follows Georges Lopez over the course of a year, as Lopez patiently teaches elementary school children -- of all ages -- in a rural one-room French schoolhouse. There's no great drama (unless you count a snowball fight); what unfolds is a gentle portrait of a significant occupation often taken for granted. In French with subtitles. 7:15 p.m. Thu., Nov. 20; 9:30 p.m. Fri., Nov. 21; and 3 p.m. Sat., Nov. 22. Regent Square

THE YEAR THAT TREMBLED. In this coming-of-age drama, based on a novel by Scott Lax, the Vietnam War is the real protagonist, the looming thing that informs the crucial decisions made by loose-knit group of high school buddies, anti-war activists and neighbors. Jay Craven's film tracks these mostly naïve Ohioans, living near Kent, from that fateful May of 1970 -- when four students were shot by National Guardsmen at the Kent State campus -- through the following summer. The year they share in a ramshackle farmhouse seems idyllic enough -- especially when compared to the stock news footage of the war Craven intersperses -- yet the specter of the draft creeps closer, and doing what is "right" seems more ambiguous then ever. Craven directs in a clear manner, and the film's greatest weakness is some amateurish acting, which appears all the more jarring alongside the fervor depicted in news footage of contemporary protests. But of course, today's actors lack the real-life motivations of kids being tear-gassed or shipped off to war. 9:30 p.m. Thu., Nov. 20; 7:30 p.m. Fri., Nov. 21; and 2 p.m. Sun., Nov. 23. Melwood (AH)


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