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The Three Rivers Film Festival

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The 23rd annual Three Rivers Film Festival, presented by Pittsburgh Filmmakers, runs from Fri., Nov. 5, through Thu., Nov. 18. The program of more than 40 films includes foreign-language works, American independents, documentaries, experimental cinema and a restored silent classic, as well as new works from local filmmakers.

 

Tickets for most films are $7 each; exceptions are tickets for the opening nights of Moolaadé, Cowards Bend the Knee and Speak, and the following reception, at the new SouthSide Cinema Works ($30); the closing-night event with photographer Duane Michals ($10); the screening of Sunrise with live musical accompaniment ($10); and Film Kitchen ($4). A Six Pack festival pass offers 6 single admissions for $35, plus a free T-shirt. Except for the opening-night features, all films screen at the Harris Theater, Downtown; the Melwood Screening Room, North Oakland; or 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. 5-11.

 

AFTER MIDNIGHT. In Davide Ferrario's valentine to the silver screen, a night watchman in a magical museum in Turin, Italy, finds his nightly perusal of cinema classics interrupted when a young girl seeks refuge in the facility. In Italian with subtitles. 3 p.m. Sat., Nov. 6; 7:15 p.m. Mon., Nov. 8; and 8 p.m. Tue., Nov. 9. Harris

 

BANG RAJAN. In 1765, amidst the struggles between Burma and Siam in what is now Thailand, a small rural village, Bang Rajan, held off hordes of well-equipped Burmese soldiers. Thanit Jitnukul's action-packed epic captures the last defining battles, as the village holes up behind its walls, scavenging for weapons, imploring the gods, training the women to fight -- and finally, accepting that defense will surely result in their deaths. This noble tale of the tiny town that held back the Burmese against all odds is legendary in Thailand, and American viewers may note many similarities with one of our great historical touchstone battles -- the men of the Alamo outnumbered by the Mexican army. Jitnukul's film is both bloody and inspiring, with its barely clad warriors almost animal-like in their intensity. In Thai with subtitles. 4:30 p.m. Sun., Nov. 7, and 5:30 p.m. Tue., Nov. 9. Harris (Al Hoff)

 

 

THE BIG ANIMAL. A small-town Polish couple adopts a camel with unexpected results in this political allegory directed by Jerzy Stuhr, working from a 1970s script by Krzysztof Kieslowski (Red, White, Blue). In Polish with subtitles. 7:15 p.m. Thu., Nov. 11. Regent Square

 

CALLAS FOREVER. Former Maria Callas collaborator Franco Zeffirelli wrote and directs this affectionate show-biz drama exploring the opera diva's waning career in the mid-1970s. Fanny Ardent is Callas; Jeremy Irons plays the impresario eager to spark her comeback. In English, and French and Italian with subtitles. 9:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 6, and 9:15 Mon., Nov. 8. Harris

 

THE CLAY BIRD. Set in the 1960s during Bangladesh's struggle for independence from East Pakistan, Tareque Masud's feature follows Anu, a shy boy sent to an Islamic school. Director and screenwriter Masud has a background in documentary film, and uses this somewhat autobiographical story of Anu to illustrate the lives of people caught up in extraordinary geo-political/religious turmoil, a situation with much contemporary relevance. In Bangl and Bengali, with subtitles. 5:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 6, and 7:15 p.m. Mon., Nov. 8. Regent Square

 

COWARDS BEND THE KNEE. (See review.) 8 and 10 p.m. Fri., Nov. 5. The 8 p.m. screening is $30 and includes an opening night reception with filmmaker Guy Maddin. SouthSide Works Cinema

 

FILM KTCHEN: HUNGRY FOR MONSTERS. (See preview.) Tickets are $4. To be screened via video projection. 7 p.m. Tue., Nov. 9. Melwood

 

GOODBYE, DRAGON INN. Tsai Ming-liang's meditation on cinema-going and human behavior is set in a rundown cavernous theater; on a rainy late afternoon, a handful of people are watching Dragon Inn, a historical drama from 1968. Ming-liang, employing long, static shots that add to the venue's emptiness, takes us behind the screen, into the restrooms, up to the abandoned projection room, and of course, into the darkened theater where patrons exhibit behaviors peculiar to such empty cinema spaces: eating, inexplicably sitting too close, marking time rather than enjoying a film (in a joke surely lost on American audiences, actors from Dragon Inn watch their earlier selves). Goodbye is virtually wordless -- no more than two dozen words are uttered. Instead Ming-liang taps ambient sound, such as when the ticket-taker slowly and noisily clumps her disabled foot through seemingly unfathomable interior spaces, or when the cheesy dramatic words of the on-screen warriors appear to comment wryly on the theater's goings-on. There is no real plot, just another day in the life of a dying entertainment, but Ming-liang's film, a poetic and melancholy essay, will surely resonate with the most sentimental of movie-goers. In Mandarin and Taiwanese, with subtitles. 4 p.m. Sat., Nov. 6, and 5:30 p.m. Sun., Nov. 7. Melwood (AH)

 

 

GUERRILLA: THE TAKING OF PATTY HEARST. Robert Stone's documentary charts the bizarre and fascinating story of some 1970s domestic terrorists, the Oakland, Calif.-based Symbionese Liberation Army, and their highly publicized kidnapping of newspaper heiress Patty Hearst, who briefly became a convert to the revolution. Guerrilla screens with a 30-minute documentary from Richard Pell, Don't Call Me Crazy on the Fourth of July, paying homage to a Pittsburgh oracle, the late Bob Lansberry. For a quarter-century, Lansberry took to the streets to alert citizens about his fears of government control ("Where's my mail?" "Does silent radio control your mind?"). 5:30 p.m. Wed., Nov. 10, and 8 p.m. Thu., Nov. 11. Harris

 

JANDEK ON CORWOOD. Chad Freidrich's documentary attempts to unravel the mystery that is Jandek -- a reclusive Texas rock and blues musician who has nonetheless has released 34 albums over 25 years. To be screened via video projection. 9:15 p.m. Thu., Nov. 11. Melwood

 

LES CHORISTES. A new music teacher enlivens a grim 1940s-era boarding school for delinquents when he starts a boys' choir. This drama is the debut feature from Christophe Barratier. In French with subtitles. 7:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 6, and 9:15 p.m. Mon., Nov. 8. Regent Square

 

A LETTER TO TRUE. Inspired by other dog-besotted artists and the national unease after Sept. 11, photographer Bruce Weber sets out to commit some thoughts and images on digital video, presented in the rather awkward structure of a letter to one of his dogs, True. It's a largely unfocused vanity effort, a combination of home-movie-style footage of Weber's pets, stock footage, clips from a Lassie film and poems read by famous friends; it's all a muddle of anti-war, dog-positive, celebrity name-dropping that bobbles from snapshotting a Vietnam War photo correspondent to pondering the inherent goodness of Elizabeth Taylor to filming some country goobers goofing off on the farm. Yet, swimming with topless models; lounging at Montauk; treats, trainers and massages; and now having a cinematic forum for your slow-motion furry antics -- it must be very wonderful to be Bruce Weber's dog. 3 p.m. Sat., Nov. 6, and 7:30 p.m. Sun., Nov. 7. Regent Square (AH)

 

 

LIGHTNING IN A BOTTLE. Former Pittsburgher Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) brought his cameras to the 100th anniversary "Salute to the Blues" concert in New York City in 2003. Among the featured performers in this concert documentary: B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, John Fogerty and Bonnie Raitt. 5 p.m. Sat., Nov. 6, and 7 p.m. Sun., Nov. 7. Harris

 

MONSIEUR N. Antoine de Caunes' historical drama focuses on the mysterious circumstances during Napoleon Bonaparte's exile and subsequent death on the island St. Helena. In English, and French and Coriscan with subtitles. 9 p.m. Thu., Nov. 11. Regent Square

 

MOOG. Trading solder and wire for strings and wood, Robert Moog spawned a musical revolution with the invention of the Moog synthesizer in the early 1960s. In Hans Fjellestad's documentary, Moog comes across as the quintessential American genius: mad with his shock-white hair and spiritual philosophies, at 70 still slaving over a hot theremin in his western North Carolina home. But Fjellestad comes across as an aimless documentary fanboy, more interested in filming Mix Master Mike performing than in exploring any kind of story. At the end of Moog you've learned that Rick Wakeman loves Bob Moog, and seen some fine modern music that owes plenty to him, but that's about it. Moog's own philosophy -- he understands circuits the way Stradivari understood wood -- compels a more spiritual film, nodded to in scenes of Moog in his organic garden, with his family, and playing theremin by the river. But for that we'll have to wait. 3:30 p.m. Sun., Nov. 7; 7:15 p.m. Mon., Nov. 8; and 7:15 p.m. Wed., Nov. 10. Melwood (Justin Hopper)

 

 

MOOLAADí‰. Considered the godfather of cinema in sub-Saharan Africa -- his La Noire de ... (1966) was the region's first feature-length film -- 81-year-old Ousmane Sí¨mbene continues to engage the world with more wit and candor than filmmakers half his age. Like many of his works, including 2000's wonderful Faat Kine, his latest centers on a modern woman contending with traditional forces: Its protagonist seeks to protect four young girls from female circumcision. The film (unavailable for preview) was awarded the Un Certain Regard at Cannes. In Bambara with subtitles. 7:30 and 10 p.m. Fri., Nov. 5. The 7:30 p.m. screening is $30 and includes an opening night reception. Additionally, Prof. Brenda Berrian, of the University of Pittsburgh's departments of Africana, women's studies and English, will lead a discussion after the 7:30 p.m. screening. SouthSide Works. (Bill O'Driscoll)

 

POSTMEN IN THE MOUNTAINS. In the remote mountains of the Hunan province, an aging postman must show his son the arduous three-day delivery route in this heartwarming drama from Huo Jianqi. In Mandarin with subtitles. 7:15 p.m. Tue., Nov. 9, and 9:15 p.m. Wed., Nov. 10. Regent Square

 

RECONSTRUCTION. Danish director Christoffer Boe's Reconstruction begs repeated viewing, both for its challenging narrative and its artful aesthetics. In a "story within a story," candy-for-the-eyes photographer Alex (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) is drawn away from his girlfriend and into an alternate version of his Copenhagen life by a mysterious woman, leaving the viewer to decide what to believe. The film's first portion is a gorgeous nocturne, rendered with varying and experimental visual techniques that suck you in, only to spit you back out into the harsh light of day, where the nature of Alex's reality begins to waver. Actress Maria Bonnevie's dual role as both women adds to the confusion, her appeal rendering Alex as sympathetic, rather than just another celluloid cad. Indeed, all characters are sympathetic within the chaos, including Alex's lover's cuckolded auteur husband, who could very well have penned the whole mess. Or did he? 7:15 p.m. Wed., Nov. 10. Regent Square (Heather Mull)

 

 

RESISTING PARADISE. Barbara Hammer's documentary essay focuses on two artists who resided in the South of France -- Henri Matisse and Pierre Bonnard -- while also examining their careers and art within the context of political crisis. In English, and French with subtitles. 7:15 p.m. Thu., Nov. 11. Melwood

 

SAINTS AND SINNERS. Edward DeBonis and Vincent Maniscalco were two gay men with a dream -- to get married in a church. Though raised Catholic, they had to settle for a union ceremony in an Episcopal Church officiated by a gay Catholic priest. They had another dream as well -- to make the world's most public wedding video. Documentarians Abigail Honor and Yan Vinzinberg turned the ceremony, and the events leading up to it, into this film. A by-the-numbers end product, Saints and Sinners shows the love, commitment and abiding faith shared by DeBonis and Maniscalco. It is short on any "opposing viewpoint" talking heads, most notably when some family members balk at attending the ceremony though we never hear, firsthand, the reasons why. Considering how explosive the subject of same-sex marriage is these days, Saints and Sinners is surprisingly commonplace ... which may just be the point. 7:30 p.m. Sun., Nov. 7, and 9 p.m. Wed., Nov. 10. Melwood (Ted Hoover)

 

 

SMALL VOICES. The American poster blurb for Gil Porte's Small Voices could read: "The Bad News Bears of Philippine singing movies!" So sweet a story -- a rag-tag chorus of farm kids enters an annual school music competition -- could have easily become a feel-good monstrosity were it not for the director's ability to incorporate the gritty reality of a rural people struggling against poverty, bloody civil unrest and the futile assumption that their children's lives will offer nothing other than the pessimistic status quo. Based on a true story, a novice teacher (Alessandra di Rossi) arrives in a village where students are permitted to attend classes only when there is no hard labor to be done, and where the older teachers have given up hope for both their students' prospects and their own. With production values as modest as the people it portrays, Small Voices is no less triumphant, but much more bittersweet, than the tale of kiddie baseball's Bears. 8 p.m. Wed., Nov. 10, and 5:30 p.m. Thu., Nov. 11. Harris (HM)

 

 

SPEAK. Filmmaker Jessica Sharzer makes her feature debut with this adolescent drama about a high school girl who refuses to speak after a traumatic event, until her art teacher helps her develop new ways of expression. Speak was produced by Pittsburgh Filmmakers alumnus Matt Myers, who will be present to discuss the film. The 7:45 p.m. screening is $30 and includes an opening night reception. 7:45 and 10 p.m., Fri., Nov. 5. SouthSide Works

 

TOM SAVINI'S CHILL FACTOR. "House Call," a 30-minute episode of Tom Savini's direct-to-DVD anthology series, Chill Factor, is set in a lonely farmhouse on a stormy 1936 evening where a lad is suffering from a mysterious ailment, and stars Bingo O'Malley, Maryanne Nagel and Jason Hoehnen. 9 p.m. Sat., Nov. 6. Melwood. Free.

 

TRAVELLERS AND MAGICIANS. The first feature film to be shot in the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is a beguiling road movie, liberally laced with mysticism, about a young man who yearns to leave his small village. Directed by Khyentse Norbu (The Cup). In Dzongkha with subtitles. 3 p.m. Sun., Nov. 7, and 9:15 p.m. Tue., Nov. 9. Regent Square

 

VODKA LEMON. In a tiny formerly Soviet Armenian village now struggling, two pensioners start a new romance after meeting in the cemetery while visiting their respective deceased spouses. Hiner Saleem directs this dark comedy. In various languages with subtitles. 9:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 6, and 5:30 p.m. Sun., Nov. 7. Regent Square

 

WAR. There's a sort of naturalistic surrealism in the way Jake Mahaffy shoots this experimental feature: The black-and-white images, captured with a hand-cranked 35 mm camera, render everyday elements such as mist, smoke, rain, mud, steel cables, radios and a vintage Studebaker as harbingers of dread, dark humor, conditional hope and a baffling strangeness. Its four characters -- a desperately unlucky farmer, a flighty boy, a despondent radio preacher and an eccentric junkman -- seem distinctly American types, and the film (shot in Warren County, Pa.) might best be construed as an elegy for rural America. Yet its unspecified setting and the evocative imagery Mahaffy discovers in the depopulated stillness of his frames suggest more universal themes. While some of War feels desultory or obscure, your experience of it is contingent on what you imagine into the vast spaces, both geographic and existential, that it conjures. 7 p.m. Sat., Nov. 6, and 2 p.m. Sun., Nov. 7. Harris (BO)

 

 

WHEN TYRANTS KISS. A gum-crackin', fist-throwin' black-and-white tale of intrigue set in Pittsburgh 1937, this low-budget neo-noir film is a collaboration of Carnegie Mellon students, staff and faculty, helmed by Michael Scotto. When a noted scientist goes tumbling from the top of the Cathedral of Learning, con man Sam Harris smells a rat. It looks like murder, and soon enough Harris and his buddy, the one-handed wise-acre Angel, are plunged deep into a murky conspiracy that pits the scrappy pair against influential industry titans, political operatives and shadowy conspiracy -- the Black Legion -- with a particular nefarious national agenda. The film's screenwriter, Michael Mark Chemers, is in love with vintage slang; he must have had a blast busting his noggin poring over old sources -- and he'd surely recommend you 'Burgher mugs peep this flicker, toot sweet. To be screened via video projection. 6:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 6, and 9:15 p.m. Mon., Nov. 8. Melwood (AH)

 

 

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