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The Three Rivers Film Festival is an offbeat alternative to the cineplex

Friday, November 07, 2003

By Ron Weiskind, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Every film festival has its own purpose, personality, cachet.



Harris Theater: The Embalmer (7:30 p.m.); The Three Marias (9:30 p.m.).

Melwood Screening Room: Horns and Halos (7:30 p.m.); Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself (9:30 p.m.).

Regent Square Theater: The Forgotten (7:30 p.m.).


Harris Theater: The Embalmer (5 p.m.); Etoiles: Dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet (7 p.m.); The Three Marias (9:15 p.m.).

Melwood Screening Room: Horns and Halos (2:30 p.m.); Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself (4:30 p.m.); Shorts Program #1 (7 p.m.); Long Gone (9 p.m.).

Regent Square Theater: The Three Worlds of Gulliver (2 p.m.); Anything But Love (4:15 p.m.); Kedma (6:45 p.m.); Everybody Says I'm Fine (9 p.m.).


Harris Theater: The Three Marias (3 p.m.); Etoiles: Dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet (5 p.m.); In My Skin (7:15 p.m.).

Melwood Screening Room: The Burning Wall (3 p.m.); Horns and Halos (4:30 p.m.); Long Gone (6:30 p.m.).

Regent Square Theater: Kedma (2 p.m.); Everybody Says I'm Fine (4 p.m.); Anything But Love (6 p.m.); The Singing Detective (8:15 p.m.).

Tickets for most films are $6 each. However, tickets for the opening night reception and Pittsburgh debut of "The Forgotten" are $25. Seats for the closing night event with filmmaker Beroes, reception and live music are $10. Tickets for "Text of Light," with live score, are $15. Tickets for juried Shorts Programs are $4.

A "Super Eight" festival pass, providing eight single admissions, is $35. It can be purchased before or during the festival at the Box Office at Theater Square, at any of the three movie locations during regular screenings or at Pittsburgh Filmmakers, 477 Melwood Ave., during business hours.

Tickets are available at the box office 30 minutes before showtime. There are no advance ticket sales for the regular festival screening. However, "Forgotten" tickets are available at the Box Office at Theater Square and Filmmakers in Oakland.


You go to Cannes to see and be seen, to sell your film internationally, frolic near the beaches and celebrate cinematic visions of Euro-gloom. You go to Sundance for the independent buzz, to get ahead of the curve and shiver next to snowbanks in Utah in January. You go to Toronto for a choice of more than 300 films, a festival that welcomes the average Joe and the chance to gawk at Hollywood stars taking advantage of the exchange rate.

You go to Pittsburgh for the Three Rivers Film Festival, which returns for its 22nd incarnation tonight and runs through Nov. 23. It operates on a different plane than those jumbo jets mentioned above.

We don't get movie stars (or the scantily dressed starlets of Cannes), but we do get visiting filmmakers discussing their work. We don't get buzz and studio hucksters, but we do get a selection of movies by regional filmmakers. We don't get glitz and glamour, but we do get live bands. Depending on the outside temperature, we might get snowbanks.

Here, for the most part, it really is all about the work -- independent American cinema, documentaries, foreign-language films. To a large degree, the festival follows in the footsteps of the organization that runs it, Pittsburgh Filmmakers, which teaches film and video and exhibits cinema that leans more toward art than commerce in the three theaters it operates around town.

Those moviehouses -- the Harris, Downtown; the Regent Square, in Edgewood; and the Melwood Screening Room, in Oakland -- are also the host theaters for the festival.

The event also has a few commercial sponsors: Dollar Bank, Pittsburgh City Paper, WYEP-FM and the Square Cafe.

The only competitive aspect of the Three Rivers Film Festival is a new innovation this year -- a juried competition for short films, with prize winners announced during the festival.

The opening-night film is "The Forgotten," shot entirely in Pennsylvania on a very low budget by Pittsburgh-based director Vincente Stasolla. Another local filmmaker, Henry Simonds, served as a producer of the movie, which centers on two tank units separated from their platoon during the Korean War.

The closing-night event features filmmaker Stephanie Beroes and her late 1970s documentary "Debt Begins at 20," about the birth of Pittsburgh's punk-rock movement. Beroes will also screen some of her more recent work. Live music will follow the screening.

The festival also offers a tribute to the late experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage.

Tickets for most films are $6. Festival passes may be purchased for multiple admissions. For ticket information, call 412-681-5449 weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. For film information, call 412-682-4111. You can also visit these Web sites: or

Here are reviews of a few of this weekend's movies:


Writer-director Vincente Stasolla has called his film a tribute to the forgotten war, Korea, and to a style of filmmaking that Hollywood has largely abandoned. Certainly, studios no longer shoot movies devoid of special effects on six-figure budgets. But the film does suffer because of its tight finances.

"The Forgotten" focuses on two tank units that get separated from their platoon during a battle in North Korea. They don't know where to find their comrades and can't raise them on the radio. Should they bug out and run for safety or keep looking for the company and fight with increasingly short supplies?

One of the units comes under the command of Cpl. William Byrne (Randy Ryan), whose piety earns him the nickname Chap (as in chaplain). He recognizes his morals could get them all killed, especially when he saves the life of a wounded Korean (B. Ouyang) who turns out not to be what he seems.

The rest of Byrne's unit is the kind of mixed bag that war movies favor to create conflict or unity. Two soldiers are black, another is white and given to utter racial provocations. He also picks on the other soldier in the unit, who appears to have emotional problems.

The men bicker and argue as they wait for whatever might happen next, fight the occasional battle against an unseen enemy and try to reach their platoon by radio. Byrne falls into reveries about his wife back home on the farm in Missouri. Tellingly, those scenes are filmed in color. The Korean sequences are in black and white. These men are slipping away from the real world, hoping to survive and find redemption.

The movie tends to get static and repetitive. We keep seeing shots of the tanks traveling through fields that look more like Eastern Pennsylvania than Korea. The fact that neither we nor the soldiers ever see the enemy adds to the paranoia of the characters, but for the most part they seem more endangered by their own emotions than by another army, which I assume would have cost too much to put on screen.

I would have liked to know more about the backgrounds of Byrne and his men, which would have helped fill them out. "The Forgotten" is a film of noble purpose but mixed result.

-- Ron Weiskind

"The Forgotten" is unrated and contains war violence, harsh violence and brief sexual content.


Forget about "Kill Bill" and "Charlie's Angels." This Brazilian revenge thriller begins with the execution of a man and his two sons. They are the husband and sons of Filomena (Marieta Severo), and their deaths are ordered by Firmino (Carlos Vereza) after she rejects his advances.

Ah, but Filomena also has three adult daughters. She sends them off to hire killers to avenge the death of the menfolk. The bulk of the film concentrates on how the women deal with the hired guns and also with Firmino's clan.

It turns out each contract killer has a fatal quirk of his own. One is obsessed by snakes and distrusts women because Eve tricked Adam. One has a bark far worse than his bite. One is an injured lawman whose morality recoils at the assignment.

Director Aluisio Abranches employs an expressionistic style replete with religious, sexual and animalistic imagery. It adds a tart, exotic flavor to this florid, almost operatic tale of destiny.

-- Ron Weiskind

"The Three Marias" is unrated and contains violence and sexual imagery.


In a perfect marriage of movie and music, Tom Waits lends his raspy, outlaw voice to this documentary about the men and few women who hop trains. Filmmakers David Eberhardt and Jack Cahill spent years sharing the wanderlust -- a word that loses its glamour by the end of this movie -- of their subjects.

The directors, who scrambled on and off the same boxcars and clearly gained these strangers' trust, allow men with nicknames such as Joshua Long Gone, Horizontal John, New York Slim and Dogman Tony to speak for themselves. "I saw more of this country than most people ever see in two lifetimes," one says, and the camera captures the splendor beyond the tracks.

It also documents the feeling of never belonging, the sting of loss, the sense that a tiny bit of good luck can never last, the drunkenness and heroin use that often fuel violence, and the loneliness eased by their fellow tramps and dogs. When one of their own dies, they stage a memorial service under a bridge and it's no less sincere than one in a funeral home.

"Long Gone," shot on Super 16mm and video, features some beautifully composed shots and surprising twists, including a revelation about one homeless man that is flashed on screen at the end. I would have liked to have heard his explanation for the bogus background he so credibly presented. I'm not suggesting an ambush confrontation, just a little straight talk from one of the more sympathetic figures in the film.

-- Barbara Vancheri

R in nature for language, drug use, brief violence. Filmmaker Eberhardt will be at the 9 p.m. Saturday show at Melwood Screening Room.


There is something to author J.H. Hatfield's gripe that while there were plenty of "pure junk" books published about Bill Clinton, his suspect bio of President Bush was fed to an incinerator.

Hatfield's "Favorite Son," which appeared briefly in 1999, published by St. Martin's Press, was primarily a smooth "clip job" of biographical details drawn from newspapers and magazines about W's early missteps, but it did contain an alleged bombshell: A claim, never confirmed, that he was arrested for cocaine use in the early 1970s, but his father made sure the case was quashed.

But, when Hatfield's own "brush" with the law -- a five-year prison sentence for attempted murder -- was revealed, St. Martin's quashed his book. It was pulled from stores and destroyed in another case of a major publisher failing to investigate authors and their works in the interest of a quick buck.

"Horns and Halos," co-directed by Suki Hawley and Michael Galinsky, picks up Hatfield's story post-St. Martin's when a new and tiny independent publisher, Soft Skull, agrees to publish "Favorite Son."

Working out of a basement boiler room in the New York apartment building where he is the super, publisher Sander Hicks is ready to cash in on Bush's notoriety as he nears the 2000 presidential nomination.

He, rather than the troubled Hatfield, carries the weight of this mostly superficial documentary about fame and fraud. Hicks, a part-time punk rocker with a greasy, bizarre hairdo, is a natural actor and tireless pitchman for his author and the book.

From a "60 Minutes" segment to promotions at the 2001 BookExpo, Hicks can see dollar signs. Hatfield can feel only mounting paranoia that more unpleasant personal exposures are on the way.

How this all evaporates is the sad, if not pathetic ending to a project and its promoters, both dubious from the start.

-- Bob Hoover

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