Brady Lewis couldn't have asked for a better debut: His first feature film, the surreal and darkly comic Daddy Cool, premiered last November at the Three Rivers Film Festival with a pair of sold-out screenings at the Regent Square Theater.
In some ways, the big turnouts were a gimme. Along with his national reputation in experimental film circles, Lewis is a longtime instructor and director of education at Pittsburgh Filmmakers, the nonprofit media-arts organization that runs the festival. And the film was financed, cast, shot and edited right here in Pittsburgh over a period of six years, with a crew drawn largely from Lewis' colleagues, students and former students at Filmmakers. So there was a ready audience for the film's visually rich, playfully noir-ish story of a recovering werewolf's relationship with a woman who used to be a boy.
But now Daddy Cool ventures forth, starting its maiden theatrical run with a two-week Regent Square engagement that Lewis hopes will kick-start success elsewhere. Then, on April 10-11, the film screens in competition at the 36th Annual Worldfest -- Houston International Film Festival.
Festivals are where independent filmmakers go to get noticed, and to find distribution companies who'll get their movies into theaters. As a film market, Worldfest might not be Sundance, but it is big, with a roster of 60 full-length features. And it has good Pittsburgh juju: Another locally grown feature, writer-director Melissa Martin's The Bread, My Sweet, won two top prizes there in 2001. "That festival was really a turning point for us," says producer Adrienne Wehr. Worldfest was also where Wehr and Martin met a representative from Panorama Entertainment, the indie distributor that's gotten The Bread shown in a dozen U.S. cities -- including Pittsburgh, where incredibly it's still on screen more than a year after it, too, debuted at the Regent Square.
Daddy Cool is a different commodity than Bread -- not a warm-hearted romance, but a movie with one character who's just a head in a jar. Still, Lewis thinks there's a market for it, and if the festival circuit is any guide, maybe there is: Worldfest has already told him it's giving Daddy Cool an award, and he's also been invited to screen it at Kansas City's Halfway to Hollywood Film Festival, in September.
First, though, there's the hometown crowd. "We're trying to push it as a Pittsburgh project and hope that people will check it out for that reason," Lewis says.