The Three Rivers Film Festival | Screen | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

The Three Rivers Film Festival

The 27th annual Three Rivers Film Festival, presented by Pittsburgh Filmmakers, continues through Nov. 22. The program of more than 40 films includes foreign-language works, American independents, documentaries, shorts, local works and experimental cinema, as well as a sidebar of Polish films. On Sun., Nov. 16, the popular Alloy Orchestra returns to provide a live score to a restored silent classic, Josef von Sternberg's The Last Command

Tickets for most films are $8 each. A Silver Screenie pass ($125; $195 for two) admits the bearer to all films and parties, except The Passion of Joan of Arc. A Six Pack festival pass offers six single admissions for $40, plus a free T-shirt. Tickets are available at the door, or in advance from ProArts (412-394-3353 or See for complete purchase information for tickets and passes.

All films screen at the Harris Theater, Downtown (809 Liberty Ave.); the Melwood Screening Room, North Oakland (477 Melwood Ave.); or the Regent Square Theater, Edgewood (1035 S. Braddock). For more information, call 412-681-5449 or visit


Following are reviews and descriptions of films screening through Thu., Nov. 20.


BALLAST. A love triangle creates conflict in this Mississippi Delta-set drama from first-time director Lance Hammer. 7:30 p.m. Fri., Nov. 14, and 6:15 p.m. Sat., Nov. 15. Harris


BEN X. Belgian teen Ben (Greg Timmermans) mostly suffers: His Asperger's syndrome makes even the simplest social interaction a puzzling struggle, and he's mercilessly bullied at school. He finds rare solace as "Ben X," his highly capable avatar who excels in a medieval-war computer game. After a violent event, Ben snaps, and his fantasy life merges with reality, leading to a curious emancipation. Writer-director Nic Balthazar's moody drama ably suggests (with help from the expressive Timmermans) the miserable, minute-by-minute alienation of Ben's inner life, even if the ending is a bit of a leap. In Dutch, with subtitles. 8:45 p.m. Wed., Nov. 12. Harris (Al Hoff)


CHERRY BLOSSOMS. Doris Dörrie's drama, drawn from Ozu's classic Tokyo Story, tells the story of Rudi -- an aging, unimaginative bureaucrat who is echt Deutsch right down to his fondness for wurst -- and his wife, Trudi, who longs to see Japan. The two confront death without quite realizing it, which is how Rudi has approached life as well. Elmar Weppel turns in a nuanced performance of a man only now recognizing what he has lost, and a supporting cast skillfully depicts a family stewing with resentment. But the script runs toward the mawkish, with East-meets-West clichés and ham-fisted metaphors. I mean, do we have to be told what cherry blossoms symbolize? In English, and German and Japanese, with subtitles. 8 p.m. Mon., Nov. 17, and 8 p.m. Thu., Nov. 20. Regent Square (Chris Potter)


ERNIE GEHR: EARLY WORKS. A selection of the celebrated experimental filmmaker's early influential work, including "Serene Velocity," is presented. 7:30 p.m. Wed., Nov. 19. Melwood


ERNIE GEHR: IN PERSON. The experimental filmmaker appears to present a program of his recent digital-video work. 8 p.m. Thu., Nov. 13. Melwood


THE EXILES. Young Native Americans adrift in central Los Angeles are the focus of Kent Mackenzie's 1961 docu-drama. Adopting such then-contemporary styles as European neo-realism and the improvisational techniques of American independents, Mackenzie worked with young Indian non-actors he met in L.A. -- the film focuses on three -- to re-create a typical night of their lives. Boredom, loneliness and the disconnect from their heritage are barely relieved by drinking, cruising and a bittersweet gathering of the tribes on a vacant hill after the bars close. This long unavailable film, shot in crisp black and white and with a keen eye for the visual poetry of the urban nightscape, is a remarkable portrait of overlooked people as well the storied Bunker Hill neighborhood they inhabited, which was leveled soon after through eminent domain. In all, a haunting depiction of individuals and communities lost in the rush to modernity. 3:15 p.m. Sat., Nov. 15, and noon, Sun., Nov. 16. Melwood (Al Hoff)


HAVE ROCKET, WILL TRAVEL. The Three Stooges -- stars of popular shorts -- made their feature debut in David Lowell Rich's 1959 comedy, in which the yuksters journey to Venus. 2 p.m. Sat., Nov. 15. Regent Square


HOW ABOUT YOU. A young woman with a short temper ends up minding the cantankerous residents of an Irish nursing home. Anthony Byrne directs this film, adapted from a Maeve Binchy short story, and starring Vanessa Redgrave, Imelda Staunton and Brenda Fricker. 1:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 15; noon, Sun., Nov. 16; and 7:30 p.m. Fri., Nov. 21. Harris


INFALLIBLE SYSTEM. In this light-hearted debut feature from Izabela Szylko, a retired schoolteacher has a "system" at a local casino. In Polish, with subtitles. 7:30 p.m. Mon., Nov. 17, and 7:30 p.m. Tue., Nov. 18. Harris


JAZZ ON A SUMMER'S DAY. Photographer Bert Stern's only film documents the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival and, to an extent, the concurrent America's Cup sailing race. From the hypnotic opening shots of reflections on the water, Stern's unorthodox-but-brilliant compositions and editing techniques take jazz beyond the realm of the ordinary music documentary. In a non-narrative manner, the film explores the junctures of high and low culture, as well as the upper and lower classes. The concert footage is tops, covering legends (Armstrong, Monk), rockers (Chuck Berry) and some fantastic surprises (Chico Hamilton Quartet). The widely acclaimed film has been re-released in a new 35 mm print. 7 p.m. Thu., Nov. 13, and 9:30 p.m. Fri., Nov. 14. Harris (Andy Mulkerin)


JCVD. In this meta-comedy from Mabrouk El Mechri, faded action-hero Jean-Claude Van Damme (playing himself) returns to Belgium, where he gets caught up in a bank heist. In English, and French, with subtitles. 10 p.m. Sat., Nov. 15. Regent Square


KATYN. Legendary Polish director Andrzej Wajda's (Man of Iron) latest film examines a controversial chapter of World War II, in which Soviets mass-executed Polish soldiers and citizens, and then blamed the Germans. In Polish, Russian and German, with subtitles. 7 p.m. Sat., Nov. 15, and 1 p.m. Sun., Nov. 16. Regent Square


THE KOREAN. In the first 30 minutes of Thomas Dixon's crime thriller, a lot of people get betrayed and/or shot. What it all means is less obvious, since the nonlinear style employed early in the film causes as much confusion as intrigue. Eventually the story straightens out and the pieces fall into a familiar pattern: A crime boss is being double-crossed and his "cleaner," the titular Korean (Josiah D. Lee), is moving a lot of the pieces, probably in his favor. Dixon, a Robert Morris grad and an alum of Pittsburgh Filmmakers, shot the film in Pittsburgh, and with a number of local actors. 2 p.m. Sun., Nov. 16 (Melwood); 7:30 p.m. Tue., Nov. 18 (Melwood); and 9:30 p.m. Fri., Nov. 21 (Harris) (AH)


THE LAST COMMAND. The great silent actor Emil Jannings stars in this 1928 melodrama directed by Josef von Sternberg. In it, Jannings portrays a former Russian Army general, now working as a Hollywood extra. He is chosen to play a Russian general in a movie, but his director (William Powell), coincidently an old adversary, torments him, leading to an eventual psychic breakdown. The acclaimed film, shown here in a restored print, was nominated for Best Picture, and Jannings won Best Actor. Boston's Alloy Orchestra will perform an original, live musical accompaniment. 8 p.m. Sun., Nov. 16. $15. Regent Square


MOMMA'S MAN. Azazel Jacobs' sly dramedy tracks a typical scenario in a less-than-typical environment. Thirtysomething Mikey (Matt Boren), while visiting his parents in New York, suffers a quiet freak-out and refuses to return to California where his wife and infant await. Instead, he retreats to his adolescent lair, literally a cubbyhole carved out of the accumulated junk of his parents' living quarters. Jacobs cast his own dad and mom -- avant-garde filmmaker Ken and painter Flo; used their old-school loft as a fantastical warren of a set; and merged his own unique childhood with that of Mikey, who for all the implied freedom of his upbringing, still struggles to move past the nostalgia for his youth and embrace adulthood. 7:30 p.m. Fri., Nov. 14, and 5 p.m. Sat., Nov. 15. Melwood (AH)


MY FATHER, MY LORD. David Volach's deliberate, low-keyed study of Orthodox Jewish faith under stress is respectful but unsparing. Little Menahem idolizes his father, a strict but loving rabbi constantly murmuring prayers; his mother is warm-hearted and devout. "It is for the righteous man that the world is created," says the rabbi. A meaningless death tests their bonds. Volach's 73-minute gem communicates largely through poetic pauses and quiet observation; a rescue helicopter, endlessly spinning over a night sea, its lamp searching, says volumes about loss, despair and the limits of faith. In Hebrew, with subtitles. 7 p.m. Thu., Nov. 13, and 3:30 p.m. Sun., Nov. 16. Regent Square (Bill O'Driscoll)


ONE DAY YOU'LL UNDERSTAND. In Amos Gitai's drama set in France during the mid-1980s, Victor (Hippolyte Girardot) obsesses about his family's past and its possible connection to the Holocaust. His mother (Jeanne Moreau) is particularly evasive, seemingly wanting to forget what he is so desperate to know. In this meditatively paced film, Victor's quest to uncover the history of the Jewish side of his family ultimately brings all a fresh -- and personal -- understanding of horrific historical events. In French, with subtitles. 7 p.m. Wed., Nov. 19, and 2 p.m. Sat., Nov. 22. Regent Square (Lydia Heyliger)


THE POOL. Documentarian Chris Smith (American Movie) tries his hand at a feature film, a character study about a young boy who ekes out a living at an Indian hotel and obsesses over a nearby pool that represents unattainable luxuries. In English, and Hindi, with subtitles. 7 p.m. Sat., Nov. 15. Melwood


REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA. A rock opera about the dystopic future of health care. In the year 2056, most of us are living with transplanted organs ... or at least until we miss a couple payments and get our innards repossessed the hard way. Darren Lynn Bousman's musical horror-spoof features Paul Sorvino, Sarah Brightman, Joan Jett and Paris Hilton, among others. Bousman is scheduled to attend the screening. 10 p.m. Fri., Nov. 14. Regent Square


SHORTS PROGRAM A. A variety of short films from regional, national and international artists are screened as part of the festival's shorts competition. (Categories are experimental, narrative, animation and documentary.) Program A includes: "Pig's Ear," Grant Barbeito; "The Dirt on You," Jeremy Braverman; "El Abuelo," Dino Dinco; "Balaton Monks," Mark Edgington; "Crushed," Michael Feldman; "Invoice," Adriane Little; "In the A.M. of Dec. 26th," Paula Malcomson; "Natural Selection: The Rise of the Proletariat," Michael Mallis; "Streetcar Named Perspire," Joanna Priestley; and "Finding Matty's Voice," Jaclyn Spirer. 9:30 p.m. Fri., Nov. 14, and 2 p.m. Sat., Nov. 22. Melwood


SHORTS PROGRAM B. A variety of short films from regional, national and international artists are screened as part of the festival's shorts competition. (Categories are experimental, narrative, animation and documentary.) Program B includes: "The Ville," Amy Bench; "The Great Melt," Ben Bigelow; "Case Histories in Psychotherapy," Tony Gault; "Communion," Markus Kirschner; "Lake Affect," Jason Livingston; "Symphony," Erick Oh; "The Cave: an Adaptation of Plato's Allegory in Clay," Michael Ramsey; "Emotive," Vanessa Sas; "Peekers," Mark Steensland; "Thurston," Mark Wickline; and "Today I Baled Some Hay to Feed the Sheep the Coyotes Eat," Will Zavala. 7:30 p.m. Mon., Nov. 17, and 4 p.m. Sat., Nov. 22. Melwood


THE SKY TURNS. Mercedes Álvarez's debut film -- like the town it chronicles -- is slow and quiet. Álvarez captures La Aldea, an aging Spanish village where she was born, through conversations with its few remaining residents. Considering the subject is a dying rural community, which outsiders visit only to plaster it with campaign posters, Sky is notably not depressing. Álvarez lets the camera linger on conversations, where she finds more than sound bite and surface emotion. Elderly wisdom and breathtaking views abound. Still, these are mountains and senior citizens, so don't expect to be on the edge of your seat. In Spanish, with subtitles. 9 p.m. Thu., Nov. 13; 3:45 p.m. Sat., Nov. 15; and 2 p.m. Sun., Nov. 16. Harris (Adam Fleming)


SONG SUNG BLUE. Middle-aged Milwaukee marrieds Lightning and Thunder are devoted to their regionally successful musical careers channeling Neil Diamond and Patsy Cline, respectively. Then, a freak accident derails the couple in myriad ways. Greg Koh's lo-fi yet intimate documentary depicts the ongoing struggle of these two never-say-die iconoclasts, including a descent that has shades of a John Waters feature and -- of all things -- an Eddie Vedder moment that'll make you cry. Off-beat, funny, inspiring and a little bit heart-breaking: You'll never smirk at a Neil Diamond tune the same way again. 8:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 15, and 7:30 p.m. Wed., Nov. 19. Harris (AH)


SYNDROMES AND A CENTURY. This film's main events unfold twice, with some variations -- first in a rural Thai hospital, then in a sterile, futuristic medical center. There's not much narrative, but plenty of thematic tension: holistic cures vs. modern medicine, the natural world vs. plastic civilization, and above all, human impermanence in the face of eternity. That Syndromes is lovely to look at helps, as do moments of humor and absurdity (memorably, hospital workers stashing booze in a pile of prosthetic legs). Director Apichatpong Weerasethakul's camera seems to encircle rather than probe directly; whether this elliptical style enraptures or disorients depends largely on the viewer's willingness to go with the flow. In Thai, with subtitles. 7:30 p.m. Wed., Nov. 12. Regent Square (Aaron Jentzen)


THREE MONKEYS. A politician, a car accident and a pay-off precipitate a series of deceptions in this psychological drama from Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Climates). In Turkish, with subtitles. 8:45 p.m. Thu., Nov. 13, and 4:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 15. Regent Square


3RFF SYMPOSIUM: THE SHORT FILM. This day-long event poses the question: "The Short Film: A Genre Unto Itself?" There will be screenings, presentations, discussions and special guests, including noted experimental filmmaker Ernie Gehr. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Fri., Nov. 14. $25 in advance; $30 at door; free to Silver Screenie pass holders. Ticket includes lunch. Melwood


TRICKS. A young boy and his teen-age sister believe that "tricks," or games they play, can affect the course of events. Andrzej Jakimowski directs this winsome drama from Poland. In Polish, with subtitles. 7:30 p.m. Fri., Nov. 14. Regent Square


TWISTS OF FATE. This latest film from noted Polish director Jerzy Stuhr (The Animal) is a drama that spans two generations, intertwining the country's murky past under socialism with the tale of a contemporary student who finds a cell phone on a train. Stuhr is scheduled to appear. In Polish, with subtitles. 8 p.m. Wed., Nov. 12. Melwood $15 (includes reception)


A WARM HEART. A rich man who needs a heart transplant schemes to get the organ he needs from a depressed young man who may -- conveniently -- be tired of living. This dark comedy is the latest feature from Polish director Krzysztof Zanussi. In Polish, with subtitles. 8 p.m. Tue., Nov. 18, and 9 p.m. Wed., Nov. 19. Regent Square


WILD COMBINATION. Matt Wolf's documentary examines the life of the obscure pop/disco/experimental musician Arthur Russell. Despite having little commercial success during his life, Russell was at the heart of the U.S. avant-garde in the 1960s and '70s (spending time in San Francisco, then New York's downtown scene), working with some of the big names of that era. Close friends such as the late Allen Ginsberg and Ernie Brooks (of the Modern Lovers) provide commentary. Russell's complex music, relationship with his family, identity as a gay man and death due to AIDS are explored with depth and tact; a must-see for anyone interested in the music and subcultures of that era. 7 p.m. Wed., Nov. 12. Harris (AM)





Wed., Nov. 12

Regent Square

7:30 p.m. Syndromes and a Century


7 p.m. Wild Combination

8:45 p.m. Ben X


8 p.m. Twist of Fate


Thu., Nov. 13

Regent Square

7 p.m. My Father, My Lord

8:45 p.m. Three Monkeys


7 p.m. Jazz on a Summer's Day

9 p.m. The Sky Turns


8 p.m. Ernie Gehr, in person with recent work


Fri., Nov. 14

Regent Square

7:30 p.m. Tricks

10 p.m. Repo! The Genetic Opera


7:30 p.m. Ballast

9:30 p.m. Jazz on a Summer's Day


10 a.m.-5 p.m. 3RFF Symposium

7:30 p.m. Momma's Man

9:30 p.m. Shorts Program A


Sat., Nov. 15

Regent Square

2 p.m. Have Rocket, Will Travel

4:30 p.m. Three Monkeys

7 p.m. Katyn

10 p.m. JCVD


1:30 p.m. How About You

3:45 p.m. The Sky Turns

6:15 p.m. Ballast

8:30 p.m. Song Sung Blue


3:15 p.m. The Exiles

5 p.m. Momma's Man

7 p.m. The Pool


Sun., Nov. 16

Regent Square

1 p.m. Katyn

3:30 p.m. My Father, My Lord

8 p.m. The Last Command with Alloy Orchestra


Noon How About You

2 p.m. The Sky Turns


Noon The Exiles

2 p.m. The Korean


Mon., Nov. 17

Regent Square

8 p.m. Cherry Blossoms


7:30 p.m. Infallible System


7:30 p.m. Shorts Program B


Tue., Nov. 18

Regent Square

8 p.m. A Warm Heart


7:30 p.m. Infallible System


7:30 p.m. The Korean


Wed., Nov. 19

Regent Square

7 p.m. One Day You'll Understand

9 p.m. A Warm Heart


7:30 p.m. Song Sung Blue


7:30 p.m. Early Works of Ernie Gehr


Thu., Nov. 20

Regent Square

8 p.m. Cherry Blossoms