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

The Three Rivers Film Festival

The 29th annual Three Rivers Film Festival, presented by Pittsburgh Filmmakers, runs from Fri., Nov. 5, through Nov. 20. The program of more than four dozen films includes foreign-language works, American independents, documentaries, shorts, local works and experimental cinema. Once again, the popular Alloy Orchestra returns to provide a live score to a restored silent classic, Fritz Lang's Metropolis. Pittsburgh's own Bach Choir does the same for two screenings of 1925's Phantom of the Opera.

Tickets for most films are $9 each. A Silver Screenie pass ($125) admits the bearer to all films and parties except Phantom. A Six Pack festival pass offers six single admissions for $45, 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 Ave.). For more information, call 412-681-5449 or visit


Following are reviews and descriptions of films screening through Thu., Nov. 11.


American Macho Buddha. Walt Mancing's smartly produced, locally shot indie martial-arts mockumentary takes aim at a small-town charlatan sensei and the students who buy his hoo-ha. The first 20 minutes are close to brilliant, and the dropoff in inventiveness isn't all that steep for a first-time filmmaker like Mancing, who made the film on a shoestring, albeit with a skilled cast and crew. While the style drifts between straight mockumentary and a more conventional comic style, Mancing's script has great fun skewering the martial-arts world's pretensions. Mancing himself is wonderfully smarmy as the self-deluding instructor pimping a risible fighting style (whose techniques include "Rabid Raccoon"). But the film is ultimately quite kind to characters like a naif loner (well-played by Doug Suttenfield) whose eyes are -- very slowly -- opened to his mentor's chicanery. The screening is part of the Film Kitchen series. 8 p.m. (7 p.m. reception). Tue., Nov. 9. Regent Square (Bill O'Driscoll)

Bride Flight. Ben Sombogaart's relatively sunny drama is akin to one of those sprawling, soapy novels one takes to the beach, a page-turner that follows a group of women through a couple decades. Here, three gals meet in 1953 en route from Holland to New Zealand, where their fiancés await. Shattered expectations, a couple of problem pregnancies and even the cheery, laid-back vibe of New Zealand all twist fate. Pleasantly entertaining, with a lively cast and gorgeous scenery. In English, and Dutch, with subtitles. 2 p.m. Sun., Nov. 7, and 7 p.m. Mon., Nov. 8. Regent Square (Al Hoff)

The festival presents a rare reprise of artist Matthew Barney's five-part epic Cremaster Cycle, whose visual splendor is matched by its frequent inscrutability.

Cremaster Cycle: 1 and 2. Part 1 (1995) takes place aboard two Goodyear blimps hovering over a football field. It then proceeds to round up the usual symbols --phalluses, uteri, grapes -- and music ranging from Busby Berkeley to New Age ultra-minimalism. Part 2 (1999) is both more abstract visually (distorted landscapes, ice sculptures) and also more concrete, occasionally taking place in "homes" among "families" who "speak," albeit in whispers and riddles. 2 p.m. Sat., Nov. 6, and 9 p.m. Mon., Nov. 8. Melwood (Harry Kloman)

Cremaster Cycle: 3. This is the last of the five episodes to be filmed -- though it is the third act -- and it continues Barney's fascination with mythology, symbolism and avant-garde imagery. The majority of this three-hour film unfolds in New York's Chrysler Building, and includes a battle between a Masonic Apprentice (Barney) and an architect (sculptor Richard Serra) for control of the building's construction. A light brush-up on Masonic myth and ritual undoubtedly would render some sequences more meaningful, but the film remains a well-constructed and opulent, if self-indulgent, spectacle. 7:30 p.m. Wed., Nov. 10, and noon, Sat., Nov. 13. Regent Square (AH)

Enter the Void. The latest from button-pushing filmmaker Gaspar Noe (Irreversible), set in Tokyo, follows a pair of demimonde siblings, one of whom exists as a guardian ghost. In Japanese, with subtitles. 9:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 6, and 9:15 p.m. Tue., Nov. 9. Melwood 

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. The third and final story of Stieg Larsson's trilogy depicts hacker Lisbeth and journalist Mikael lining up all the pieces -- and exacting justice. Daniel Alfredson directs. In Swedish, with subtitles. 7 p.m. Fri., Nov. 5. Regent Square. $15 (includes post-screening party at Melwood location)

Helena From the Wedding. On a snowy New Year's Eve, eight friends gather at a country cabin -- three are couples in various states of distress, and two are singletons. Add lots of booze, and out come the recriminations, ill-advised flirtations and assorted navel-gazing. (Also proffered: Chekov's gun, ax and cocaine.) Joseph Infantolino's indie dramedy is well produced and well acted, but unless you're a huge fan of watching passive-aggressive wine-swillers, it falls just short of truly engaging. 7 p.m. Thu., Nov. 11, and 3:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 13. Regent Square (AH)

If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle. This Romanian drama is set in a sprawling work-farm prison, and its protagonist is 18-year-old Silviu, who's just two weeks from release. Then his little brother comes to visit, and the ropes holding Silviu together begin to fray. Florin Serban's minimal film is more of a domestic drama than a prison flick. It is long on silences or seemingly random scenes, but for the patient, the film builds to a final reel that will get under your skin with its devastating portrait of wholly understandable self-destructive behavior. In Romanian, with subtitles. 8:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 6, and 6:45 p.m. Sun., Nov. 7. Harris (AH)

Italian Filmmakers. In 2009, four students from an earthquake-damaged school in l'Aquila, Italy, came to Pittsburgh Filmmakers, where they worked on short films, five of which are screened tonight. Two of the films were shot in l'Aquila soon after the earthquake, while another documents recent immigrants in Pittsburgh's Italian-American community. Two of the students -- Flavia Tiberi and Michele Giacardi -- will introduce the films. In English, and Italian, with subtitles. 7:30 p.m. Fri., Nov. 5. Melwood. $15 (includes post-screening party)

Le Quattro Volte. The daily life of an elderly shepherd in a Calabrese village depicts the link between man and nature in this quiet drama from Michelangelo Frammartino. In Italian, with subtitles. 4 p.m. Sun., Nov. 7, and 7 p.m. Mon., Nov. 8. Melwood

Marwencol. This fascinating 82-minute documentary takes us inside the damaged, yet imaginative, mind of Mark Hogencamp. Beaten into a coma by five men in 2000, Hogencamp seeks recovery -- both physically and psychologically -- in "Marwencol," a miniature, World War II-era town he created in his backyard using action figures. Hogencamp becomes consumed by his "society outside society," capturing intimate, wonderfully composed photographs of his fantasy world. Delivered without narration, director Jeff Malmberg's dark yet inspiring film includes interviews with Hogencamp and his friends as it follows the gifted artist all the way to his own art showcase in New York City. 6 p.m. Sun., Nov. 7, and 9:15 p.m. Thu., Nov. 11. Melwood (Chris Young)

October. In Daniel and Diego Vega's comedy, set in Peru, a foundling baby brings a pawnbroker together with his neighbor. In Spanish, with subtitles. 4 p.m. Sat., Nov. 6, and 7:30 p.m. Mon., Nov. 8. Harris 

The Phantom of the Opera. In Rupert Julien's 1925 silent film, Lon Chaney plays "Erik," a music lover who lurks in the shadows of the Paris Opera House. From behind the walls, he coaches and wins the admiration of understudy Christine. Concealed by cloak and a face mask, one evening he takes her away to his underground lair -- where nearly simultaneously are revealed his love, his madness and his horribly disfigured face. Live musical accompaniment will be provided by the Pittsburgh Bach Choir. 2 p.m. Sat., Nov. 6, and 8 p.m. Sun., Nov. 7. Regent Square. Tickets $25 only through (AH)

The Red Machine. In the crime caper set in 1930s Washington, D.C., a smooth-talking rakish thief is paired with a taciturn Navy intelligence officer for an unusual bit of patriotic duty: Break into the home of the Japanese attaché and get a good look at his new mechanical encoding machine. Stephanie Argy and Alec Boehm's indie film combines a heist with a gradually revealed backstory about what really happened in Tokyo in 1928, enlivened with period costumes and snappy dialogue. 5 p.m. Sat., Nov. 6, and 4:45 p.m. Sun., Nov. 7. Regent Square (AH)

The Reverse. Three women in 1952 Warsaw -- including an editor at a Communist publisher -- are the focus of this noir-ish drama from Borys Lankosz. In Polish, with subtitles. 7 p.m. Thu., Nov. 11, and 8 p.m. Tue., Nov. 16. Melwood

The Shot Felt 'Round the World. Learn how deadly polio was stopped with a vaccine, right here in Pittsburgh by Dr. Jonas Salk, in the early 1950s. Tjardus Greidanus' documentary interviews public-health experts as well as those present for this critical medical discovery. 1:45 p.m. Sun., Nov. 7. Melwood

The Sicilian Girl. As a child, Rita Mancuso is fiercely devoted to her mafioso father. When he is murdered in front of her -- later, her brother is killed -- Mancuso sets out to avenge her family through the legal system. Now a feisty teen, she struggles to embrace an institution she has long railed against, while also learning the consequences of breaking omerta. Mancuso battles through a trial and witness protection, learning that revenge and justice are not the same. Marco Amenta's film is based on a true story. In Italian, with subtitles. 6 p.m. Sat., Nov. 6, and 9 p.m. Tue., Nov. 9. Harris (Lauren Daley)

The Tender Hook. It turns out that the Australians had Prohibition and a Jazz Age too. So maybe it's no surprise they know how to make a decent gangster flick -- witness this 2008 period film by writer/director Jonathan Ogilvie. Other than the Aussie accents and a light allegory involving the crumbling British Empire, you might see little new in this tale of boxer Art (Matthew Le Nevez) trying to preserve his integrity from the menacing Alex (Hugo Weaving, only slightly more human than his Agent Smith character in The Matrix). But it's all smartly and noir-ishly done -- and this time it's the moll, Iris (a luminescent Rose Byrne), whose honor is really at stake. In intermittently indecipherable Australian. 9:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 6 (Regent Square), and 4:30 p.m. Sun., Nov. 7 (Harris). (Chris Potter)

Selections From tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE's Movie Archive. Besides creating his own film and video experiments, the locally based Tent has spent decades compiling edgy, provocative and just plain weird videos by others. This program of thoroughly underground shorts (expect lo-fi, and nudity) includes work by indie-cinema legend George Kuchar; "drunk punk comedy horror low-budget videomaker extraordinaire" Dick Dale; radical 1960s outfit L.A. Newsreel's piece on the Black Panthers; and an ad for the infamous Church of the Subgenius. Other works feature punk rocker G.G. Allin; experimental musician Michael Pestel; and political satirist Vermin Supreme. 8 p.m. Sun., Nov. 7. Melwood (BO)

Teza. In this drama from Haile Gerima, an Ethiopian doctor, who had been living in Germany, returns home to the turmoil wrought by the Mengistu dictatorship. In English, and Amharic and German, with subtitles. 7:30 p.m. Thu., Nov. 11. Harris

Tony Buba: Four Decades in Braddock. Local filmmaker Tony Buba will show clips from and discuss his 38 years of work, much of it documenting his hometown of Braddock. To be followed by a reception. 7:30 p.m. Wed., Nov. 10. Harris 

Vision: From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen. The conflict between a strong, eccentric female figure and church hierarchy is, unfortunately, a trope with great currency -- and a long history. Margarethe von Trotta's Vision is a biopic about Hildegard of Bingen, a visionary (and intellectual) Catholic saint who, at times, was at odds with her male counterparts in the German church. Hildegard is brought to life by actress Barbara Sukowa, and von Trotta, the noted German filmmaker. The film occasionally drags and isn't for those seeking fast-paced action. It's best left to those interested in the role of women in the medieval church, and in the church today. 2 p.m. Sun., Nov. 7, and 7 p.m. Tue., Nov. 9. Harris (Andy Mulkerin)

What Does Trouble Mean? In 1969, unemployment was high in Pittsburgh's black community. But big construction projects were hiring more out-of-state tradesmen than locals. The struggle of Nate Smith -- Hill District native, heavy-equipment operator and former prizefighter -- to integrate the city's construction unions is the subject of this hour-long 2009 documentary from Robert Morris University's Center for Documentary Production & Study. Union claims that blacks were unqualified led Smith to found Operation Dig, a program to train minorities, and later the Pittsburgh Plan, a nationally recognized apprenticeship program. Trouble unearths much lively period news footage of meetings, marches and a highly contentious city-wide construction stoppage. The style is heavy-handed at times, but overall it's a deserved tribute to Smith and a fascinating window on local history. 7:30 p.m. Fri., Nov. 5, and 2 p.m. Sat., Nov. 13. Harris. $15 (includes post-screening party at Melwood location) (BO)

William S. Burroughs: The Man Within. The infamous poet, novelist, world traveler, counter-culturalist, drug-user and so much more lived a remarkable -- and remarkably long -- life. Yony Leyser's bio-docu gives the man his due. 9:30 p.m. Mon., Nov. 8, and 9 p.m. Thu., Nov. 11. Regent Square

Wonderful Summer. In Ryszard Brylski's quirky, mostly charming rom-com, recent high school graduate Kika spends the summer escaping from death. She lives in a cemetery, with her depressed stonecutter father; she's visited by the ghost of her mother; her beloved granddad is always threatening to die; and her best romantic prospect works at a funeral home. But it's a comedy, so life prevails, and everybody learns a few valuable lessons. In Polish, with subtitles. 7 p.m. Tue., Nov. 9, and 7:30 p.m. Wed., Nov. 10. Melwood (AH)

Handmade Nation: The Rise of DIY Art, Craft, and Design. If you were among the 9,000 visitors to last year's installment of Handmade Arcade, with its vendors from all over filling Shadyside's Armory, you know indie crafts aren't just a Pittsburgh phenomenon. Now there's a film vividly documenting the movement's national scope, and a philosophy that goes beyond the mere purveyance of artisanal knitwear, clothing, books, zines, prints, dolls and jewelry. Handmade Nation is Milwaukee-based curator Faythe Levine's feature-length 2009 compendium of interviews with artists, including visits to their stores and craft fairs. Though directly descended from quiltmaking and other traditional crafts, today's indie craft is driven by a post-punk DIY ethos -- a conscious, living-small alternative to a consumer culture of goods mass-extruded in Global South sweatshops and UPC-scanned in big-box retailers. It's also got a green edge, reflected in the use of reused or recycled raw materials. Levine, 32, has been crafting for a decade. The national scene took off, she says, around 2003, with the rise of websites like SuperNaturale, GetCrafty and other venues for online community and retailing. (Handmade Arcade was founded in 2004.) Now chain retailers ape the "handmade look," and venture capitalists have invested in Etsy, the key online marketplace for handcrafters. But Levine emphasizes "the empowerment of making." Creating beautiful or useful objects oneself "makes [people] feel good, proud, happy, satisfied and excited to share," says Levine, who visits Pittsburgh on Nov. 6 for a screening and a signing of her companion Handmade Nation book. "The act of making is contagious." 2 p.m. Sat., Nov. 6. Harris. A reception and book-signing with Levine follow at the Society for Contemporary Craft, 2100 Smallman St., Strip District (412-261-7003). (BO)

A Film Unfinished. In 1942, Nazi propagandists set out to make a film showing the opulence of life in the Warsaw ghetto, with actors portraying indulgent Jewish families living high on the -- well, not hog, of course. They never completed it, and in A Film Unfinished, Yael Hersonski, an Israeli filmmaker, looks at the four reels of detritus they left behind. But actually, as Hersonski says in her narration, the footage is a gift, and "from the frenzy of propaganda, the images alone remain, concealing many layers of reality." Using all of the old film -- some of it showing the horrors of ghetto life -- along with readings from diaries and trial testimony, she reconstructs life in "a holding pen before the final destination." We also watch some Holocaust survivors watch the old silent footage, and they remember when the Germans came to film the ghetto, where the starving and the dead littered the streets. "I keep thinking that among all of these people," a survivor says, "I might see my mother walking by." Hersonski's austere film once again documents the unimaginable that we don't need to imagine, and she asks without asking what kind of people could perpetrate such a thing. In English, and German, Polish, Hebrew and Yiddish, with subtitles. 7:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 6. Regent Square (HK)