Jay “Ruff Bone” White has been making films in Pittsburgh for years. Now the Beltzhoover native and self-taught filmmaker will showcase the work of his peers with Pittsburgh Black Film Network: A Day Dedicated to Black Short Films.
The event on Thu., Feb. 27 at the Homewood-Brushton YMCA will include a screening as well as networking component and Q&A session. It’s presented by Jay White Digital Media, a company White founded a few months ago and has since used to host networking events at places like Arnold’s Tea in the North Side.
The selected films — each of which run 10 to 20 minutes long — include All for Nothing by Dorin STARRNamed Marr, Hit & Run by Michael Redd, The Nexus by Corey Lankford, and Woogie by Lorenzo Boone, as well as an unannounced fifth film.
White sees the short film program as giving a platform to “outcasts” in the local independent film community, which he views as being overshadowed by the large-scale film and TV productions attracted by the state’s film tax credit and Pittsburgh’s versatile landscape. He adds that while incoming projects — which include everything from Hollywood films to Netflix series — provide jobs to film professionals and others in the city, not enough Black people are hired to work on sets.
As a result, he and others started making and distributing their own films.
“We just create our own stuff and do our own thing,” says White. “Whoever wants to be part of it and help, that’s fine.”
Over the years, White has gone from making documentaries to dabbling in narrative features. His 2015 documentary Pittsburgh State of Mind looked at the music subcultures in the city, specifically those related to various styles of hip hop. In a Pittsburgh City Paper story about the film’s Southside Works Cinema premiere, White described the film as an effort “to bridge the gap between black, white, hip-hop rappers, backpack rappers, whoever the case may be.”
His other films also tackle issues related to historical and current Black experiences. His 2018 feature Everyday Hustle, which premiered in 2018 at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center, depicted the struggles of a single father after he loses his career.
“I shot a movie with no script or budget,” says White. “I just used my friends and creativity, and made a whole feature film.”
He also worked with executive producer Sarah Martin on Pittsburgh’s Underground Railroad, a documentary short covering how the U.S. enslaved African people and the role Pittsburgh played in helping to free them.
While local leaders, institutions, and organizations have made some strides in supporting local Black filmmakers, including the creation of grant programs like Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh and the Black Bottom Film Festival, White still sees few opportunities to make a career here.
“The Hollywood movies are the only things people care about here instead of uplifting the local filmmakers, and putting them on a platform and displaying their work to the world,” he says.
Part of it, he says, is also due to how fractured the local film community is, something he hopes to remedy with the Pittsburgh Black Film Network.
“There [are] a lot of independent filmmakers here, but everybody is so segregated,” says White. “It’s not even Black and white people, it’s just segregated [in that] only small circles of people know about it, and then the films just fizzle out.”
He believes if local independent film was nurtured as much as the music and art scenes, which have seen people gain name recognition beyond Pittsburgh, filmmakers would have more of a chance to succeed.
“There’s a list of talented people here already in the city that are into films,” he says. “You never know [what a filmmaker here could do] if they get the right budget, some of the backing, and people to support [their film].”