A preteen Jewish secret agent, and a local filmmaker's unlikely first effort, highlight Film Kitchen. | Film | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

A preteen Jewish secret agent, and a local filmmaker's unlikely first effort, highlight Film Kitchen. 

Many people kvetch about the lack of suitable entertainment options for their kids. Local filmmaker Leibel Cohen made his own.

Cohen's in his sixth year creating episodes of The Adventures of Agent Emes, about a preteen yeshiva student who happens to be a secret agent defending traditional Jewish religious values. In the ninth and latest 50-minute installment, for instance, young Emes (em-ehs) tracks comical baddies scheming to create an unkosher Torah.

"Agent Emes & The Sofer Torah" screens at the Dec. 8 Film Kitchen, along with decidedly more surreal work by San Francisco artist Shalo P.

Also screening is Cohen's first professionally made film, "Advise & Dissent." The 20-minute comic short is a story in itself.

Cohen grew up a film enthusiast, but couldn't square the sex and violence of commercial cinema with his religion. He wrote the "Advise" script -- based on an Hassidic folk tale about a man who wishes his wife dead -- while doing corporate computer work. On prodding from his wife, he sent the script to the manager of actress Rebecca Pidgeon.

click to enlarge Liebel Cohen (left) and director of photography Doug Stanczak on the set of Agent Emes
  • Liebel Cohen (left) and director of photography Doug Stanczak on the set of Agent Emes

Pidgeon liked it. Soon her manager had secured co-stars including former Mad About You regular John Pankow and -- incredibly enough -- legendary character actor Eli Wallach (who plays a rabbi).

It was "like lightning struck," says Cohen. "Advise & Dissent," shot in Cohen's then-hometown of Boston, went on to screen at 40 film festivals (including the Pittsburgh Jewish-Israeli Film Festival).

Shortly thereafter, Cohen moved to Pittsburgh, where he lives in Squirrel Hill with his wife, Tanya, and five children.

In 2003, he launched the Agent Emes series, aimed at observant Jewish children past the toddler stage. The episodes feature professional actors (sometimes supplemented by Cohen and his offspring) and crew. Cohen sells copies mostly in Judaica stores in and around New York City, where the devout buyers typically don't even have televisions.

"You look for a way to support yourself following your dream," he says. "Every independent filmmaker needs to find a niche."


click to enlarge The fires of love: Shalo P's "The Heart"
  • The fires of love: Shalo P's "The Heart"

Last year, on commission from a San Francisco art venue, Shalo P created a video-and-music montage called The 2084 Floor Show. One sequence of the 11-minute excerpt screening at Film Kitchen (titled "The Heart") depicts a kaleido-psychedelic tapestry dissolving into flames behind a pair of elongated green hands; spacey electronic music accompanying a montage of skeletons; and a procession of robed penitents, bloody and wailing, marching into a boiling river.

Much of the imagery is engulfed in flames, and it's all scored to a mad mix including Jan & Dean, Japanese pop, Morrissey and the London Philharmonic.

"It's a psychological geography in many ways," says P, who's 29. Key footage was appropriated from the 1960 Japanese morality tale Jijoku ("Hell"), one of his favorite films. P calls his own video "a message of desperate hope" about "how hard it is to love things."


Film Kitchen 8 p.m. Tue., Dec. 8 (7 p.m. reception). Melwood Screening Room, 477 Melwood Ave., N. Oakland. $5. 412-681-9500 or www.filmkitchenpgh.org



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