Filmmaker Ben Hernstrom has a long-term project: "The fictionalization of the future," he calls it, or "looking back on a future that won't happen, hopefully."
Employing found footage and still images, and with inspiration from experimental icon Chris Marker, Hernstrom has created the intriguing first and last chapters of a series he envisions taking years to complete. Both chapters screen when Hernstrom visits the March 11 Film Kitchen (a CP-sponsored event). Also screening is a short comedy by Shawn Bronson.
Hernstrom grew up in McKeesport in a film-loving family; after high school, he pursued experimental music for years. When he enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh, as a 24-year-old freshman, it was to study German. But his film classes interested him more. "I was like, I gotta do this," says Hernstrom, now 31.
His earliest completed short was "Fernseher." Its use of still images of a city (which Hernstrom shot in Berlin) and foreboding voiceover ("I wish I could talk to someone," it says) recalls Marker's classic "La Jetée," and depicts "the end of the world."
Hernstrom, often collaborating with local filmmaker Justin Crimone, moved on to other projects, including two short documentaries he'll also screen March 11. "(Steel) Cities of the Future," originally commissioned by Current TV, looks at Pittsburgh's prospects for re-invention. "The Traveller" juxtaposes the ethical debate over embryonic stem-cell research with the plight of local artist Frank Ferraro, who has Parkinson's disease.
Meanwhile, Hernstrom's "Man the Maker" grew from the 2007 Public Domain Private Dominion, an annual competition he created for area artists to make movies from public-domain footage. With its omniscient narrator commenting on images of industrial wastelands and a catastropic urban flood, it's the other completed chapter in his series on the future.
But between "Fernseher" and "Man," which is the first chapter in that series, and which the last? "That's the thing, I'm not sure," says Hernstrom. "In five or 10 years, if I feel I've come to the end of this project ... I'll probably decide then."
Handed the script that became "In the Dirt," Shawn Bronson knew it wasn't his kind of material -- a dark comedy, not the sort of probing, realistic drama he prefers. So for this class project at Point Park University, Bronson turned to a couple of old friends: Woody Allen and Wes Anderson, filmmakers whose comedies he could draw upon.
The 12-minute "In the Dirt," shot in Brookline, tells the story of a passive florist, his impulsive younger assistant, and a series of unlikely holdups. Rewrites of the script (the final credit went to classmate Ben Harkins) helped Bronson play to his directorial preference for subtlety. The film expresses humor through the way actors are positioned on screen -- as Allen did so well in, say, Manhattan -- and through compositions built around bright colors, a favorite technique of Anderson's (The Royal Tennenbaums).
Audiences might recall Bronson's previous Film Kitchen entry, Team Predator -- a raw feature-length documentary the Indiana, Pa., native shot during his 2005-06 stint as a National Guard gunner in Iraq. But if "In the Dirt" seemingly has little to do with that earlier effort, it's also not much like his next planned work. Bronson's senior thesis film for Point Park's Cinema and Digital Arts Program better reflects his admiration for another favorite filmmaker -- Noah Baumbach, the student of family dysfunction who made The Squid and the Whale. Bronson's script is a drama about the teen-age son of divorced parents searching for his depressive mom, who's gone missing.
Film Kitchen. 8 p.m. Tue., March 11 (7 p.m. reception). Melwood Screening Room. $4. 412-681-5449, x231 or www.filmkitchenpgh.org.