Pittsburgh has built a reputation as a horror film locale, mostly through its association with late Night of the Living Dead director George A. Romero and special effects makeup artist Tom Savini. Rather than ignore it — and honestly, why would you? — Film Pittsburgh, a local nonprofit dedicated to the city’s cinema scene, has chosen to embrace it.
“It’s an important genre in the Pittsburgh region — we are the home of the zombie, after all! — and those films really resonate with audiences,” Film Pittsburgh executive director Kathryn Spitz Cohan tells Pittsburgh City Paper in an email interview. “So, we’ve screened horror and thriller films every year in our festivals.”
That tradition continues at the upcoming Three Rivers Film Festival and the Pittsburgh Shorts and Script Competition, happening from Nov. 10-16 at the Pittsburgh Playhouse, Harris Theater, and Tull Family Theater, and from Nov. 17-20 at the Harris Theater, respectively.
The Festival will celebrate the 40th anniversary of Romero’s Creepshow, part of which was shot in Pittsburgh. Much like last year, Pittsburgh Shorts will once again spotlight Chiller Theater, the long-running local midnight movie program hosted by the late Bill “Chilly Billy” Cardille.
The focus on horror should not overshadow the myriad of genre-spanning films being shown from all over the world. A statement touts the Pittsburgh Shorts program as featuring 114 films from 24 countries, with 45% directed by women and 35% “by and about people of color.”
“We are very intentional when curating our films because there are so many wildly talented filmmakers out there who just don’t get the same opportunities to screen their work,” says Spitz Cohan. “And the audience loses out when they don’t get to hear these voices.”
The Festival strives to be just as representative with “18 exciting and thought-provoking independent feature films,” including the Pittsburgh premieres of Carajita, an Argentinian film about the struggles of a Black Dominican nanny, and Last Film Show, a drama about a Brahmin Indian boy who falls in love with cinema.
Other programming will further the nonprofit’s mission of supporting and raising awareness of local film professionals. The Festival selections Unknown Country and Butterfly in the Sky, a feature-length documentary about the PBS children’s show Reading Rainbow and its beloved host, LeVar Burton, both have connections to Pittsburgh. There’s also the second-annual Filmmaker Conference, three days of sessions presented as part of the Pittsburgh Shorts and Script Competition. The return of the Conference will be made all the more exciting this year by a keynote talk from famous actor and Pittsburgh native, Joe Manganiello.
Spitz Cohan says the Conference gives Film Pittsburgh a chance to “offer more support to both the filmmakers who come from out of town and local filmmakers.” She claims they also solicited feedback from filmmakers on “what kinds of sessions would be most beneficial to them and incorporated that into the program.”
“We also know that along with the educational aspects of the conference, it’s critical for filmmakers to be able to meet and learn from each other,” says Spitz Cohan.
She also stresses the importance of the networking opportunities Pittsburgh Shorts provides, adding, “We’re thrilled that several filmmaking teams met each other at past festivals and are working together to create new films. It’s a really special part of these very special festivals.”
Three Rivers Film Festival and the Pittsburgh Shorts and Script Competition. Thu., Nov. 10-Wed., Nov. 16 and Thu., Nov. 17-Sun., Nov. 20. Multiple locations. Ticket prices and other fees vary. filmpittsburgh.org