God and Snacks | Film | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper



If inspiration were destiny, we might already have lost Jessica Coen to Hollywood. Coen was 11 when she saw a "movie-magic" TV show about Jurassic Park. She was especially taken by a segment on how special-effects artists made a puddle ripple when dinosaurs ran. "I could do that!" she thought.



"It was a really stupid way to decide what to do with the rest of your life," cracks Coen, now 23. As a high school senior in Allison Park, she took production classes at Pittsburgh Filmmakers. But the short films that helped her earn a degree in filmmaking from Point Park University traffic in quips, not raptors. Two of her comedies, "Pop Sacred" and "Jesus on a Blind Date," will be featured at the June 14 Film Kitchen, along with work by Glenn Syska and Andres Tapia-Urzua.


In "Pop Sacred," a young woman's hankering for a quick snack begs the question, "Can God help you make popcorn?" The resulting light-hearted if existential quest for crumbs of divinity in a secular world sports a dialogue-heavy, pop-culturally savvy style that recalls Kevin Smith's Clerks.


Coen, raised Catholic, seems to be working a theme with another short, "Jesus on a Blind Date." But she insists it's a coincidence. "It's more of a joke about the dating thing," she says. "It's just a silly comedy."


As one of the few women in her filmmaking classes, Coen learned how to assert herself. She also bonded with other women, who crewed on each other's films; "Pop Sacred" is featured on The Pageant, a new DVD of work by local female artists. And learning the craft certainly left her less starry-eyed about movie magic. "After going through film school," she says, "it takes a lot more to impress me."


The hero of "Five Day Rental" is a quintessential movie fall guy: To cover up a marital infidelity, he's got to return a video to the store by midnight. The fact that his little mission turns nightmarish testifies not only to filmmaker Glenn Syska's love of horror, but also to his regard for Hitchcock, an influence you might discern in the short's sharp editing and dramatic camera angles.


Like Coen, Syska studied film at Point Park and Pittsburgh Filmmakers. He continues to explore the genres that intrigue him, from the thriller trappings of "Five Day Rental" to the mystery of an earlier, science-fiction short, "The Void," in which a young woman awakes in a bed that seems to be floating in black, empty space.


Syska, 25, is a Shaler High grad now working freelance film jobs locally, such as crewing for a documentary about a Carnegie Mellon University robotics project. He hopes that "Five Day Rental" -- based on a story by a friend since high school, Ryan McBrian, and featuring professional actor Dan Conville -- will lead to more opportunities to make his own work. "I've always liked scary stories," he says.


With a theme that's international as well as timely, it's only natural that Andres Tapia-Urzua's My Terrorism Video Festival should end up traveling overseas. In November, the collection of fiction and nonfiction shorts that premiered here in March will screen at the Chilean Video Biennial; in December, it's the Cuban Film Festival, in Havana. And Tapia-Urzua's own contribution, "Terminal," is bound for a screening in Venezuela. But first it's Film Kitchen for an encore screening of the 15-minute piece by the Chilean-born, Pittsburgh-based artist, a video essay exploring what terrorism means to people who aren't the government or the mass media.

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