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Carnegie Mellon International Film Festival gives foreign movies their day in the sun

Spring is usually a tough time for movie lovers, as the major studios go into their post-Oscar hibernation, and clear out their basements of new releases before summer blockbuster season. Oddly enough, this makes it the perfect time for film festivals -- turning over some space on the marquee to foreign films, documentaries and independent movies.

One of Pittsburgh's most unusual and consistently interesting film festivals begins this weekend -- the Carnegie Mellon International Film Festival. This year's theme is "Faces of Globalization."

"The theme is usually a pretext to find new, interesting films from different countries, and touching important issues," says festival organizer Jolanta Lion. "What we know about globalization is that the world is becoming unified, regarding the economy, but not always regarding the cultures."

Globalization, of course, is a fairly broad concept, encompassing a wide range of subject matter. Featured movies range from the post-apocalyptic climate-change fable "The Age of Stupid" on opening night, to the engrossing documentary "Pray the Devil Back to Hell," about the Liberian women's movement that helped stop a bloody, intractable war in West Africa. There's also "Afghan Star," about an "American Idol"-style competition in Afghanistan, where the singers put their lives at risk by singing in public.

Another highlight is "Mid-August Lunch," an Italian film about food and family.

"It's a lovely story of a 50-something man in Italy who is taking care of his 90-year-old mom," Lion says. "He doesn't work, he can barely pay the rent, and is constantly making food. And drinking. His colleagues want to (visit) for a weekend, and they have the same occupation -- they also take care of their moms. I've heard from Italian guys that half of Italy lives that way. There's just a great dynamic between the characters in the film. They are eating, talking, coming to life by being together.

"The guy who directed the movie (Gianni DiGregorio) wrote the script for 'Gomorrah.' He started very late in life -- he's over 50 now. When he started to make his own film, he got his film people around him, and said, 'I'm looking for the character of the film -- an alcoholic loser who doesn't know what to do with his life, just living with his mom.' He says that then all eyes looked at him. (DiGregorio) is also the lead actor in the film."

The festival continues through April 24. Most screenings will feature introductions and panel discussions afterward, hosted primarily by CMU or University of Pittsburgh professors.

This year's festival also will showcase a student short film competition, featuring entries from all over the world. The winner -- who will receive $1,000 -- will be announced on opening night. There will be a screening of the entries at the Future Tenant art gallery Downtown on April 11.

First week's schedule

• "The Age of Stupid" (Great Britain 2009): 7:15 p.m. Thursday, Melwood Screening Room, Oakland. Opening night reception: $15, or $10 for students. With Indian and Middle Eastern food from the East End Food Co-op, and Bio-Dynamic wine.

• "The Wondrous World of Laundry" (Germany, 2009): 7:15 p.m. Friday, Melwood Screening Room

• "Pray the Devil Back to Hell" (Liberia, 2008): 7:15 p.m. Friday, Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, East Liberty. With a performance by members of Abafasi, a traditional African percussion group, and African food.

• "Afghan Star" (Great Britain/Afghanistan, 2009): 5:15 p.m. Saturday, Melwood Screening Room

• "Weaving Girl" (China, 2009): 7:15 p.m. Saturday, Melwood Screening Room

• "Mid-August Lunch" (Italy, 2009): 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Regent Square Theater. With a reception featuring wine and food from local Italian restaurants, serving dishes featured in the film.

Additional Information:

Carnegie Mellon International Film Festival

When: Thursday through April 24

Admission: $7; $4 for students. Full access festival pass (14 films), $40; $20 for students.

Where: Melwood Screening Room, Oakland; Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, East Liberty; Regent Square Theater

Details: Web site

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