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Film recalls pivotal moment in 1972 Pittsburgh

| Friday, Dec. 13, 2013, 7:23 p.m.
A scene from “Immaculate Reception,” a short film that has been selected into this year's Sundance Film Festival.
A scene from “Immaculate Reception,” a short film that has been selected into this year's Sundance Film Festival.
A scene from “Immaculate Reception,” a short film that has been selected into this year's Sundance Film Festival.
A scene from “Immaculate Reception,” a short film that has been selected into this year's Sundance Film Festival.

If there's one moment in time that unites just about all Pittsburghers, it's Dec. 23, 1972. On that date, one of the most implausible, unexpected, exciting and controversial plays in NFL history occurred. In a few seconds, it changed the fortunes of a team and culture of a city forever.

Then again, unless you were at the game, you probably missed it. Due to the odd television blackout rules at the time, the game was not allowed to be shown anywhere within a 75-mile radius of Pittsburgh, which resulted in a nice bump in business for the bars of Meadville and Erie.

Of course, many of our memories aren't firsthand anyway. Filmmaker Charlotte Glynn, 34, wasn't born yet in 1972. But the endless replays of the moment when Franco Harris caught that ball are still almost as vivid as if she was there.

Glynn's short film, “The Immaculate Reception” chooses that very specific moment in time as the setting for the story of a shy teenage boy, trying to ask out the girl of his dreams, while his family freaks out in their living room as the Steelers-Raiders playoff clash unfolds in real time.

It's going to screen in competition at the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 17. She's still trying to raise funds to put the finishing touches on it through a Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign. So far, she's raised more than $5,000 toward a $15,000 goal, with nine days to go in the campaign.

“I was 12 when my family moved to Pittsburgh, so my relationship with the city is as both insider and outsider,” Glynn explains in her Kickstarter note. “It wasn't until I left that I really connected with the city. When I would go home, I started to realize how the city's history is visible in the landscape: the abandoned mills, the libraries, twisty roads that lead to beautiful views, staircases cut into streets too steep to climb otherwise. I began to see how the stories I wanted to tell were best articulated through the city's landscape and people.”

Glynn paid a lot of attention to recreating the specific time and place of 1972 Pittsburgh, from shots of working steel mills, to the wallpaper in the family's living room, to the film stock itself.

“The cinematographer (Greta Zozula) is from by Seven Springs,” says Glynn, who lived in Squirrel Hill but now teaches film production at SUNY-Purchase in New York. “She is phenomenal. We want this to feel like it's a film from the '70s. Film now is made so that it doesn't have that grain and texture. We did some things while shooting to give it that look that were kind of scary, but really add to the feeling of the film. ... We stressed the film to give it that texture. You can't go back once you do it. It's like getting a tattoo — it's forever.”

Glynn and her crew recreated the game itself in audio form, which was enormously difficult.

“I just found the whole radio broadcast of the game,” she says. “It took two years. There's this subculture of people who collect old radio broadcasts. I had given up hope. It's not Myron Cope. I had heard that there was a radio broadcast for the guys fighting in Vietnam.”

The game itself is the reason the two main characters are in the same house together. In many ways, it refuses to stay in the background.

“I think for me, as a Steelers fan and someone interested in the history of Pittsburgh, it's hard to shake the significance of football when the city was going through such a hard time in the '70s and '80s. Dec. 23 was this really important point. It was the first time they won a playoff game in 40 years, right before the steel industry started to fall apart.

“Stephen Dubner (author) of ‘Freakonomics' is a huge Steelers fan and said it was like a Faustian bargain, a deal (with the devil) that was made; the Steelers would become this amazing football team, but what would be sacrificed was the steel industry.”

“The Immaculate Reception” is the middle part of what Glynn plans as her “Pittsburgh Trilogy.” The first part was an award-winning documentary called “Rachel Is” (find it at about Glynn's developmentally disabled sister and her struggles.

Glynn has another full-length film in the planning stages, in which the Immaculate Reception also plays a part.

Right now, though, she's trying to get her short film perfect for Sundance.

“I think it's pretty awesome to be in the festival, period,” she says.

Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-320-7901.

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