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Pittsburgh movies debut at Three Rivers Film Festival

| Friday, Nov. 6, 2009

Three Rivers Film Festival offers a wide range of screenings, from major directors and stars — like Heath Ledger, Johnny Depp and Emily Blunt — to lesser known, local filmmakers.

Even teenagers have a shot at fame with a new feature called Steeltown Film Factory, which invites aspiring student filmmakers (age 16 and older) to compete in a yearlong filmmaking competition.

Here are a few home-grown films that are featured this year:

'If It Ain't Broke, Break It'

Dr. Ravi Godse, 40, of Fox Chapel plays himself as the star of "If It Ain't Broke, Break It." He plays a nosy doctor who finds out he has six months to live, and wants to spend it "helping" six friends in his own unsolicited, bumbling way. The cast includes local actors Adrienne Wehr, Patrick Jordan and Dave Petti, as well as familiar faces from film and TV, like Steve Guttenburg, Rondell Sheridan, Richard Kind and singer Sabrina Bryan (of The Cheetah Girls).

Dr. Ravi, as everyone calls him, has become a one-man film industry in the past few years. "If It Ain't Broke" follows "Dr. Ravi and Mr. Hyde" and "I Am a Schizophrenic So Am I."

"I went to film school when I came here, for two years," says Godse. "I went to Pittsburgh Fillmmakers (host of the Three Rivers Film Festival). In fact, I have a joke about them in my first movie. In my first movie, I'm trying to make a movie. I tell them I'm going to Pittsburgh Filmmakers, and say they're excellent. Somebody asks, 'Who told you that?' I say, 'It says right there in their brochure that they're excellent.' "

Godse clearly loves all kinds of jokes, gags, and silly wordplay -- and isn't afraid to walk right up to that line where the laughs and groans are just about equal.

"I believe that we have so many setbacks in life, so many things that are serious," he says. "If we have a chin-up attitude and if we keep smiling about it, that makes it easier."

He attributes his film's plethora of well-known actors to being lucky.

"I got a producer from Hollywood -- Kathy Oliver," says Godse. "She has a lot of contacts in Hollywood, and had relocated to Pittsburgh. She opened all the doors for me, introduced me to a big casting agency in Hollywood. Then we were golden, because we could approach any name that we wanted. They gave me all the advice as to how much to offer, who to offer it to, who's good to work with, who would be good for my script."

Making movies is a lot of things, but relaxing isn't one of them. That's never been a priority for Godse, who works more than full-time as a doctor of internal medicine. He normally works seven days a week, which he claims gave him the flexibility to devote all the time his "hobby" needed.

"I wrote it, directed it and acted in it," says Godse. "My wife said I might be the only one who will see it."

"If It Ain't Broke, Break It." was screened Friday, but Godse is hoping to have a Pittsburgh theatrical release in January.

'Carpet Racers'

"Carpet Racers: A Crash Course" is about "life in the small lane" -- the strange and surprisingly competitive world of competitive professional radio-controlled (R/C) car racers.

Producer Michael Rooney -- of the Steelers Rooneys -- owned a now-closed shop in Bridgeville, Steel City Hobbies, that sold R/C cars. Some of his loyal customers happened to be good enough racers.

"One of them went down to this race in Florida, called the Snowbird Nationals, in Orlando every February," says Rooney. "So, I went down to take pictures, and I was shocked. There were over 700 entries. I couldn't believe all these people showed up for this stuff. Where do these people come from?

As it turns out, there's a thriving, colorful subculture of carpet racers all over the country -- grown men and women who pilot supercharged, shoebox-sized race cars at speeds of more than 60 miles per hour.

"I originally set out to make more of an informative video about carpet racing, what cars to buy, that kind of stuff," he says. "But I had some filmmaking in my background. I went to NYU and got my masters in Interactive Telecommunications."

Rooney and director Jay Thames followed several racers from Snowbird to their home tracks, to the championships in Las Vegas and back, capturing their setbacks and triumphs.

"Some are doctors, some are plumbers," says Rooney. "All walks of life."

"Carpet Racers" debuts at 8 p.m. Nov. 17 at the Regent Square Theater. Rooney will appear to introduce the film. A 7 p.m. reception precedes the screening.

'Cafe Society'

Mike Seate, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review columnist, has written books and articles about motorcycles, and found himself fascinated with the cafe-racer culture. He decided to make his first documentary about it, "Cafe Society."

"A cafe racer is basically a race bike for the street," Seate says. "It's an ordinary street bike modified to go really fast and handle really well. Unlike a chopper, which is made simply for show; they don't handle, they don't go particularly fast. It's more of a 'Look at me, look how cool I am' sort of thing."

In England, it was a culture of speed, built upon squeezing every last bit of performance out of British Triumphs and Nortons, even if you had to take them apart and rebuild them in ways never imagined by the manufacturer.

"The whole English psyche sped up right after World War II," Seate says. "Kids were looking for an opportunity to express themselves. Adrenaline junkies at 16 to 18 years old -- first thing they thought of was to make their motorcycles go faster."

The name comes from the transport cafes -- rest-stop coffeeshops and restaurants on the ring roads outside London -- that motorcyclists would race to. Soon, an entire subculture with its own style, lingo and obsessions began to take shape.

Those risk-taking British teenagers and their quest for ever-greater speeds had a huge impact on the motorcycle industry as a whole. Their tinkering led to many technological advancements.

"If you've ever seen a motorcycle going up Green Tree hill pulling a wheelie, or a kid zipping in and out of traffic at 140 mph -- this is where it came from," Seate says. "If these guys weren't in their garages with hacksaws and dying up on the North Circular Road to figure out how to do this, there wouldn't be a Kawasaki Ninja, there wouldn't be a Honda CBR."

"Cafe Society" will be screened at 8 p.m. Saturday at Harris Theater, Downtown. A 7 p.m. reception precedes the screening and a Q&A follows.

Additional Information:

Three Rivers Film Festival

When: Through Nov. 21


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