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Indie fest to screen Greensburg producer's acclaimed 'Driving While Black'

| Friday, July 15, 2016, 8:57 p.m.
Actor and comedian Dominique Purdy (left) stars in 'Driving While Black,' a film by Penn Township native Patrick DiCesare Jr., son of  Pittsburgh concert promoter Pat DiCesare.
Anthem Films
Actor and comedian Dominique Purdy (left) stars in 'Driving While Black,' a film by Penn Township native Patrick DiCesare Jr., son of Pittsburgh concert promoter Pat DiCesare.
Area native Patrick DiCesare Jr. is executive producer of 'Driving While Black,' showing Feb. 15-17 at the Parkway Theater in McKees Rocks.
Patrick DiCesare Jr.
Area native Patrick DiCesare Jr. is executive producer of 'Driving While Black,' showing Feb. 15-17 at the Parkway Theater in McKees Rocks.
Poster for 'Driving While Black'
Anthem Films
Poster for 'Driving While Black'

Patrick DiCesare Jr. caught the film bug while working in real estate in California. But the Greensburg Central Catholic graduate who grew up in Penn Township could not have envisioned how fate would lead him to become the executive producer of his first film.

DiCesare met director Paul Sapiano when there “was still a Blockbuster store on Wilshire Boulevard” in Los Angeles. Sapiano advised him not to go to film school but instead make his own movie. A few years later, the second script DiCesare read — written by Sapiano and actor and comedian Dominique Purdy — was the one that became a highly praised independent film.

“I liked the message this film had … it kind of struck a chord with me,” says DiCesare, who now lives in Greensburg and will appear at 8:15 p.m. July 16 at the Father Ryan Arts Center, 420 Chartiers Ave., McKees Rocks for a screening of “Driving While Black,” as part of the Pittsburgh Independent Film Festival. “It's strange because most producers probably look at hundreds of scripts before they choose one; this is only the second script I read.”

“Driving While Black,” directed by Sapiano and starring Purdy, with DiCesare as executive producer, has resonated with viewers and critics. Its honors include being named the best feature film at the Princeton Independent Film Festival and the Hollywood Verge Film Awards; the best feature narrative at the California Film Awards; and audience selections as best feature film at the New Orleans and Intendence (Denver) film festivals.

Set in Los Angeles, the film is based on Purdy's experiences as a young black man who, while driving, was pulled over numerous times by the police for little or no reason. It's not a screed against the police — the filmmakers hired two former LAPD officers to ensure realism — but “a fair and balanced” attempt, according to DiCesare, to show what law enforcement officers and black men experience.

And it's a comedy, a conscious choice by the writers, DiCesare says, “to disarm the audience because it is such a weighty subject.”

“I wanted to make sure we made a film that, while it does have a very grave subject matter, people laugh throughout and talk about it afterwards with more of an uplifting feeling,” he says. “I think we are able to do that with the comedic tone of the film and garner a wider audience than if it had been a depressing film.”

DiCesare is the son of Pat DiCesare, the legendary Pittsburgh concert promoter. Patrick DiCesare Jr. says his father instilled not only a love of entertainment, but also insisted it was always show business.

“(My father) not only gave me the skills in business to do something like this, but the attitude that I could do this,” DiCesare says. “I'm grateful to him for keeping my mind open to living in the realm of possibilities. Otherwise, I might have been scared to do something like this, because it was a big undertaking.”

As executive producer, DiCesare not only financed the movie, which was produced for $2 million, but also served as “the dad of the group,” taking care of payroll, insurance issues and the necessary paperwork and permits. All in the cast are members of the Screen Actors Guild, and the crew used the best equipment possible, giving “Driving While Black” the appearance of a multimillion-dollar film.

“Driving While Black” started production in 2013, before events in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014, and more recent incidents in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis and Dallas heightened awareness of racial tensions.

DiCesare says the filmmakers are unhappy about what has occurred. But he also believes there's an opportunity to start conversations via the movie.

“I've received emails saying ‘Hey, this is an important film, and we need to get this out to police stations, to communities,' ” DiCesare says. “I get messages via our Facebook page from people who want to do screenings. There is, I think, a little bit of an educational component. When you watch (‘Driving While Black'), you start to understand the police perspective and what they are looking for and what not to do if you're pulled over. We never got into this for socially conscious reasons; it was a small part of it. But it became much bigger than all of us had originally intended because of the nature of what's gone down in this country the last three years.”

Rege Behe is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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