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Movies/TV

Pittsburgh Shorts film offerings celebrate 'common humanity'

| Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, 1:33 a.m.
Pittsburgh Shorts will screen “Mrs. McCutcheon,” about a 10-year-old struggling to fit in at a new school, on Nov. 16.
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Pittsburgh Shorts will screen “Mrs. McCutcheon,” about a 10-year-old struggling to fit in at a new school, on Nov. 16.
Four European fans of American Football are portrayed in “Quiet Sundays,” showing Nov. 15 as part of the Pittsburgh Shorts film festival.
Submitted
Four European fans of American Football are portrayed in “Quiet Sundays,” showing Nov. 15 as part of the Pittsburgh Shorts film festival.
Pittsburgh Shorts will screen “Period. End of Sentence,” about a group of rural Indian women finding independence through entrepreneurship, on Nov. 15.
Pittsburgh Shorts will screen “Period. End of Sentence,” about a group of rural Indian women finding independence through entrepreneurship, on Nov. 15.

Pittsburgh’s biggest film festival now might also be a short one.

Pittsburgh Shorts, Nov. 14-18 at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater, may feature shorter-than-usual movies. But there are 93 of them, from 24 countries. Thirty filmmakers from across the world will be in Pittsburgh to present their films.

Organizers hope that this diversity of viewpoints and perspectives can, in a very small way, bring people together.

“We’re trying to combat this craziness with films that make a difference and celebrate our common humanity, instead of tearing us apart because of our differences,” says the festival’s Executive Director Kathryn Spitz Cohan.

Films don’t have to be 90 minutes and run for weeks at the local multiplex to be good.

“There’s narratives, documentaries, animated films,” says Spitz Cohan.

Forty-two percent of them are by women directors.

‘Everything, anything’

“We have films about everything and anything,” says Spitz Cohan. “The thing that is so beautiful about it is that the filmmakers are making short films, because most haven’t made it to the point where they can afford to make feature-length films. But the films are so good. We had about 400 submissions. This is the cream of the crop.”

That’s not to say there aren’t some name-brand filmmakers featured.

Dreamworks Studio’s “Bilby,” for example, is an animated tale about an Australian marsupial who befriends a fluffy baby chick in the outback. It’s also about how just about everything in Australia can kill you.

Short movies can be about anything, and they have one big advantage over feature-length films.

“You can spend the same amount of time watching a feature-length film and see six to 10 films about a variety of subjects and themes that are so incredibly impactful,” Spitz Cohan says. “It’s a great medium.

“We’re living in a society where things move quickly,” she notes. “The majority are in the 15-20 minute range or shorter. There are some that are closer to 40 minutes.”

Anyone who appreciates movies is the intended audience. That said, the audience tends to skew a little younger, if last year (the first Pittsburgh Shorts festival) is any indication.

Local connections

A number of films have local connections. There’s one called “Caroline” that premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, by a filmmaker from Butler. Another, by a local filmmaker, is about the lead percussionist at the Pittsburgh Symphony.

There’s one from a group of students from Penn State called “Quiet Sunday,” about football in the UK. A team of filmmakers from Erie is coming down to the festival with their film “Rust Belt New American,” about refugees adapting to life in Erie.

“In Her Shoes: India” is a documentary about life and work in India, whose director is local.

Different nights will have films arranged around certain themes. Opening night’s theme is “Love & Laughter.” There’s a “Thrills & Chills” block of horror films Saturday night at 10 p.m. Saturday morning at 11 a.m. is a special all-ages screening.

“It’s not all little kid films,” says Spitz Cohan. “It’s not a children’s block. It’s an all-ages block. Definitely some animation. There’s a remake of the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ told by two children and acted out by adults, which is hilarious.”

Film Pittsburgh, the presenting organization, has quietly become a big contributor to the local film scene. The group also produces JFilm, the long-running (25 years) Jewish-themed film festival, and ReelAbilities, a film festival that celebrates the “lives, stories and artistic expressions of individuals with disabilities.”

“With all of our film festivals, we’re trying to make a difference through film,” says Spitz Cohan. “Film is such an accessible medium. We’re trying to focus on our shared humanity, rather than our differences.

“Who doesn’t like a good movie?”

Michael Machosky is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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