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Regional roots

| Thursday, Nov. 2, 2006

Forget the big pictures.

Most of the movies in the Three Rivers Film Festival aren't byproducts of big deals, bigger budgets, points, percentages and fat-cat egos.

They were carved from the psyches and guts of independent filmmakers who have something to say about themselves and the purely creative process.

The festival includes four directors and one actor, all with Western Pennsylvania roots or movie content, addressing their lives and their work.

You won't catch any of them jumping on Oprah Winfrey's couch. They're here, now.

'Outside his comfort zone'

Philadelphia native Chris Bradley, 36, co-directed with Kyle LaBrache the semi-documentary "Pittsburgh," which is about Jeff Goldblum's experience preparing to star in "The Music Man" for Civic Light Opera in 2004.

"Kyle and I had been talking with Jeff about doing a film," Bradley said. "Jeff had seen our 'Jon E. Edwards Is in Love.' He wanted to tell a fictional story with real and improv techniques.

"He and Catherine Wreford (Goldblum's fiancee at the time) had talked about doing 'The Music Man.' He talked with Civic Light Opera, and they told him he'd have to audition. We started filming at that audition, deciding to see what happened."

Goldblum got the role opposite Wreford, who already was identified as a strong singer.

"Jeff talked about having to do this in his hometown before his friends and family. Even though he'd started in musical theater, this was outside his comfort zone."

The film depicts -- or catches -- moments of insecurity and worry.

"Jeff would tell you he was acting the whole time. And it's true that any time you put a camera on people, they're going to act up in some way. But it was a very difficult part he was taking on" -- Professor Harold Hill.

Nothing seems quite so naturalistic as the scenes of stage director Richard Sabellico admonishing Goldblum about not having a handle yet on the character.

"We didn't want anyone who's not an actor acting in any way. We told them: 'Just be normal.'"

Goldblum's portrayal in "The Music Man" received mixed reviews when it opened, a point the movie doesn't notice. It climaxes at the premiere.

"I personally enjoyed Jeff's portrayal," Bradley says. "He was trying to bring a little sexuality to the role. Beyond that, I think Jeff was trying to re-connect with his theater roots. He was always a gentleman. He really is a nice guy."

'Personal and intimate'

For 33-year-old Mt. Lebanon native Daniel London, who stars in Kelly Reichart's "Old Joy," the key to getting ahead germinated early, in family.

"My parents are incredibly enthusiastic and supportive."

Mother Elaine is a retired volunteer coordinator at the Carnegie Museum, father Alan is a lawyer at Reed Smith.

Daniel, an alumnus of Markham Elementary School, Mt. Lebanon High School and Oberlin College, says he "had a very comfortable childhood, but I started to feel a little claustrophobic when I was in high school and started yearning for a different place. Now I find I have fond feelings for home and visit whenever I can.

"In high school, I was writing and acting, including in daytime productions. My sister, Sara, had been acting, so I kind of followed her into that."

He won a competition with his play "The Martha War," which wound up being performed at the Kennedy Center.

Eventually, he decided to concentrate on acting.

London lives in the Fort Green section of Brooklyn with his wife, singer-songwriter Megan Reilly.

His movies include "Rent," Steven Spielberg's "Minority Report" with Tom Cruise and "Patch Adams" with Robin Williams.

Working with celebrities can be "an interesting experience," he says. "Patch Adams" was a little surreal because Williams is "so iconic and so loved by so many people. He's kind and generous and sweet with everyone. I wouldn't just say that. He took away any trepidation I might feel and made it comfortable for me.

"But I found that to be true with Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise on 'Minority Report,' too. Once they're at that ridiculously huge level of fame, they don't need to be any other way. They can be generous and kind.

"Spielberg is probably the most successful and well-regarded director of our time. But he still gets so excited with a childlike enthusiasm."

In "Old Joy," he and Will Oldham play old friends who take a camping trip in Oregon's Cascade Mountains.

"Doing 'Old Joy' was different because we had a crew of just six. It was a very personal and intimate experience. It was great to have a part where I had time to figure out who the character is.

"The whole schedule was less than two weeks, so we were trying to get as much done every day as we could. It's hard, though, to get the weather to match when you're working that quickly."

'City with opportunities'

Jose Muniain's "An Independent Portrait" is a documentary showing the Spaniard Felix de la Concha painting 81-year-old film director-screenwriter-cinematographer Robert Young at a studio in the Hill District.

Muniain, 46, who was born in Bilbao, Spain, lives in Point Breeze with Pittsburgh-born wife, Sarah, and their two children.

He wanted in his film to "create a situation and let it evolve." He shot the picture for two days in 2003 but "tweaked it" to create a sense of almost continuous time.

He filmed it in the Hill because "I was looking for a place where filmmaker Robert M. Young would be comfortable. He was always comfortable with the underdog" -- as exemplified by his fine screenplay about a black American romance, "Nothing But a Man."

"I felt the setting would motivate him," Muniain says.

Muniain met his wife when she was in Spain. He visited Pittsburgh with her "and liked it and got motivated here."

He founded PMI, a media production company based Downtown.

"Pittsburgh is an attractive city with opportunities. I still spend six or seven weeks a year in Spain."

'A leap of faith'

Baltimore native Richard Hankin, 42, who lives in New York, says he made about 10 visits to Blairsville, Indiana County, in the process of making "Home Front."

"John Melia of the Wounded Warrior Project was having an event, a workshop, in New York in August 2004 and was bringing in guys," says Hankin, who wanted to meet military personnel who had been injured in the war in Iraq.

"As soon as I saw Jeremy Feldbusch and his mother, Charlene, interacting, I was interested," he says. Jeremy is blind as a result of his experiences in Iraq and has a serious frontal lobe injury.

"His recovery, his functionality, has been phenomenal given his degree of injury," Hankin says.

"Jeremy was the first in his family to graduate from a four-year college, and he had been Army Ranger, first in his class, who was sent to Iraq in 2003. He was an extremely motivated and accomplished individual, and now he needs his mother to help him accomplish almost anything.

"When I first started research for my film, I found that in the wake of 'Fahrenheit 9/11,' people in the armed services were not happy with the way they were portrayed in that film. They were apprehensive.

"People wanted to feel comfortable if they were going to work with me. I told the Feldbusches that my film would have no narrator. I assured them I wanted to be truthful. From there, it was absolutely a leap of faith on their part.

"I spent over a year filming most of it in Blairsville, a setting that really spoke to me. I have always been interested in Americana."

After continuing festival showings, "Home Front" will premiere Nov. 11, Veteran's Day, on Showtime.

'This is my therapy'

The title of writer-director Bob Golub's movie "Dodo" is taken from the nickname of his late alcoholic roofer-father.

Golub, 49, a native of Sharon, Mercer County, says he culled "Dodo" from dozens of hours of footage of his family shot throughout a quarter of a century.

"If Pittsburgh is blue collar, Sharon -- we're -- the nuts and bolts.

"I was one of eight kids. My father was a drunk, but he supported eight kids. I was a tough kid. I hung out all around -- Youngstown, Steubenville ...

"I'm Polish and Croatian, and we didn't express any affection. It floored me when one of my kids first told me he loved me. I didn't ... we just never ... "

Talk with Golub for a few minutes, and his background as a stand-up comic emerges. You hear it in the way he weaves memory and shtick: "My brother got into a fight with an anger-management counselor and said (the other guy) started it."

You also hear the school of hard knocks, class of any year you can name.

He did two years in the late 1970s on a drug rap. He admits he used to sell pot -- nothing stronger -- but that he got caught passing cocaine along to a friend.

That was in an earlier life. Now, he's peddling enthusiasm.

"Everybody in organizations like the VFW and the Eagles and guys who never go to movies should see my movie," he says. "They'll understand it. I put everything I had into this. This is my therapy."

One of Golub's dreams is to re-do "Dodo" as a scripted feature film for actors, just as Billy Bob Thornton's fictional "Sling Blade" grew out of an earlier, shorter movie.

Another related dream is to connect with Pittsburgh native billionaire Mark Cuban, who has an interest in movies ("Bubble"), film distribution (Magnolia Pictures) and exhibition (Landmark Theaters). Golub is convinced Cuban would love "Dodo" and take the scripted version under wing.

But that's another story. The Steelers fan is living in West Hollywood with his wife and three children.

"I've got my Steelers flag hanging out here," he says. "You'd be surprised how many Steelers fans there are out here who aren't even from Pittsburgh."


Filmmakers and actors who attend certain performances will address the audience and answer questions.

  • "Pittsburgh," co-directed by Chris Bradley, will be shown at 7:30 p.m. today at Regent Square Theater, 1035 S. Braddock Ave. and at 1:30 p.m. Nov. 11, 5 p.m. Nov. 12 and 8 p.m. Nov. 15 at Melwood Screening Room, 477 Melwood Ave., North Oakland. Bradley will attend only the premiere.

  • "Dodo," directed by Bob Golub, will be shown at 9:15 p.m. Nov. 10, 5:30 p.m. Nov. 11 and 7:15 p.m. Nov. 13 at Melwood Screening Room. Golub will attend the first two screenings.

  • "Old Joy," starring Daniel London, will be shown at 7:30 p.m. Friday, 12:15 p.m. Sunday and 9:15 p.m. Monday at Regent Square. London will attend the first two showings.

  • "An Independent Portrait," directed by Jose Muniain, will be shown at 8:30 p.m. Saturday and 9:15 p.m. Tuesday at Melwood Screening Room. Muniain and crew members will attend both.

  • "Home Front," directed by Richard Hankin, will be shown at 7 p.m. Wednesday and 7:15 p.m. Nov. 9 at the Harris, 809 Liberty Ave., Downtown. Hankin will attend the first showing, a benefit for the Wounded Warrior Project.

Additional Information:

Three Rivers Film Festival

When: Today-Nov. 16

Admission: $7, $35 for six-pack of tickets, $35 for opening night party

Where: Regent Square Theater, 1035 S. Braddock Ave., Edgewood; Melwood Screening Room, 477 Melwood Ave., North Oakland; Harris, 809 Liberty Ave., Downtown

Details: 412-681-5449

Three Rivers Film Festival schedule


Regent Square

7:30 p.m.: 'Pittsburgh,' with reception afterward at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts


Regent Square

7:30 p.m.: 'Old Joy' 9:30 p.m.: 'Climates'

Harris Theater

7:15 p.m.: 'Princesas' 9:30 p.m.: 'Wassup Rockers'

Melwood Screening Room

7:15 p.m.: 'Stolen' 9:15 p.m.: '49 Up'


Regent Square

2:30 p.m.: 'Climates' 4:45 p.m.: 'The Aura' 7:30 p.m.: 'The Cave of the Yellow Dog' 9:30 p.m.: 'The Guatemalan Handshake'

Harris Theater

2:15 p.m.: 'Princesas' 4:45 p.m.: 'Wassup Rockers' 7:15 p.m.: 'Invisible Waves' 9:45 p.m.: 'Brothers of the Head'

Melwood Screening Room

1:30 p.m.: '49 Up' 4:15 p.m.: 'Stolen' 6:15 p.m.: 'Requiem' 8:30 p.m.: 'An Independent Portrait'


Regent Square

12:15 p.m.: 'Old Joy' 2:15 p.m.: 'The Guatemalan Handshake' 8 p.m.: 'Pandora's Box' with Philip Carli

Harris Theater

12:15 p.m.: 'Princesas' 2:45 p.m.: 'Brothers of the Head'

Melwood Screening Room

2 p.m.: Appalshop Films

4 p.m.: '49 Up'


Regent Square

7:15 p.m.: 'The Cave of the Yellow Dog' 9:15 p.m.: 'Old Joy'

Harris Theater

7:15 p.m.: 'Wassup Rockers' 9:30 p.m.: 'Invisible Waves'

Melwood Screening Room

7:15 p.m.: Appalshop Films 9:15 p.m.: 'Requiem'


Regent Square Theater

7:15 p.m.: 'Words of My Perfect Teacher' 9:15 p.m.: 'The Aura'

Harris Theater

7:15 p.m.: 'The Motel' 9 p.m.: 'Brothers of the Head'

Melwood Screening Room

7:15 p.m.: 'The Case of the Grinning Cat' 9:15 p.m.: 'An Independent Portrait'


Regent Square

7:15 p.m.: 'Avenue Montaigne' 9:15 p.m.: 'The Aura'

Harris Theater

7 p.m.: 'Home Front' 9:15 p.m.: 'The Motel'

Melwood Screening Room

7:30 p.m.: 'The Chelsea Girls'

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