Andy Horbal Post

November 13, 2008

From my very esteemed colleague, Andy Horbal of Mirror/Stage:

I’ve lived in Pittsburgh for more than eight years now, which is long enough to have settled into quite a few routines. I walk to work along the same route every day (down Ellsworth Avenue), read the City Paper in the same order every week (Food-On Screen-Savage Love, etc.), and every year I acquaint myself with the lineup of the Three Rivers Film Festival in exactly the same manner. As ruts go, this last one isn’t so bad. The first thing I do is scan the list of titles for movies I’ve been waiting for because I heard good things about them when they played festivals like Cannes, Sundance, or Berlin earlier in the year, like Waltz with Bashir [2008] and Ballast [2008] on this year’s slate. These films take priority when I’m deciding what to see.

Next I look up the showtimes for the special events I’m interested in and the “classic”-type films I’ve never seen on the big screen, like Jazz on a Summer’s Day (1960) at this year’s fest. Whichever screenings I can make it to get added to my list.

Now I have a tentative schedule to work with, which allows me to move on to the last, arguably most important, step: I identify one or two open dates, see what’s playing on them, and pick films I’ve never heard of to see on those days based solely on how compelling their descriptions are. I intentionally avoid reading about these films before I see them and I go into them with an empty, open mind.

Film savvy types have, I think, a tendency to regard anything they haven’t already heard of with suspicion: if it was any good, they would know about it, right? In my experience, though, this argument doesn’t hold up, especially not when we’re dealing with a festival like the 3RFF that uses its strong relationships with talented but unsung filmmakers across the state, country, and even the globe to bring in excellent films that, for whatever reason, aren’t on the critical community’s radar yet.

All year long I look forward to having the opportunity to see the latest work by prominent auteurs like Nuri Bilge Ceylon and Andrzej Wajda before most of my friends; the most memorable screenings I attend each year, though, are invariably the ones where I discover something completely new to me. Last year I was impressed by the potential of Azazel Jacobs, whose newest film Momma’s Man (2008) is at this year’s fest, months before my critic friends were in on the secret; in 2007 I was stunned by the quality of homegrown products like Dodo (2006) and An Independent Portrait (2006); in 2004 I was stymied by a film called Bazaar Bizarre (2004) that was unlike anything I’d ever seen before.

These experiences are all special to me because they’re properly mine. My reaction to each of these films wasn’t influenced by either the response of the critics or by expectations based on their directors’ oeuvres: it was just me and the movies together in those theaters, allowed to meet as strangers for once.

So, from one moderately old hand at 3RFF attending (I have been to a third of them), a little advice: don’t be afraid to let the good people at Pittsburgh Filmmakers do a little bit of the work of deciding what to see for you this year. These films were all chosen for a reason: take a chance on one of them. The potential reward of an unforgettable cinematic experience far outweighs the minimal risks involved.

One film ripe for discovery that you might want to take a flyer on is Twists of Fate (2008). Director Jerzy Stuhr is best known in this country as an actor in Krzysztof Kieslowski films like Three Colors: White (1994) and Camera Buff (1979), but his work behind the camera deserves recognition, too. I first discovered his film Big Animal (2000) (which went on to play the 2004 3RFF) at a 2001 CMA Cinema (RIP) series called “Through Polish Eyes” that made such an impression on me that I registered for an Introduction to Polish class the day after it ended.

All three of his films that I’ve seen (all of which are available on Netflix, including my favorite, A Week in the Life of a Man [1999]) star Stuhr himself as a sort of Everyman character faced with a series of moral questions that challenge us, the audience, to ask ourselves what we would do in his situation. They’re “difficult” in a refreshingly different sort of way.

Jerzy Stuhr, who was here in Pittsburgh at that series in 2001, was at Wednesday’s 8pm screening at Melwood to field questions after the film.

As for me, I’m going to take a chance on either Cherry Blossoms (2007) or Mock Up On Mu (2008), or possibly both. If you know anything about them, don’t tell me!


One comment

  1. thanks andy. great stuff

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