Thursday, August 28, 2008

Press Release

For Immediate Release Contact: Carol O’Sullivan
August 26, 2008 412-681-5449

Pittsburgh Filmmakers and Pittsburgh Center for the Arts Announce
Pittsburgh Reframed (at 250), Short Films to Celebrate the City

(Pittsburgh, PA) -- As part of the year-long Pittsburgh 250 celebration, PF/PCA has invited local artists to create Pittsburgh-themed short films (no longer than two minutes and fifty seconds) that incorporate clips from Pittsburgh, a rarely seen promotional film made 50 years ago for Pittsburgh’s Bicentennial. A screening of the new short films will take place on Saturday, November 22 at the Regent Square Theater – the closing night event of the Three Rivers Film Festival.

Film and video artists expected to participate in Pittsburgh Reframed (at 250) include:
Tony Buba, Olivia Ciummo, Brian Cohen, Matthew R. Day, Patrick Francart, Carolina Loyola Garcia, Ben Hernstrom, Charlie Humphrey, Thad Kellstadt, Brady Lewis, Michael Mallis, Jesse McLean, Gordon Nelson, Drew Pavelchak, Bob Rutkowski, Elizabeth Seamans, Minette Seate, Chris Smalley and Josh Tonies.

The original footage from the 1958 film was recently inspected, cleaned and copied to HD video. All participating filmmakers will use original Pittsburgh footage. Some will use only original footage, manipulating and re-configuring it, and others will use just five seconds (the minimum requirement) from the old film. Both the original film and a compilation of the new shorts will be available for purchase on DVD after the Three Rivers Film Festival.

The original 35mm film, called simply Pittsburgh is legendary, partly because it was considered an expensive failure -- costing $150,000 (today’s equivalent: $1,037,445) and partly because some impressive names had a hand in its making. Acclaimed photographer W. Eugene Smith, the photojournalist “Weegee” (Arthur Fellig), filmmakers Stan Van Der Beek and Len Lye contributed, as did Willard Van Dyke and experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage (using the pseudonym “James Stanley”). The result is an odd blend of industrial documentary, chamber of commerce booster-ism, and avant-garde art film. But mostly Pittsburgh is a mystery because so few people have seen it.

Its curious history began when a Bicentennial committee decided to commission a promotional film to celebrate Pittsburgh’s first two hundred years. It would extol the success of the city’s first Renaissance, showing off clean air, clean rivers and effective flood control.

It’s believed there were several versions of Pittsburgh, in an attempt to please a large committee with conflicting views. But the final version (28 minutes) pleased no one, and the project was shelved. For 20 years the camera negatives, the out-takes and the print rolls were in storage. In 1978 the 35mm print rolls and all of the camera negatives were gifted to Pittsburgh Filmmakers, from Ted Hazlett and the project’s primary funder, the A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Foundation.

It was only shown to the public – in three scheduled screenings – as part of a new film component at the Three Rivers Arts Festival in 1979.

The project is supported by the Allegheny Regional Asset District.

For more information:


Friday, May 16, 2008

Elizabeth Seamans and Joe Seamans

Joe Seamans working on Mark Roosevelt: Man and Mission (working title).

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

THE Pittsburgh film history

In 1957, the Bicentennial committee of Pittsburgh commissioned a film that was intended to celebrate Pittsburgh’s first two hundred years. More specifically, it was meant to extol the success of the city’s first Renaissance, showing off clean air, clean rivers and effective flood control.

Cutting edge experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage (aka - James Stanley) was brought in and, mixing new 35mm footage with archival images as well as still photographs by the great Eugene Smith and master photo journalist Weegee (Arthur Fellig), the film had, arguably, the most talented contributors ever assembled to shoot a film in Pittsburgh. The cost: $150,000 or, in today’s currency, $1,037,444.56. With a big budget, powerhouse talent and beautifully restored city as backdrop, the film went… nowhere. Literally. It never saw the light of day. It was seen once, by members of the committee that commissioned it, and then shelved. Or rather, it was put into a vault and dead bolted. For 15 years the out-takes, camera negatives and print rolls were stored in the garage of a local foundation leader.

Why? No one knows for sure, but some have speculated that parts of the film were thought to be too “out there” for mainstream audiences. Other’s believed it was, even by 1950’s standards, too schmaltzy.

There are only two known 16mm prints in existence, and both suffer from severe color shift and audio degradation. The 35mm print rolls and all of the camera negative exists and is owned by Pittsburgh Filmmakers, a gift from Ted Hazlett and the project’s primary funder, The A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Foundation. The original negative material is in perfect condition. In fact, 10 seconds of skyline was sold by Pittsburgh Filmmakers to Tom Hanks’ production company and appears in the film “Thing That You Do!”

And how does the film hold up today? Parts of it are laughable, some of it is predictable, but all of it is stunningly beautiful. And as a slice of Pittsburgh history, it is absolutely invaluable.