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Black Bottom Film Fest Expands Into Lawrenceville

In its third year, the Black Bottom Film Festival is broadening its footprint. The festival, which starts Friday and continues through Feb. 25, features films spotlighting the African-American experience. It’s run by the August Wilson Cultural Center, located Downtown, which hosts the screenings along with a new venue for the festival, Row House Cinema, in Lawrenceville.

The programming still consists of films old and new, including features, documentaries and shorts. Highlights include: a 40th-anniversary screening of the film adaptation of the Broadway musical “The Wiz,” starring Michael Jackson and Diana Ross; Oscar-nominated documentary “Hale County This Morning, This Evening”; and the new documentary “Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror.”

The festival also includes “Children of NAN,” a new feature-length science-fiction film by local artist Alisha B. Wormsley; the blaxploitation classic “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song”; and 1979’s “Richard Pryor: Live In Concert.”

“It’s definitely an opportunity for us to bring a new picture of the black experience to our local community and let them know that while black people have their experiences, as do other races, we’re so similar in so many ways,” says Center spokesperson Cydney Nunn.

The Center programmed “The Wiz” to span the generations, says Nunn.

“We wanted to have at least a couple films that were family-friendly,” she says. “I know for me personally, and for several other people on the [festival] team, it’s just one of those films that you instantly start singing the songs, you think about all the bright colors and the choreography, and we thought that that would be a really exciting draw for our audience here.”

Kids ages 13 and under can attend the Feb. 23 screening of “The Wiz” free if accompanied by an adult with a festival day pass.

Other programming includes an acting workshop led by Kim Coles, of TV’s “Living Single”; a youth improv class with Arcade Comedy Theater; a screenwriting workshop with Gerard Brown (1992’s “Juice”); and a black-cinema trivia game presented by BOOM Concepts and titled “That Should Have Won An Oscar!” There’s also “A Drop of Sun Under The Earth,” a presentation of visual imagery and live music with New Haven, Conn.-based saxophonist Corey Staggs.

Recently added: Emerging filmmaker Terence Nancewill Skype in for a Q&A following a special screening of an episode of his show “Random Acts of Flyness” and his short film “They Charge for the Sun.”

The Black Bottom Film Festival was founded by Joseph L. Lewis III, a Pittsburgh-based event and marketing specialist. Lewis remains the festival’s chief curator, in consultation with a committee at the Cultural Center, says Nunn.

The festival begins Friday with a week of films at Row House, a single-screen boutique theater. Offerings there include “Native Son,” a rarely seen 1951 Argentine adaptation of Richard Wright’s classic novel, starring Wright himself as Bigger Thomas.

From Feb. 22-24, all screenings are at the Cultural Center. They also include: “Rock, Rubber, 45s,” a star-studded 2018 documentary by Bobbito García about the global culture connecting basketball, sneakers and music, with Rosie Perez, Stevie Wonder, Spike Lee, Kobe Bryant, Patti Labelle, and more; “Ali’s Comeback – The Untold Story,” a documentary about Muhammad Ali’s early-1970s career re-launch, featuring a Q&A with filmmaker Art Jones; “For Love of Ivy,” a 1968 romantic comedy co-written by Sidney Poitier and starring Poitier and Abbey Lincoln; and “Yardie,” a 2018 crime drama set in Jamaica and London, directed by screen star Idris Elba.

Of special interest might be “Horror Noire.” Nunn says the Feb. 23 screening will be just the second showing anywhere of Xavier Virgin’s documentary exploring the relationship between African Americans and horror films, as viewers, characters and filmmakers.

“You might hear someone joking that, ‘Oh, the black person always dies first in a horror movie, and that’s true!” says Nunn, with a laugh. “But this documentary is gonna kinda examine why that is, and just get into how black people have been portrayed in horror films through the years.”

The documentary -- based on the book of the same title by scholar Robin Means Coleman, who grew up in Pittsburgh -- covers from the silent-film era to the present day, and features interview subjects including “Get Out” director Jordan Peele and actor Loretta Devine.

Tickets for individual screenings at Row House are $8. Admission to screenings at the Cultural Center is via day or weekend passes only;info is available here.

Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: