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Festival Features Indie Films From Pittsburgh And Around the World

When it comes to filmmaking, Ronald Quigley has a fairly stringent definition of what “independent” means. Traditionally, indies are films produced outside the Hollywood studio system. To Quigley, though, any film with big-business backing is disqualified.

Audiences can see what kind of movies he’s talking about at the Pittsburgh Independent Film Festival (PIFF). Quigley presents the 13th edition this week for four days starting Thursday, at the Parkway Theater, in McKees Rocks. The festival screens 11 feature-length films and 14 programs of shorts, including both narrative and documentary films, mostly from the U.S. but some that have crossed national borders.

Quigley knows about indie filmmaking firsthand. The Pittsburgh native is a former city firefighter who, after an injury forced a career change two decades ago, moved to Los Angeles. He found work there as an actor and director, and even directed and starred in the 2012 crime drama “The Last Act,” which he self-financed. And every year, he returns to his hometown put on the festival that showcases filmmakers much like himself.

“A real independent film is a film made by an individual,” he said, speaking by phone from Los Angeles. “Independent film is made on a shoestring.”

Quigley’s new short film “A Stark Reality” will screen out of competition in the PIFF. Another case in point is PIFF entry “Jack and the Treehouse.” Writer and director James Schneider shot the family drama mostly in his own backyard, in Butler. The locally based cast members — including nationally known actor Cotter Smith and local favorites Eamonn McElfresh and Dave Mansueto — were professionals, but Schneider, a former film worker, shot most of it in his backyard. And the the microbudget of about $25,000 was met with credit cards, an IndieGogo campaign, and a couple individual donations.

The film is about a 10-year-old boy who following his grandfather’s death, tries to prevent his father from selling the family land. “Jack and the Treehouse” has screened at several festivals already and won best child actor (for McElfresh) and best supporting actor (for Smith) at the New York International Film Awards, in July. The PIFF screening is its Pittsburgh premiere.

“To be in the Pttsburgh independent film festival, I think it’s like the perfect fit,” said Schneider. “It’s just right for me.”

Schneider grew up largely in Pittsburgh and for years worked in the local film industry. He was primarily a set dresser, and his credits include “The Silence of the Lambs,” “Houseguest,” and “Sudden Death.”

Early in the 2000s, film work was scarce here and Schneider moved to Massachusetts for a while, before returning about five years ago. But he left the industry and now installs window treatments for a living. Now that he’s made his first full-length film, he hopes to continue: He hopes to find a distributor for “Jack,” and is already planning to make another feature.

But he has no plans to give up his day job. As he put it, “I have to fund my movie career somehow!”

Most films screening in the festival are up for awards including best feature, best short, best documentary, and best animation. The awards ceremony is Fri., Aug. 6.

A complete schedule and more information are 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: bodriscoll@wesa.fm
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