For many of the world’s filmmakers – surely most of them – short films are the way to go, a more affordable way to tell a story or realize one’s vision than a full-length feature. The hard part of the bargain is it’s a lot harder to find an audience. Movie theaters don’t routinely program short films; television stations don’t show them; and online, you’re competing with the whole internet.
Enter the film festival. The Pittsburgh Shorts Film Festival, now in its second year, was created by the nonprofit Film Pittsburgh to win local eyeballs for films of 40 minutes or less.
“I feel that filmmakers really have their finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the world, and oftentimes those are important issues of the day,” says Kathryn Spitz Cohan, Film Pittsburgh’s executive director.
This year’s festival screens 93 contemporary films from around the world over five days at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, in East Liberty. The films originate in 24 countries, including the U.S., India, Hungary, France and Brazil. The films include dramas, comedies, documentaries, animated works, even some science fiction. And more than 30 of the filmmakers will attend for post-screening question-and-answer sessions with the audience.
Such audience interaction with the artists is “really what makes a film festival special, as opposed to just watching something on your phone or at home,” says Spitz-Cohan
Most of the films are works Pittsburgh audiences will have little or no chance to see elsewhere. “These filmmakers are so excited that we’re showing their films,” says Spitz Cohan.
Ten films have Pennsylvania connections, including “Rust Belt New Americans,” a documentary about refugees and immigrants in Erie, and “Quiet Sundays,” a doc about American football in the United Kingdom (the latter made by Penn State students).
The films all run 40 minutes or less because that’s the time limit for Academy Award-eligible shorts, and Spitz Cohan hopes Pittsburgh Shorts can one day be certified as an Oscar-qualifying festival. This week, the films are grouped in blocks running 90 to 100 minutes each – 13 programs from Wednesday through Sunday, most screening six to 10 films each.
A few programs are themed, including Wednesday’s opening night "Love and Laughter" block (followed by a catered party at the theater), Saturday morning’s "All Ages" block (family-friendly films, free for kids under age 10 and accompanied by an adult), and Saturday night's "Late Night Thrills & Chills" program. The festival concludes Sunday with a selection of juried and audience-favorite films, and the presentation of awards.
While there is no overall theme, Spitz Cohan says she hopes that by giving audiences empathetic glimpses into the lives of others, the films can promote understanding. “We’re so much more similar than we are different as people,” she says.
Other festivals and programs run by Film Pittsburgh include the JFilm Festival (formerly the Pittsburgh International Jewish-Israeli Film Festival) and the ReelAbilities Film Festival.
Tickets for most individual blocks are $12 each and $8 for students under age 26. Opening-night (including reception) is $15-100. There are also all-festival and weekend passes.