Courtesy of David Bernabo and John Miller

When Americans talk politics these days, it’s almost impossible to avoid the subject of President Donald Trump. And that can be a problem.

Small Town Monsters

Area 51 and the Bermuda Triangle are familiar names around the world, but how about Kecksburg, Uniontown and Keystone State Park? 

A new documentary makes the case that southwestern Pennsylvania is among locations with the most instances of paranormal activity in the country. 

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Most Pittsburghers are familiar with the narrative of mid 20th century urban renewal in neighborhoods like East Liberty and the Hill District: displacement of longtime residents to make room for large publicly funded projects or revitalization efforts. 

Something Better To Come / Facebook

For 14 years Oscar nominated director Hanna Polak followed the life of a young homeless girl named Yula who was living in a Russian garbage dump. She chronicles Yula’s experiences and talks about hope in her new documentary, Something Better to Come. Ahead of the film’s screening at the Carnegie Mellon University International Film Festival, Polak spoke with Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer.

Furries Documentary Premieres In Pittsburgh

Mar 13, 2016

An insider's look at anthropomorphic role play drew sell-out crowds at its Pittsburgh premiere on Thursday.

Released in January, Fursonas speaks to a furry-friendly city long-known locally for its love of Anthrocon and the community it lauds. 

Documentary Dives Into Complexities Of 'Furry' Culture

Mar 11, 2016
Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh is no stranger to furry culture. Every summer, thousands of members of the community gather in the Steel City for Anthrocon. But for filmmaker Dominic Rodriguez, he wanted to create a documentary taking a closer look at the Furry population. His film, "Fursonas," has been making rounds at independent film festivals and had its Pittsburgh debut last night at the Regent Square Theater. Essential Pittsburgh's Paul Guggenheimer spoke with Rodriguez about his movie and furry culture at large.  

Six Documentaries Featuring Pennsylvania Cities You Can Stream Online

Feb 19, 2015
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

As a winter cold front settles in over most of Pennsylvania and the eastern U.S., you may find yourself surfing your Netflix queue for something to escape the deep freeze and cabin fever.

May we suggest a few “home grown” documentaries worth watching that you can easily steam online? 

From the documentary (T)ERROR / Courtesy of Chicken & Egg Pictures

The new documentary (T)ERROR focuses on the role of paid FBI informants in capturing alleged terrorists. The film focuses on a Wilkinsburg man, Khalifa Ali Al-Akili, arrested in 2012 on a gun charge following an investigation in which an FBI informant tried to goad him into conversations about Islamic radicalism. Our guests are David Felix Sutcliffe and Lyric Cabral, directors and producers of "(T)ERROR," winner of the Special Jury Award for Breakout First Feature at the Sundance Film Festival.

According to Sutcliffe, the case against Khalifa, like some other cases the FBI has built, looked strong.

“There are these cases that look impressive, but once you dig beneath the surface there's a lot of issues there,” says Sutcliffe.

Ginny / Flickr

The new food documentary The Search for General Tso takes viewers on a gastronomic journey. The film’s producer is New York Times writer and Splendid Table guest host Jennifer 8. Lee. She’ll clue us in on the origins of General Tso’s chicken and other Chinese dishes that enjoy worldwide popularity.


Lee talks about the origin of General Tso’s Chicken :

“ All evidence points to the fact that the general never actually ate the chicken dish. There was a chef in Taiwan in the 1950’s that created it at a banquet for the nationalist government. The chef himself was from the Hunan province, which is where the general [General Tso] is from… so he named the dish in the general’s honor. That dish came to the United States, but the dish we eat today no way resembles the dish that he cooked.”

Life in a Walk / Facebook

Yogi Roth has turned a trip with his ailing father into a documentary called "Life in a Walk." Roth, who played football at the University of Pittsburgh from 2001-2003, is now an analyst with the Pac-12 Network.

When his Dad developed prostate cancer, the two of them decided to take a three-week walk through Portugal and Spain. Yogi joins us to discuss the trip and his documentary.

No No: A Dockumentary Comes to the Harris Theater

Sep 5, 2014
No No: A Dockumentary

No No: A Dockumentary is opening in Pittsburgh, Saturday night at the Harris Theater.

The film tells the story of former Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis, who pitched a no-hitter on June 12, 1970 - supposedly while under the influence of LSD. After retiring he became a counselor, helping other addicts in their recoveries. Hear from director Jeffrey Radice and view the film trailer.

Tod J Xelowski / Public Herald

Public Herald founders Melissa Troutman and Joshua Pribanic are setting off on a summer tour to call attention to hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking.

The journalists co-directed the documentary Triple Divide which deals with fracking in Pennsylvania. They’re taking the film to communities throughout the country that are dealing with their own fracking issues. And they're using a vehicle that doesn't need gasoline.

Pittsburgh Filmmakers Get Caught Up in Ukraine-Russian Conflict

Mar 26, 2014
Animal Media Group

What began as a trip to Ukraine to work on a documentary called "Gennadiy," about drug-addicted street children, turned into a near-death experience for Pittsburgh-based filmmakers Filipp Velgach and Steve Hoover.

Velgach and Hoover were targeted by a pro-Russian mob while filming at the end of a demonstration.

“Shortly after we got there, and the rumors started circulating that we were American journalists as opposed to American documentary makers. And therefore suggesting we probably had some sort of political agenda for being there and filming the rally," Velgach said. "The rumors grew more aggressive and people started approaching us, saying we're Americans, and 'All of the issues in Ukraine are because of Americans,' and 'We don't like Americans.' And that escalated pretty quickly into us being attacked."

Hoover wrote about the experience for Vice Media and included video of the attack taken by a bystander in the crowd:

Female presidents and prime ministers are currently serving in 18 different countries. Meanwhile, the United States has never had a female president, and is ranked 69th worldwide in women’s representation in national legislatures or parliaments.

What are other countries doing that America isn’t?

This question will be explored this Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Carnegie Museum of Art Theater, when Women and Girls Foundation CEO Heather Arnet premieres her documentary, Madame Presidenta: Why Not U.S.?.

Not My Life: A Documentary of Slavery in the Modern World

Jan 27, 2014
Not My Life / Facebook

Earlier Robert Bilheimer tackled the international spread of AIDS in a well-received documentary.  In his new film, Not My Life,  he takes on human trafficking.

Shot in a dozen countries on five continents, the film looks at a world where children are exploited daily through forced labor, domestic servitude, begging and sexual violence.

Inequality for All Film / Facebook

The number of Pittsburgh residents living at or below the poverty level has increased nearly 9% since the fall of 2007, according to the Urban Institute

The documentary, Inequality for All, focuses on the fact that one half of all Americans have zero wealth, no savings, no assets that outweigh their debts, no retirement savings or investments.

The film grew out of the economic lectures of former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich at the University of California at Berkeley.

Blood Brother Comes Back to Pittsburgh

Nov 12, 2013
Blood Brother Film

This week, the award-winning documentary, Blood Brother comes to Pittsburgh's  Three Rivers film festival. It's about a remarkable Pittsburgh man named Rocky Braat, who has made a drastic change in his life in order to help others.

Rocky made the decision to change his career path and gave up his life in the Steel City to go to India and live with children at an HIV/AIDS orphanage.  His best friend from school, director Steve Hoover decided to follow Rocky and chronicle his journey.

What Makes a Child a Gold Star Child?

Nov 11, 2013
Gold Star Children

An estimated five-thousand American children have lost a parent to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001.

Children who have lost a parent to war are the subject of the documentary Gold Star Children: Two Generations Sharing Loss and Healing, premiering today on the Pentagon channel.

The film’s writer, producer and director Mitty Griffis Mirrer, is a gold star child. Mirrer says the documentary is about helping the current group of gold star children.

  Film crews are arriving in Pittsburgh Tuesday to explore American manufacturing. The feature-length documentary, titled “American Made Movie,” highlights 32 United States cities 32 days.

Co-directors Vincent Vittorio and Nathan Thomas McGill are traveling by bus across the nation to stress the importance of supporting small and large companies that contribute to the national economy and manufacturing sector. 

American Made Movie Reminds Country of Manufacturing Roots

Jul 22, 2013
Daniel Horowitz / Life is My Movie Entertainment Co.

In a country with a great history of manufacturing and exporting goods, many believe that the best way to support the American economy is to buy locally.  Filmmakers Vincent Vittorio and Nathaniel Thomas McGill are on a 32-day tour with their documentary American Made Movie, in which they highlight companies that produce goods in the United States.