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Richard James is the founder and executive director of the Billtown Film Festival.

I’m ready for my close up Pittsburgh

Williamsport Pennsylvania needs a reality show. Pittsburgh is getting one. (Yeah, like they need another attention-grabbing resource.) The word is out that a reality show called The Chair is currently filming in the Steeltown and will be on a premium cable channel soon. The show will document the trials and tribulations of two film crews making movies based on the same script. The show will be centered in and around Pittsburgh, Pa. No news on when the show will air.

Check it out HERE

What’s new with BFF?

Hello everyone. Its Springtime again. Usually, the BFF team would be hard at work putting the final touches to the BFF Program, but this year is different. We’re in a reorganization mode. We’ve made some executive decisions, we are re-evaluating our options and formulating new goals. Yeah, I know that sounds a little vague. But we intend to come back stronger than ever later on in the year.

So watch this space for updates. In the meantime, enjoy some movies!

The Community Arts Center has been bringing quality films to the big screen for only 5 bucks! They are currently showing the Academy Award nominated film Philomena. Get the ticket info on their website here.

The DigiPlex Cinema Center in Williamsport is expanding to 11 screens. Workers are renovating the larger auditoriums into smaller ones. This means that more movies will be shown on more screens!

Well, that’s it for now. See ya’ in da movies!

Happy New Year – Nominations are in…


Okay, which film will win best picture at the 2014 Academy Awards in March? They all look great don’t they? Man! Some really hard decisions have to be made. Too bad they all can’t take home the gold little man.

Which is your favorite?

American Hustle

Captain Phillips

Dallas Buyers Club

Gravity

Her

Nebraska

Philomena

12 Years a Slave

The Wolf on Wall Street

 

I think American Hustle, Gravity and 12 Years a Slave are neck and neck, with Her,  Dallas Buyers Club and the Wolf on Wall Street a half a length behind. I give the long shot to Nebraska or Philomena. I don’t see Captain Phillips in the home stretch…

Goodbye Mr. OToole.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peter O’Toole was one of our favorite actors. We’re saddened to hear of his passing on December 14, 2013. He was 81. His last theatrical film was Venus (2006), directed by Roger Mitchell. Here’s the promo blurb from the DVD jacket: “Academy Award nominee Peter O’Toole (2006 Best Actor) leads a powerful to deliver a charming and poignant portrayal of Maurice, an aging veteran actor who becomes absolutely taken with Jessie – the grandniece of his closest friend. When Maurice tries to soften the petulant and provincial young girl with the benefit of his wisdom and London culture, their give-and-take surprises Maurice and Jessie as they discover what they don’t know about themselves.”

This film may be O’Toole’s greatest onscreen performance and that’s including his breakout role, Lawrence of Arabia (1962). Venus is an excellent exit film for a fine actor.

The coal town story

The James V. Brown Library will screening a film by local filmmaker Martin J. Hula tonight in its theater/meeting Lowry Room on the third floor of the new Welch wing at 6:30pm tonight Thursday November 21, 2013. The film, “Life in a Coal Mining Town, is a great piece of work,” says Shawn Newcomer of the library staff. “Highly recommended!”

From the library’s website: ”

Area resident Martin J. Hula will present his documentary memoir “Life in a Coal Town” and display his memorabilia. He will also discuss his novel “The Coal Picker.”

Coal mining has left an indelible imprint on Pennsylvania history. From the anthracite region in the east to the bituminous mines in the west, coal affected the growth of Pennsylvania’s economy, development of towns and, of course, the people who lived in them. Some may be familiar films such as The Molly Maguires and Matewan that depict the harsh realities of living in a coal mining town, but local resident Martin J. Hula lived it growing up in the western Pennsylvania town of Marstella, or Moss Creek as the residents referred to it after the nearby stream.

This stark portrayal of the hardships of the people of Moss Creek is incredibly moving and enlightening and should be seen by anyone who lives and works in Pennsylvania now. From the dangers of the mines to the tyranny of the company store, this is a tale not to be missed.”

Antebellum cinema


12 Years a Slave: The film validated my feelings about today’s race relations in the US. It provides a contextual basis to understand racial dynamics in the 21st Century. It explains, inadvertently, the reasons for racial animus in today’s American political, cultural and social scenes.

In preparation for viewing the film, I also viewed Birth of a Nation (1915) and Gone with Wind (1939). The romanticism of southern nobility was stripped away and the brutality was revealed like never before. 12 Years is just a small part of the American Holocaust, there is much more to be told, but a 133 minute film is limited. (Birth of a Nation was 3 hours, and Gone with the Wind 4 hours) Granted, the mini-series ROOTS, played on the ABC network for a week in 1977, but the images of brutality were suppressed for the TV audience. For instance, the scars on Kinte’s back was not as dreadful as the whipping scars in 12 Years. In the name of conceptual balance, more black protagonists are needed in American cinema. Perhaps a 4-hour epic of Nat Turner’s rebellion, or a 3-hour saga of Harriet Tubman’s family might be in the works. Who knows?

Technically the film was superb. Considering that the slave’s point of view has never been told before in a major US motion picture, filming in Louisiana shows real progress that the south is ready to deal with its past honestly.

In terms of content, I was expecting more gore. But thank God that didn’t happen. I absolutely love Michael Fassbinder in this film. I was convinced that he was a raving madman. Interestingly, I did not hate him as the film’s most culpable villain, the system itself was on trail and rightly earned my disgust.

The earlier films mentioned here were more sympathetic to Southerners. Whites were portrayed as victims who had lost the American equivalent of a classical civilization. 12 Years gives us a new perspective, that of the slave. In the same way Kirk Douglas’ Spartacus (1960) reveals Rome’s corruption and excesses, McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave presents the quiet heroic efforts of Solomon Northup to stay alive in a world gone mad.

Some of my friends are reticent about seeing the movie. Some want to see it in the privacy of their homes so that they may weep in great anguish. I can’t fault them for that. It is a powerful film that will evoke uncomfortable feelings of sadness. But I suggest that most folks can see the film in the theater. McQueen shows us the brutal truth the same way Spielberg gave us the horrors of the Holocaust in Schindler’s List (1993) … just enough to make us feel uneasy.

The telling of the American Holocaust has started. I hope more films of this quality are on their way.

More gun play in PG-13’s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since the tragedy in Newtown Connecticut last year, Gun Control and the role, if any, that popular media contributes to gun violence has been hot topics in the news. Some observers say that there has been an uptick in gun violence in the last few years. It certainly seems that we are experiencing more mass shootings.

A new study says that movies rated as PG-13 – that is movies aimed at teens – are more violent than R rated movies. So what do you think? Are young people being exposed to more gun violence in movies? If that is true, does more guns in movies make teens more aggressive? For more about the recent study by Ohio State University, VU (Vrije Universiteit) University Amsterdam in The Netherlands and the University of Pennsylvania, click here.

Coincidentally, when a crazed gunman shot up a movie theater in Aurora Colorado, the movie The Dark Knight Rises was playing. It had a PG-13 rating.

Gravity: The closest thing to space travel

On February 20, 1962, I was in Junior High School, when John Glenn blasted off to be the first American Astronaut to orbit the Earth. That was over 51 years ago. I doubt if I will ever get a chance to fly into outer space; to view the Earth from hundreds of miles away and to experience weightlessness. For most earthlings, space travel is just a dream. The closest thing to actually orbiting the Earth is the viewing the film Gravity by Alfonso Cuarón.

Generally I am afraid of heights, but this film did NOT make me feel queasy. I was quite comfortable viewing the Earth from 600 miles up.

I saw the 3D version and I have to admit I was dodging space debris in my seat.

I was amazed by Sandra Bullock’s performance. (I had to remind myself that this was the same woman that has difficulty driving a bus on LA streets in the movie Speed.)

I really dug this movie. The cinematography was incredible, the acting was superb and the story was exceptionally well written.

How Tom Woodruff, Jr. got started

For those of you who don’t know, Tom Woodruff, Jr. is an award winning special effects artist and creature actor that has worked on the great sci-fi Alien and Predator franchises. He is from the Billtown Film Festival area. We like to call him our “dreams can true-made it in Hollywood” guy. He won an Academy Award (best effects, visual effects) in 1993 for Death Becomes Her. He has also worked on such films as Starship Troopers (1997), The X Files (1998), The 6th Day (2000) and the Thing (2011), just to name a few. Tom and his partner Alex Gillis at their shop Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc. are producing a new practical effects film, Harbinger Down.

In the clip below, Tom discusses his career. He advises people to be enthusiastic in their work, but we couldn’t help but notice that Tom also exudes an air of self-confidence that allowed him to excel at his craft. Check out the video and find out more from the Stan Winston school website:

 

Check back here for updates and more news about Tom and his projects.