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2020 Film Pittsburgh Fall Festival: Staff Picks

Posted November 15, 2020

While in conversation with Pittsburgh Magazine last week, our Executive Director, Kathryn Spitz Cohan, explained that our Fall Festival is "like Netflix, except curated by people here in Pittsburgh that love film and want to share it with other folks from this region.” And much like Netflix, we understand that it can sometimes be tough to choose what to watch out of a diverse array of 30 feature films and 20 shorts blocks. If you need help rounding out your to-watch list, or choosing the remaining films to fill up your Six Packs or All Festival Passes as we head into the last week of the festival, we are here to help! 

We asked some staff members to choose their favorite features or shorts in hopes that their favs will inspire you, and here is what they chose:

Drew Checkelsky, Assistant Teen Screen Educator

Antigone - This is a marvelous film that modernizes a story from a long, long time ago and infuses it with topics from today such as police violence, activism through social media and our treatment of immigrants. It also features a dynamic breakout performance from the titular character played by Nahéma Ricci. Expertly crafted with a pitch perfect ending. Don't miss this film.

Mateo's Story - Part of Shorts Block 9, this is one of the most affecting and heartbreaking screen experiences I've had. The film follows a young family of four as they flee the violence of their homeland for the safety and supposed asylum of America. The child separation policy is put under the microscope as we witness the devastating impact it has. The ending of this film breaks your heart and reinforces the idea that Americans who take for granted living in this country must do better and demand more of their elected officials.

Caroline Collins, Associate Director

Can You Hear My Voice? - This film is such a lovely surprise. As you watch the choir prepare for their most important concert, you get an unexpected glimpse into their personal lives—both before and after their laryngectomies—and you come to understand why the choir means so much to them. The final concert footage is so joyful and fun, it will leave you feeling great.

Shorts Block Thrills & Chills 2 - From a zombie love story to an existential crisis over a rack of lamb, this block of short films is thrilling, chilling, scary, and very often hilarious. It's perfectly composed to give you all the feels.

Judy Kaplan, Office and Community Outreach Manager

Beethoven in Beijing - An unexpectedly compelling gem of a film. This true story of the iconic Philadelphia Orchestra, the first US orchestra to perform in communist China in 1973, has an extraordinary cast of characters from both past and present—including former President Richard Nixon, pianist Lang Lang and maestro Eugene Ormandy, as well as incredible child prodigies from China today. Art and music lovers everywhere will love this story!

Jenna Potts, Marketing and Communications Coordinator

Shorts Comedy Block - Like all good comedies, these films thoughtfully challenge stereotypes, but in the best way possible—through humor. And after all that has been 2020, we need a good laugh! Sunday Dinner is raunchy, full of twists, but ultimately very touching. Gratitude Jar Time Capsule is a charming reminder that if we keep digging, we can find commonalities with anyone—even those who are (or just seem like) they're from a different century than you. 

Script Competition - In the second year of the Script Competition, we received so many quality scripts that it was way too hard to narrow the down the list! The four finalists are talented storytellers, no doubt about it. And the virtual staged readings feel like watching little plays—the actors who read the scripts do a fantastic job of bringing these beautiful stories to life. 

Paul Sloop, Director of Programming and Operations

Dear Santa - Talk about the right film at the right time! This documentary will warm your heart, bring a smile to your face, and renew your faith in humanity. Dear Santa is the perfect film to kick off the holiday season! 

The Last Out - Pittsburgh Shorts alum filmmaker, Sami Khan, who joined us in 2019 with his Oscar nominated film St. Louis Superman is back with a follow-up feature he co-directed with Michael Gassert. It is an incredibly revealing film, exposing how some foreign players of color are commodified and often exploited by the corporate machine that is professional sports. If you're a professional sports fan, like me, you must see this film! 

Kathryn Spitz Cohan, Executive Director

The Ship - I absolutely loved this film. The young star turned in an amazing and nuanced performance, as did the rest of the cast. The story was enjoyable, moving, and funny at times. An upbeat and heartwarming film from a different part of the world! 

Pacified - Wow, what a powerful film! I felt transported to Rio, to the world that is this favela, and was given an inside view into a community run by drug lords. While the film is violent at times, it is the father/daughter storyline that won me over and showed the universal desire for unconditional love.