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Steel City Cinema: Independent and Experimental Filmmaking in the Rust Belt

Ogrodnik, Benjamin (2020) Steel City Cinema: Independent and Experimental Filmmaking in the Rust Belt. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation considers the filmmakers and film organizations that transformed the rust-belt city of Pittsburgh into a global center of avant-garde, experimental and independent cinema during the 1970s and 1980s. The first part of the study offers an in-depth exploration of the new institutional resources in the early 1970s that supported filmmaking, namely the Film Section (1970-2003) based in the Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute, led by the pioneering curator Sally Dixon. Dixon not only provided an expanded range of viewing options to a local public hungry for new kinds of images, but she founded the equipment bank that became the Pittsburgh Filmmakers media arts center (1971-2018), which served as the base of operations for local artists making vital work and setting trends in progressive politics and radical aesthetics. The second part explores the careers of seven independent filmmakers who made work in the form of “film portraiture,” including Stan Brakhage, Tony Buba, Sharon Green, Stephanie Beroes, Steffi Domike, Roger Jacoby, and Peggy Ahwesh. Their film portraits, though short, fragmentary, and oftentimes made on a shoe-string budget, reveal aspects of a city emblematic of the nationwide crisis of deindustrialization. More positively, I argue that these film portraits also depict struggles and subjectivities unique to the independent film community. Many portraits were made by women, gay men, and working-class artists, and they highlight a range of important social issues including nonnormative sexuality, industrial labor, and sexism in the entertainment industry. This dissertation centers the activities and accomplishments of Pittsburgh’s film community in the wider media field. In this way, the dissertation challenges the assumption that filmmaking in these years was limited to coastal cities, such as San Francisco, Los Angeles or New York. Instead, it shows how a handful of passionate individuals remade an economically depressed locale into a hub of avant-garde art. It also offers an expanded definition of filmic portraiture, by considering issues of temporality, regionalism and marginalized social identity, which mark the Pittsburgh portraits. Finally, the dissertation reflects on the commitment that Dixon’s Film Section demonstrated to advancing the work and financial resources of local and visiting filmmakers.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Ogrodnik, Benjaminbwo6@pitt.edubwo60000-0001-7174-5606
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairSmith, Terrytes2@pitt.edutes2
Committee MemberMcCloskey, Barbarabarbara.mccloskey@pitt.edubarbara.mccloskey
Committee MemberEllenbogen, Joshjme23@pitt.edujme23
Committee MemberFischer, Lucylfischer@pitt.edulfischer
Committee MemberHalle, Randallrhalle@pitt.edurhalle
Date: 16 January 2020
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 9 October 2019
Approval Date: 16 January 2020
Submission Date: 6 November 2019
Access Restriction: 2 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 2 years.
Number of Pages: 425
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Film Studies
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: experimental media arts, independent film, deindustrialization, Pittsburgh, Rust Belt, filmic portraiture
Date Deposited: 16 Jan 2020 19:25
Last Modified: 16 Jan 2022 06:15


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