Hollywood of the East: A Top Ten List of Pittsburgh-filmed Movies

Runner-up: Literally anything involving Rick Sebak.

This guy was the voice of Pittsburgh to me growing up. When I’d stay home from school sick, I’d hope there’d be a Sebak documentary on. Now, in my late-twenties (ugh), my friends and I have planned whole evenings around watching entries in Sebak’s history series. If Pittsburgh had its own currency (¥inz? Bitcoin’at? Pahnds?), Sebak’s face would have to be on one of the bills or coins. Funded in part by The Buhl Foundation, the only downside is that some of the documentaries could use an update. Still, it’s nice to watch programs today that were made in the 2000s to see how much has changed in such a short amount of time. They’re almost like video time capsules.

And he’s still cranking them out. A History of Pittsburgh in 17 Objects premiered on WQED on June 5:

Other notable entries: Pittsburgh A to Z, 25 Things I Like About Pittsburgh, What Makes Pittsburgh Pittsburgh?, Pittsburgh From the Air, Flying Off The Bridge To Nowhere! And Other Tales Of Pittsburgh Bridges, A Program About Unusual Buildings & Other Roadside Stuff

 

10. Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008)

Keeping with the documentary theme comes Kurt Kuenne’s heartbreaking film about the death of his childhood friend, Andrew Bagby. Bagby was a resident at a family practice in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, a location featured heavily in the documentary. The birthplace of Fred Rogers (of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood fame), Latrobe is about forty miles southeast of Pittsburgh. As some of you stalwart beer drinkers will know, Latrobe is the original home of Rolling Rock.  After the murder, former girlfriend and suspected killer Shirley Jane Turner announced that she was pregnant with Bagby’s son.  She named him Zachary. Kuenne decided to compile a bunch of footage of Bagby for Zachary so he could get to know the man that his father had been.

I stumbled upon this documentary by accident and I’m glad I did. If you haven’t seen it, stop what you’re doing right now and go find it. It’s such a great documentary, but it’s so dark that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to watch it again. Turner is presented as such a vile creature, that your heart breaks for baby Zachary and all of Bagby’s friends and family. And just when you think she can’t get any more vile, she does and your heart breaks more.  Even if you don’t like documentaries, you need to see this film.

 

9. Pittsburgh (2006)

Switching gears completely, this light-hearted mockumentary follows Pittsburgh native and knot-enthusiast Jeff Goldblum as he auditions for and (spoiler alert) lands the lead role in a regional production of The Music Man. While the subject matter isn’t nearly as heavy as the previous entry, that doesn’t mean this isn’t a good documentary. And what Pittsburgh native won’t smile at seeing Goldblum wearing a Mr. Rogers t-shirt or riding roller coasters at Kennywood? It’s a good documentary to watch on a lazy Sunday afternoon or as a palate cleanser after Dear Zachary.

 

If documentaries aren’t your thing, click on through to get to the feature films.

9 Comments

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9 responses to “Hollywood of the East: A Top Ten List of Pittsburgh-filmed Movies

  1. Great choices, I think. (I have not seen most of them.) I totally agree with your opinion of Groundhog Day, Bill Murray and Christian Bale. I remember going to Pittsburgh as a kid in the 80’s and thinking it was beyond depressing, but in the early 2000’s, my husband and some friends made the trek there to the Strip for a Wilco show and loved the city! There was a cool burger place that put coolslaw and fries ON your burger, the bridges were newly refurbished, and the thin, hilly streets were amazing (in summer…winter? Woah.) Well, guess I have some movies to watch?

  2. Quuxum

    Not even a mention for “The Deer Hunter”?

  3. Innocent Blood, Striking Distance, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Wonder Boys and Sudden Death were all shot in Pittsburgh and take place there.

  4. Grew up in the ‘burgh. Loved your list. Guess I haven’t paid enough attention because I didn’t realize some of these movies were filmed there. Where’s the Flashdance mention? lol

    Have a great week!

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