by Lucy Leitner
Plato’s Allegory of the Cave depicts an ancient prison where inmates have lived since birth, where the only reality they know is composed of the shadows of artifacts. When a prisoner is liberated and presented with actual reality, he refuses to believe it. To him, the shadows are real. When he is free, he is presented with light that he feels is blinding. After a while, instead of pulling a Slingblade (a contemporary reference, to be sure) and getting sent back to the darkness to which he is accustomed, he literally sees the light and understands reality. The Allegory from Plato’s The Republic is about the eternal themes of power of denial and the ability to accept things that you don’t already “know” to be true.
This is the basis for CAVE, a short film by a group of Pittsburghers currently residing in Hollywood West. Except the allegory is not a primitive prison, but the shadowy world of drug addiction. It’s a black and white, day-in-the-life portrait of two addicts (played by Dean Jacobs and Mike Wagner) as they grift and steal to support their habit that enables them to live in their own reality.
Writer/director/producer Vipassi Calabro (a Bethel Park native) and producer/writer Timothy Papciak (also from Pittsburgh) were developing a feature based on the life of a late friend when they began to think of short form projects on the same theme of drug addiction and recovery. The original draft was already written and the film cast when Calabro “got lost in a Wikipedia wormhole” and discovered Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.
“I was immediately floored by the resemblance of our story to the Allegory and how well drug addiction fit within the narrative of Plato’s Cave,” Calabro said. “From this point on we found the depth we were all searching for and the Allegory served as an anchor on all creative choices moving forward.”
The 35-minute film came together through this network of displaced Pittsburghers. Calabro met producer/actor Dean Jacobs (Scream Park) nearly a decade ago at a South Side Slopes house party. They shared a similar taste in movies, and maintained the friendship when the happened to move to LA around the same time.
Calabro knew Papciak and costume designer Lindsey Tervo-Clemmens from working on independent films in Pittsburgh. Through Tervo-Clemmens, fellow Pittsburgher Mike Wagner auditioned and earned a starring role. While studying film at the University of New Orleans, Calabro befriended director of photography Vailios Sfinarolakis. They are currently editing the documentary Tekoha: Land Without Evil, which they also produced. The comradery of the cast and crew made this “passion project” possible.
“Everyone on the crew brought details from their lives to this story and this really is a film that benefited from such an intimate collaboration,” Calabro said.
The plan is to submit CAVE to several film festivals — both domestic and international — with Pittsburgh International Film Festival at the top of the list. Right now, the cast and crew are taking a “working class,” grassroots approach and promoting the film through social media and their own social skills. And it seems to be working. The teaser garnered more than 5,000 views in its first day online. The film, that Calabro describes as “American Blues-Rust-Belt Realism,” is shot cleanly in a chiaroscuro style that emphasizes the contrast between light and dark that is the dichotomy between life inside and outside of any literal or allegorical cave.
“This is a passion project that deals with cyclical and habitual drug use and the path to recovery,” Calabro said. “So, this is a film for those stuck in the Cave and for all those dedicating their lives to helping the prisoners within see the light outside.”