Rob Levy is a native St. Louisan freelance writer who has been published in several print and online publications including St. Louis Magazine, St. Louis Business Journal, The Riverfront Times, Playback, Noisy Paper and The Beacon. Since 1995 he has has hosted Juxtaposition on KDHX. He also is a co-host of The Sound Board music podcast and Weekend Justice podcasts for needcoffee.com. He also has written about music, film and pop culture for need coffee.com, anglotopia.net and several other online publications.
The weekend is in full swing at the 24th Annual Whitaker St. Louis International Film Festival. The first weekend of the fest sees an amazing array of programmed films across several genres.
Everything about this year’s Whitaker St. Louis International Film Festival is bigger, bolder and more daring than previous offerings with 70 nations represented across the 447 films being shown (including 97 narrative features, 86 documentary features, and 264 shorts). Special events, master classes and exclusive premieres supplement this record number of films.
On the surface being a film critic may seem glamorous and easy. You get to meet celebrities and see loads of movies, good and bad, before they come out and then expound your wisdom to the world on why you should or shouldn’t see a particular film. But this is not really the case. In fact it's one of those occupations that could be a real grind filled with time constraints, studio politics, long hours and lots of people wanting to either praise you or tell you what an idiot you are.
Once again St. Louis’ local film scene have stepped up their game, creating work that is bold, daring and spirited. Here’s look at some recommend films screening at the festival.
After 93 years the Hi-Pointe Theatre (1005 McCausland Avenue) has a new buddy! Opening this weekend, The Backlot is a boutique movie theatre located directly behind the venerable movie house.
There’s a sense of unease running through the entirety of Selma, Director Ava DuVernay’s biopic of Martin Luther King Jr. and the struggle for voting rights in Alabama.
The final day of the St. Louis International Film Festival is upon us. After such a grueling and long ten days you may think that the fest may just phone it in or run on cruise control going to the finish line. You would be wrong. There is nothing half ass about today’s bill of films. In fact it’s a strong finish.
Yesterday I saw two westerns, My Sweet Pepperland and The Dark Valley. Both were intensely harrowing stories molded from the classic tradition.
Still Life was a melancholy English film about death and honoring the life of the forgotten. Eddie Marsan was perfectly sublime in it.
I heard a lot of good chatter about two films, Paulette and Run Boy Run. The former had a packed house at Plaza Frontenac. The latter is showing again today as part of the fest.
Some films that I enjoyed are also getting a second screening, Zero Motivation, Cupcakes and My Sweet Pepperland. The new Bertolucci flick, Me and You is also showing again today.
Meet Me In St. Louis
St. Louis Art Museum
SLIFF pays tribute to seven decades of this film classic as part of the city’s 250th birthday celebration. It’s the movie where Judy Garland met Vincent
Minnelli. This free screening is fun for the entire family.
Run Boy Run
At least a dozen people have told me how much they love this Polish film from Academy Award winning director Pepe Danquart. The film, based on a novel, is about a young boy who escapes certain death in the Warsaw ghetto. On the run and dodging the SS, he eventually found and hidden by farmers.
Belle and Sebastian
Washington University/Brown Hall
This 2013 film from Nicolas Vanier, is an adaptation of the popular TV show of the same name. the show was big in France in the 1960s and features a dashing hero named Sebastian and his faithful sheepdog, Belle. Set in the French Alps during the German occupation, the two heroes uget involved in helpig the resistance. Free!
Jingle Bell Rocks
Director Mitchell Kezin loves Christmas music so much that he made a movie about his obsession. Holiday music is notoriously kitsch and oftentimes dreadful, nonetheless his search for information about his favorite tunes borders on the psychotic.
SLIFF is presenting the film’s screenwriter, Timothy J. Sexton with the Charles Guggenheim Cinema St. Louis Award. The Liberator, his latest effort with Director Alberto Arvelo, is an epic biopic of Simon bolivar, the beloved revolutionary who freed South America from the yolk of the Spanish Empire.3
The life of afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti is examined in this documentary from Alex Gibeny. Kuti’s controversial lifestyle and politics worked in symmetry with his innovative music. Finding Fela was selected for the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.
If you want to let off steam come to the big closing party at CAM for free booze, eats and champagne. Winners will be announced and the festival will close.
Finally, it is not easily planning screenings for 89 films: 89 narrative features, 76 documentary features, and 224 shorts from 69 nations. Scheduling all of this requires precision, luck and organization.
So a big hats off the staff and volunteers who have made this year’s festival the most robust and ambitious to date.
I for one will be glad to not have to see The Polar Express advertisement anymore!
It’s been a grind but it has been a fun one once again. Now we all get to go back to our normal lives.
The St. Louis International Film Festival has been around for 23 years. During all of that time the Fest has never attempted a day of programming as bold, audacious and diverse as today.
In addition to some great music and dance programs the day includes a full slate of independent films, a filmmakers coffee, master classes, a dinner extravaganza and a burlesque show!
Today’s cinema smorgasbord truly does have something for everyone. So explore the schedule, get a posse together and go to the Fest!
The 50-Year Argument
The New York Review of Books is the subject of this documentary co-sponsored by Martin Scorsese.
The Boxcar Children
Brown Hall/Washington University
This animated film is based on the popular collection from Gertrude Chandler Warner. Set in the 1920s, it centers on the Aldens, four kids who are making it on their own. Things get bad however when one of them becomes sick. Dan Chuba and Mark Dippe will be on hand for a Q & A after the film.
Me and You
It’s been 32 years since we’ve gotten a film from Bernardo Bertolucci. With Me and You he focuses on themes of family, escapism and intimacy through Lorenzo, a teenage who runs away from the world in favor of a world of isolation. When his half sister enters the pictures things really get weird in this sumptuous feature from one of cinema’s masters.
Rubber Soul is a documentary about two interviews with Yoko Ono and John Lennon. The first is from 1970 with Rolling Stone. The second happened a decade later, in 1980, with Playboy Magazine. Director Jon Lefkowitz uses these two moments to accentuate their impact on music and society.
My Sweet Pepperland
Baran, a war hero, returns to Iraq and takes up the post of sheriff in a town in Kurdistan that borders Turkey, Iran and Iraq. Baran walks an honest path, refusing to use corruption for his own gain. Sparks begin to fly when the rigid Baran meets up with the town’s schoolteacher.
A Hard Day’s Night
Centene Center For The Arts
Beatles fans are in paradise as Richard Lester’s cinematic romp, A Hard Days Night screens at SLIFF. The film has been restored for its 50th anniversary and since this version never made it to local screens SLIFF is showing it here alongside a handcrafted menu from Tenacious Eats is pretty cool. Tickets include both dinner and the film.
Tribute to The Nicholas Brothers
This year Dance St. Louis and Cinema St. Louis have teamed up for a program of Dance In Film. One of the movies highlighting this series documentary about the prolific Fayard and Harold Nicholas, brothers whose vanguard dance work is unmatched. Bruce Goldstein of the Film Forum in New York hosts this free presentation.
Eddie Marsan is a terrific actor with a great deal of range. His new film, Still Life, showcases him perfectly. He plays John May, a meticulous council worker who tirelessly works to find relatives of people who die alone. This obsession leads to some seriously goofy activity as he plans services for those who have no family.
Tribute to Roberta Collins
The life and career of B-movie queen Roberta Collins is remembered with a concert from Stace England and Screen Syndicate. A retrospective of her work, including interviews, clips and trailers is featured as well as a screening of Caged Heat.
Centene Center For The Arts
SLIFF is throwing a live burlesque extravaganza that is sure to knock your socks off. This filmmaker party comes complete with cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and a show hosted by the legendary Show Me Charlotte
Yesterday I spent a majority of my film watching time at Plaza Frontenac. It is not my favorite venue. This has nothing to do with the theater or its staff, but mostly its surroundings. PF is stale, aloof and devoid of character.
If you need to kill time between movies there’s not a lot to do. None of the stores hold any appeal to me, and just try to find an unsweetened ice tea or snack in that place.
All of this has made me a part of the SLIFF diaspora that fleas the warm shininess of the mall in favor for the nearby Panera Bread which has served as a sort of hangout pro temps for cinephiles waiting to see movies in the mall.
But getting back to the movies. sadly all of this barely even cracks the surface of today’s offerings. The best recommendation I can offer is to dive in headfirst and find stuff you want to see.
Check the schedule on line at www.cinemastlouis.org
Day 9 is easily the toughest day for decisions of the Festival. There’s a lot of stuff being shown tonight and it is all good!
The home stretch is a brutal one this year so I suggest you sort out your schedule and have a back up plan ready!
This is a fun film about a group of friends who turn their contempt for Israeli’s entry into motivation for them to make their own recording. Their song is a hit and is selected for Israel’s entry for the following year. The soundtrack features music from The Scissor Sister’s Babydaddy. If you want a fun film this is for you!
Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway is the subject of this documentary, which examines both his life and his inventions.
Kamen is pretty much a genius. In addition to creating the Segway he is a major player in the creation of the First Robotics competitions that happen each year and schools and science centers across the country.
As an inventor he is one of those people who can see a problem, size it up and solve it through shear tenacity and ingenuity. His latest cause, the worldwide water crisis, is not an easy fix. Nonetheless Kamen has an innovative solution, a device called the Slingshot, a water purification system that relies on a device called a vapor compression distiller.
The film follows Kamen from the germination of its creation until a practical working one is up and functioning.
Slingshot is a doc that offers a look inside one of the world’s most eccentric problem solvers.
Pulp: A Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets
Pulp hail form Sheffield England and are one of the UK’s most prolific bands of the last two decades. Their devoted fans have been clamoring for a proper comeback for ages now and this doc sees that dream come true. It’s a movie about the band and their hometown of Sheffield! Directors Adam Hamdy and Shaun Magher skillfully chronicle the tumultuous history of this amazing band.
The Dark Valley
This German film of murder, revenge and justice is set in a remote Alpine village. Part Western, part horror film, The Dark Valley is a vigorous triumph for director Andreas Prochaska who relies on confrontation to propel the drama.
What better way to spend a late night than with a gritty cop movie from South Korea? Honor, duty and the mob all mix here, leading to a bloody mess!
New World is only screening once so you will want to see this!
Go forth and see movies!
And on the 8th day……People saw more movies!!!
The day brings some interesting shorts programming, fearless docs and a variety of movies that will astound and entertain.
I was at Plaza Frontenac the other day and there was a group of people talking about this film and how much they loved it.This Italian film has already screened once and is being shown again today. SLIFF always presents some interesting Italian movies each year.
I’m Not Racist…Am I?
Arguably the timeliest film showing at SLIFF this year, this free screening is part of the fest’s Race In America: The Black Experience programming. This film follows a band of New York teens for one year as they attempt to find the source of racism. During this time the teens come to terms with issues of race and preconceptions of prejudice. Director Wiggington Greene will be at the screening for a Q&A after the film.
Documentary Shorts: Human Rights
St. Louis University
This compendium of thought provoking shorts, part of the Cinema for Students programming, is food for thought for anyone who believe in tackling the tough issues of our time. Free!
Bhopal: A Prayer For Rain
This is another movie that is getting some chatter about it. This harrowing film deals with the Union Carbide disaster of 1984 and how it easily could have been prevented.
Ravi Kumar’s film is not only a social commentary on poverty in India; it’s an indictment of corporate greed and recklessness. Martin Sheen, Kal Penn and Mischa Barton lead an international cast.
This is the second screening of a powerful drama about the perils of living in Berlin in the 1970s. A woman named nelly and her son flea to the West only to find more challenges await them in their new life.
Shorts 8: Our Canadian Neighbours
Each year the St. Louis International Film Festival presents an amazing program of shorts. This year it appears as if there was an overabundance of quality films to work with since the programming has been expanded.
One of the new packages being presented this year is a collection of short form movies from Canada.
Canadians are known to have an odd, if not somewhat quirky, sense of humor, and these shorts, in addition to stirring up a lot of Maple leaf pride, offer a unique glimpse into a country whose films and television is not commonly found in the provinces.
Leave it to the Dutch to make a home invasion film that creeps you out in all the ways the Home Alone movies never did. When a seemingly charming intruder enters a suburban home his underhanded machinations lead the family down a sinister path.
It has been a challenging festival so far because with 389 films of cinema goodness one has to make difficult choice son what to see and what to skip.Since we are gearing up for the grand finale of the fest it would be a good idea to get advance tickets for many of the films showing this weekend!