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21st Annual St. Louis International Film Festival Offers Something For Every Taste

Topics include comedy, horror, wide-ranging documentaries, children's films and more.

From mainstream Hollywood films to international entries and little known documentaries, with a range featuring comedy, pathos and horror, the 21st annual Whitaker St. Louis International Film Festival will have something for everyone during its Nov. 8-19 run.

“As always, there’s a misperception about film festivals generally and the St. Louis Film Festival in particular, that somehow you have to be a film nerd to be really appreciative and get anything out of it,” said Cliff Froehlich, the festival’s executive director. “It’s almost like you have to be a member of the club to attend. That’s the part of the festival experience I always like to emphasize is not true. That in fact, film festivals – particularly film festivals like ours – offer a huge array of different kinds of material. Honestly, anybody who’s interested in movies, even in a nominal way, is going to actually find something that’s going to be entertaining, enlightening, educational, or fun. There are all sorts of different offerings available.”

It’s as simple as buying a ticket, he said, and in some cases simpler, as several films are free. That ticket, as it always has been with movies, opens a doorway to fascinating new experiences. It might be a mainstream movie, like the St. Louis premiere of Silver Linings Playbook, starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro. Or old favorites like Gremlins and Gremlins 2, introduced by Joe Dante, who directed those films and will be at the festival to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award.

There are also 73 documentaries on the bill, tackling such issues as homelessness, racial strife, stray dogs and more.

“If they are willing to take a chance on stuff they perhaps aren’t as familiar with, they may discover that they’ll enjoy an international film, a documentary, a program of shorts – things that they perhaps wouldn’t think about attending in a normal theatrical movie-going setting,” Froehlich said. “But the festival offers that opportunity and they can end up really being surprised at what they encounter.”

The festival schedule, ticket information, and a complete list of films (with descriptions) are available at the Cinema St. Louis Web site. The primary venues are the following theaters:

  • Hi-Pointe Theatre, Clayton
  • Landmark Plaza Frontenac Cinema, Plaza Frontenac
  • Tivoli Theatre, University City
  • Washington University, Brown Hall Auditorium
  • Webster University, Webster Hall’s Moore Auditorium
  • Wildey Theatre, 252 N. Main St., Edwardsville, IL.

“We’re pretty accessible, with lots of screens and lots of offerings,” Froehlich said.

There are more than 400 films in the festival, including 110 narrative, 70-plus documentaries and 200 or so short films.

“No one can see everything that the festival has to offer,” Froehlich said. “You have to pick and choose, and sometimes the decisions are hard. … The intent is to offer a buffet for people to graze. Inevitably you will find something that you like.”

The festival will host more than 100 filmmakers and related guests, including honorees:

  • Joe Dante, Lifetime Achievement Award
  • Ross McElwee, Maysles Bros. Lifetime Achievement Award in Documentary
  • Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg, Women in Film Award 
  • Beau Willimon, Charles Guggenheim Cinema St. Louis Award

“One of the things festivals do is bring in guests,” Froehlich said. “Filmmakers are actually in attendance, and you have the opportunity to hear from them before and after the film in formal settings where they are introducing the film or being interviewed or engaging in a Q and A session. But you also have the opportunity to actually meet them, often times after the film. So that’s a big advantage of attending a festival. You don’t just see the movie, you hear from the filmmakers themselves.”

Joe Dante, who in addition to Gremlins has also directed such films as Explorers, The Howling, Small Soldiers and The Hole, will be on hand for three programs in less than 24 hours. The big event will start at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 10 at the Hi-Pointe Theater with the presentation of the Lifetime Achievement Award along with a showing of The Hole.

“It’s somewhat oxymoronically a family horror film,” Froehlich said, laughing. “It’s legitimately scary but also quite accessible to the younger kids. It’s not something that’s going to be problematic for somebody 11, 12, 13 (years old). It’s a film that’s open to all, basically, and it’s in 3D.”

The movie, made in 2009, got “terrific reviews” but never had a wide theatrical release, Froehlich said. After the film, clips from his past works will be shown, the award will be presented, and Dante will be interviewed by Tim Lucas of the magazine Video Watchdog. Following the interview, Gremlins and Gremlins 2 will be shown at 10 p.m. as a late-night double bill.

“Gremlins is the film that Dante is probably most famous for," Froehlich said. “It’s outrageously funny, and also frightening. That’s the hallmark of his work – he combines humor and horror in a really intriguing way. Both of these films are quite delightful.”

At 11 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 11 at the Hi-Pointe, Dante will screen The Movie Orgy, a compilation of old movie clips, trailers, commercials, newscasts and more into a new story line that runs 270 minutes, down from its original seven hours.

“I haven’t seen it, but by all reports it’s hugely entertaining,” Froehlich said. “It’s a rare opportunity to see this film.”

The viewings with the other award recipients are:

  • McElwee, a documentary filmmaker, will screen his Photographic Memory on Nov. 17 at Webster University; 
  • Stern and Sundberg will show their film Knuckleball, which is about knuckleball pitchers, Nov. 16 at The Tivoli; 
  • Oscar-nominee Beau Willimon, who wrote the screenplay for the George Clooney film Ides of March, will receive the Charles Guggenheim Cinema St. Louis Award on Nov. 18.

Froehlich, heading his ninth festival, is excited about the breadth of offerings this year, including some funny documentaries.

“People have this notion that film festivals are work, that you’re going to be sitting there with a furrowed brow, having to learn something,” he said. “It’s almost like eating your spinach.”

But there are numerous entertaining exceptions, including Morgan Spurlock’s Mansome, plus Beauty is Embarrassing, Her Master’s Voice, featuring a female ventriloquist who carries on after her mentor-instructor dies, and Bitter Buddha, about “comic’s comic” Eddie Pepitone.

“Those are all extremely funny documentaries, and that’s not a form that people tend to think of as funny,” he said. “They think of it more like, ‘Oh, I gotta learn something from this – it’s like going to school.’ Well, you will learn something from all of those movies, but by the same token you will also be hugely entertained.”

Other documentaries of note include Street Dogs of South Central, which follows a family of street dogs and compels viewers to confront difficult material; Dignity Harbor, about the proliferation and subsequent purging of a large homeless tent city along the St. Louis riverfront; The Perfect Victim, about domestic abuse victims who languish in prison for having killed their abusers; Envisioning the Home, which addresses low-income housing issues; and several films about the Joplin tornado.

Many of the most compelling documentaries are part of the “Human Rights Sidebar” of free screenings offered Nov. 16-18 at Washington University.

There will also be a “Children’s Film Showcase” of free films Nov. 9-11 at Washington University.

Live music will accompany five movies, including a Georges Méliès program featuring his classic silent film A Trip to the Moon and others, plus Siren of the Tropics, a silent film starring St. Louis native Josephine Baker.

In addition, ragtime musicians will perform in concert with the showing of The Entertainers, a documentary about a yearly ragtime music competition in Peoria, IL.

“There are a lot of different and engaging topics being offered,” he said.

Tickets for most films are $12, $10 for Cinema St. Louis members, and are available at the box office of the venue.

For information about advance tickets, see http://www.cinemastlouis.org/sliff-2012-tickets.

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