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Meet Me in St. Louis: The 12th Annual St. Louis International Film Festival Earns Garlands

Meet Me in St. Louis: The 12th Annual St. Louis International Film Festival Earns Garlands

Meet Me in St. Louis: The 12th Annual St. Louis International Film Festival Earns Garlands

by Brandon Judell

Jim Sheridan, pictured with Emma Bolger on the set of “In America,” won St. Louis’ Modern Master award. Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight.

Chris Rock once so wisely noted that “there’s no more little towns. It’s all malls. All malls and they’re all the same. The same mall in St. Louis is the same mall in Detroit. Got the same Gap, Banana Republic, Chess King, Sunglasses Hut. All the same crap. And every town’s got two malls: they got the white mall, and the mall white people used to go to. ‘Cause there ain’t nothing in the black mall. Nothing in the black mall but sneakers and baby clothes.”

Well, happily that is not true about film festivals. Each one seems to have its own little quirks and passions. That goes for St. Louis, too. The film festival that is… not the mall.

And this year, during the St. Louis International Film Festival‘s 12th year, more than 18,500 folks seemed to be celebrating those differences.

Chris Clark, the blond, bearded managing and artistic director of the fest, agreed. On the rainy, next-to-final day of screenings, he stood in front of one of his lovely venues, the Tivoli Theatre, and noted, “It’s been very, very successful so far.”

But is the city best known for its giant arch and a Judy Garland musical really enthusiastic about arthouse product?

“Definitely.” Clark noted. “There’s certainly a core audience that appreciates and supports the many art screens in town. But through the outreach of the festival and the various events we do throughout the year, we’re opening up a whole new audience, particularly the younger age brackets. Our numbers have skewed downwards to 18-34 in the last couple of years, so we’re grooming the next generation of art film lovers.” Truffaut must be smiling in his grave.

Aiding Clark in this endeavor is the local media: “This year we’ve had more press and advance publicity than ever before. And people are very supportive, too, and always give me the thumbs up and hi! signs. People are having a really good time.”

No wonder. Some of the highlights included such critically acclaimed features as Matteo Garrone’s “The Embalmer”; Jim Sheridan’s “In America”; Dani Levy’s “I’m the Father”; Baltasar Kormakur’s “101 Reykjavik,” Martin Doblmeier’s “Bonhoeffer,” plus Francisco J. Lombardi’s deliciously erotic comedy “Captain Pantoja and the Special Services.”

“The hardest to get was [Chang-dong Lee’s] ‘Oasis,’ which I saw in Palm Springs last year,” Clark admitted when asked about his fondest selections. “I worked very, very hard to bring it here, and it was a critical favorite. Among the documentaries, there’s a handful of things that I’ve selected at different festivals over the time: ‘Life After War,’ Marla and Marc Halperin’s film directed by Brian Knappenberger, and Paul Devlin’s ‘Power Trip,’ which is just a trip and surprisingly funny.”

“One final question, please!” I begged as I noticed that across the street from the Tivoli, Foot Locker was having a sale on Converse sneakers. “Do film festival directors have groupies?”

“Not to my knowledge at this time,” Clark admitted. “But that would be welcome.”

Back in the theater, after a screening of his startling Afghanistan doc, “Life After War,” helmer Knappenberger noted how he got the footage he did: “It was an interesting experience to film because quite a few people really didn’t know quite what I was doing. During the seven years of Taliban ruling, cameras were banned and it was illegal to talk to an American. Everything we did was illegal under Taliban rule. So I realized at one point toward the later part of my stay in a village, the elders thought I was taking still pictures. They didn’t quite get it. They only know about movies a little bit, but then in that village, there’s no electric light. No running water. Things like that.”

Lauren Moews could relate. She’s the producer of the surprise indie hit, “Cabin Fever,” which was also about people trying to survive under trying conditions, though less successfully. (Moews, by the way, along with David Fenkel of THINKfilm; Alec Carlin, director of the soon-to-be-released “Outpatient”; Kathy Corley of Webster University; plus myself, was part of the Sundance Channel New Filmmakers Forum (NFF), which was to give awards to features by first-time directors.)

Moews, a lawyer by trade, who was spectacularly attractive and bright for one employed in her two chosen fields, admitted “Cabin Fever” had changed her life, although it’s still hard to raise money for her next feature: “It’s never a real breeze to finance. It’s never real easy to get people to part with their money.”

As for her being shocked by her horror flick’s success: “Well, yes and no. You believe in your project. You hope for the best. If you believe in it, you feel that is attainable. But when it is attained, you are kind of shocked, like ‘Oh, my God, I planned something and it actually happened.’ You feel a whole number of things. I’m glad to see that it did so well because we worked so hard.”

As for being a film fest juror. Moews noted, “I’m glad I can be on the other side. As a juror, you have sympathy, empathy, all of the above. Compassion for the effort. You’re watching these films from a positive place knowing what it’s like to go through it. You can use that to judge the efforts in a real way.”

The five films eligible for the NFF were a mixed bag of joys. Dean Barnes’ “By the Sea” was an inept, misogynistic, traipse into Hispanic comic fantasy. Poorly directed, written and acted, but with high production values and some clever special effects, you wanted to drown yourself before this exercise in magic realism was over.

Misti Barnes’ “Exposed” is perfect fare for cable TV feminists. This comic look at three neurotic, high-powered female TV personalities vying for a media award, includes a desperate Martha Stewart-type who deteriorates just like her inspiration. What’s amazing here is what Barnes accomplished on a small budget and a brief shooting schedule.

Former fundamentalist Kirk Davis’ “Screen Door Jesus” is sort of an overly hyper-Robert-Altman-esque look at Christianity in the boondocks. Inspired by the true story of a Christ image appearing on a screen door, this effort is beautifully shot and boasts several fine performances. Yet the overly long film loses focuses several times, runs out of story, and winds up being as grating as a crown of thorns on a bald man.

“No Sleep ’til Madison,” directed by Peter Rudy, Erik Moe, and David Fleer, is a crowd-pleasing laugher about a group of immature, beer-drinking white heterosexual men who make a journey to numerous high-school hockey games. A problem arises when some of the guys start maturing but at different rates. If you like pucks and ale, you’ll adore “Madison.”

Most creative of the quintet was Greg Pak’s “Robot Stories.” Featuring a mostly Asian-American cast, these four moving, slightly futuristic tales ponder how robots will change our lives and our nature. The best is the opening episode in which a couple who wants to adopt a human baby is forced to display their nurturing skills on a robotic child.

Also being nurtured at the fest was a newish marketing tool called filmBUZZ. For select films, audience members are supplied with questionnaires asking them to rate the feature they just saw. If you need to know the age, ethnicity, and income of the folks who adore or despise your flick, contact these folks.

And if you want to book a film with a lot of positive buzz, contact the producers of Bob Odenkirk’s “Melvin Goes to Dinner.” Michael Bleiden, who wrote and stars in this comic dinner-conversation tale, boasted near the Tivoli’s candy counter that this was his 14th or 15th festival. “This is our last one. Oh, no, there’s one more. There’s Sante Fe.

So what about all the buzz?

“I’m so tongue-tied when it comes to talking about the experience,” Bleiden said. “People have come up and told me they have liked it. I know that that has happened. The Sundance Channel is putting out the DVD on December 16. I feel that’s when Melvin’s second life starts.”

Sorrel Ahlfeld’s clever short “Love & Stuff” is actually about a second life of sorts. This beautifully realized offering tells of a dying sculptress who seduces a taxidermist in order that he preserve her body after she dies. Fine performances by Kelly Aucoin and Patricia Ageheim make this one a fatally worthwhile viewing experience.

As for the young and ambitious Frank McKeown, this handsome helmer might know more about marketing than directing and writing, but sometimes that all it takes. If you missed his 29-minute-long “Inches,” a look at two self-involved losers in a gym who decide they want to date each other, he’ll hand you the DVD that includes audio commentary with the director, alternate endings, storyboarding of the flick, plus a trailer. Lord knows what he’s going to do when he directs his first feature.

Equally ambitious, but with more depth and skill, is David Presley, who just flew 1100 miles to St. Louis with his antiwar short, “Face of the Enemy.” “I just wrapped a film yesterday, Fred Schepisi’s ‘Empire Falls,’ in Maine,” Presley said. “It stars Ed Harris, Helen Hunt, and Paul Newman. I was the video engineer. I ran all the playbacks for the director. That’s the best education for directing, sitting with the director all day.”

As for Presley’s own flick: “The reactions have been good. It’s a moral tale saying that the enemy no matter who he is, are all just people. It’s the politics of the leaders or whatever else that controls the poor folks who are doing the actual fighting, doing the killing of each other.”

As for this festival?

“St. Louis is a beautiful city,” Presley grinned. “It’s a really good festival.”

FESTIVAL WINNERS (information provided by the St. Louis International Film Festival)

Audience Choice Best of Fest:

“Clipping Adam” directed by Michael Picchiottino

Audience Choice Best International Feature:

“The Butterfly” directed by Philippe Muyl

Audience Choice Best Documentary:

“Six Heroes” directed by Alex Townsend (St. Louisan)


Documentaries: (tie)

“Bonhoeffer” directed by Martin Doblmeir

“To Be and To Have” directed by Nicolas Philibert

Feature: “Edi” directed by Piotr Trzaskalski


Sundance Channel Emerging Director Award: “No Sleep ’til Madison” directed
by Peter Rudy, Erik Moe, and David Fleer

Best Original Screenplay: “Robot Stories,” directed by Greg Pak

Best Actor/Actress: Wai Ching Ho as Bernice in “Robot Stories,” directed by
Greg Pak

Best emerging actor: Eugene P. Williams as Robroy Conroy in “Screen Door
Jesus,” directed by Kirk Davis

Shorts Subjects:


“Ponteuse” directed by Buck Griffiths, produced by Matt Krentz (St. Louisan)

Honorable Mention:

“Bill’s Seat” directed by Karl Shefelman

“Mrs. Meitelemeihr” directed by Graham Rose


“Bill’s Seat” directed by Karl Shefelman

Honorable Mention:

“Street of Pain” directed by Tyrone Finch and Jeremy Hall

“Colorforms” directed by Eva Saks


“Dear Sweet Emma” directed by John Cernak

Honorable Mention:

“Plumber” directed by Andy Knight and Richard Rosenman

“Tim Tom” directed by Christel Pougeoise


“The Collector of Bedford Street” directed by Alice Elliott

Honorable Mention:

“Gaslight Square: The Forgotten Landmark” directed by Bruce Marrens

“A View From the Top: KXOX in the 60s” directed by Richard True, Dennis
Dailey, and Cynthia Freeman


“Beautiful Memory Picture” directed by Keith Clark (former St. Louisan)

Honorable Mention:

“Gaslight Square: The Forgotten Landmark” directed by Bruce Marrens

“Lap Dancing” directed by Brent Huff


“Mrs. Meitelemeihr” directed by Graham Rose

Honorable Mention:

“Abbie Down East” directed by Ellen-Alinda Verhoett

“Pink” directed by Ed Gass-Donnelly

“Masterpiece Monday” directed by Glenn Forbes

SLIFF Fleur de Lis Awards

Cinema St. Louis Award
The annual Cinema St. Louis Award honors filmmakers with strong St. Louis ties who have made significant contributions to the art of cinema. Stan Kann, long-time Fox Theatre organist, is the 2003 recipient of this honor.

Modern Master Award
Lifetime Achievement Awards are presented to major film artists with substantial and consistently excellent bodies of work. Jim Sheridan, director of “In America,” is the 2003 honoree of this award.

Women in Film Award
The inaugural St. Louis International Film Festival Women in Film Award will be presented to documentary filmmaker Yvonne Welbonfor her film “Sisters in Cinema.”

Screen Actors Guild Emerging Actor Award
The St. Louis International Film Festival and the local branch of Screen Actor’s Guild honor young St. Louis actors now gaining national recognition. This year we will honor three bright young talents with this award:

Sarah Clarke, co-star of Fox’s 24 and St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase short subject “The Third Date.”

Pooja Kumar, co-star of feature film “Flavors.”

Evan Peters, title role in feature film “Clipping Adam.”

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