The St. Louis International Film Festival kicked November 2 and runs through November 12. As always, there’s a packed calendar full of features, documentaries, and shorts—international films we’d otherwise never get to see here, films we’ll see garlanded on a future Oscars night, and projects with local ties, from shorts by young up-and-coming St. Louis filmmakers to major studio films produced by former locals.
Bad Grandmas, November 2
Shot in Columbia, Illinois (and Fenton), this fast-paced, quirky comedy from Srikant Chellappa and Jack Snyder (Ghost Image, Fatal Call), this is SLIFF’s opening night film. It stars Pam Grier (more on that in a moment!) and the late Florence Henderson in her last role. Chellapa, in his interview with Tom Stockman of We Are Movie Geeks, describes it as a Cohen Brothers-style dark comedy. “The idea for Bad Grandmas actually came one night when sitting in a house in St. Charles where my ex mother-in-law would get together with her friends to play cards on a Saturday night,” Chellapi told Stockman. “My mind started wandering and I thought what if these ladies, who are all in their 60s and 70s were actually murderers, nobody would ever know.”
Tribute to Pam Grier, November 3
Grier is best known for her appearances in blaxploitation films like Coffy and Foxy Brown, though she was also an accomplished theater actress. Grier shone in every role (which you’ll see during the tribute reel SLIFF has assembled), but the festival is choosing to screen Quinton Tarantino’s 1997 film Jackie Brown in its entirety. As film critic Charles Taylor noted of that project, “Grier essays the role with incredible grace and goes beyond it, making the movie an elegy for a career that should have leapt beyond the tawdry confines of blaxploitation…. It’s likely that most movies would have been too small to contain the magnificence of Pam Grier. The crime is that they never even tried.” SLIFF awards Grier a Women in Film Award, and the evening also includes a wide-ranging interview with Grier by Novotny Lawrence (Blaxploitation Films of the 1970s: Blackness and Genre).
River to the Heart, November 4
Even in the 21st century, traveling by boat from the headwaters of the Missisippi to the Gulf of Mexico is challenging. Lots of people don’t make it, and end up abandoning their quest before they make it out of Missouri. Writer and former St. Louisan Eddy Harris not only traveled the entire river in a canoe, but wrote a gorgeous book about the experience, Mississippi Solo, then repeated that journey at the age of 60. This documentary follows him on this trip, exploring the heart of America through the river and the people who live alongside it. Along the way, the film plumbs contemporary issues like environmental degradation, the economic hollowing out of middle America, and how the Black experience in both urban and rural enviornments. Bonus for us locals: there’s a substantial segment shot here in St. Louis.
Never Been a Time, November 5
Denise Ward-Brown told SLM‘s Jeannette Cooperman in a recent interview that historian Charles Lumpkins, whom she interviewed for this documentary on the massacre in East St. Louis in 1917, that the event was not a “race riot”—it was a pogrom, “an ethnic cleansing, closer to state-sponsored annihilation than random anger,” she said. “The newspapers tried to frame it as economic—a fight over jobs and strikebreaking—even though, in the U.S. congressional hearings, no one brought up any violence from strikebreakers. Dr. Lumpkins saw the framework as politics: The black community was gaining political power and organizing voting blocs to get their candidates elected.” Jumping off from the events of 1917, Ward-Brown examines the African-American experience in the present day, including the deaths of young men like Philadro Castile and Black Lives Matter.
St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase Sampler, November 6
If you missed the Filmmakers’ Showcase back in July, here’s your chance to watch some of the most talented local movie-makers ply their craft. On the schedule: “Driver’s Ed,” by Chase Norman; “The Gift,” by Tim Garrett; “He Who Listens,” by Maxine du Maine & Maalik Shakoor; “Latido de Corazón,” by Hadley Schnuck; “Lester Leaps In,” by Mike Steinberg; “Mike Sidwell, Strongman,” by Brian Jun; “The Night Owl,” by Anthony Nicolau; “Sanctuary,” by Ashley Seering and Corey Byers; and “Spitting Image,” by Maxine du Maine.
Birdboy: The Forgotten Children, November 7
This animated feature, based on Alberto Vázquez’s graphic novel Birdboy, is not made for kids—it’s much too dark. The characters are drawn like old school comic strip animals, but they live in a ruined, post-apocalyptic world, where they struggle to maintain their decency under the most extreme of circumstances. The plot revolves around Dinky the mouse and her friend Birdboy, and how the pair work together to escape the ecologically devastated island they are trapped on. Though it’s not appropriate for children, older teens will no doubt appreciate the message: how do you, as a young adult, engage with a world that’s bascially being ruined by the adults who were here before you? “Among the many vastly more expensive, live-action dystopian visions of recent cinema, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything as original or surprisingly poignant,” Variety wrote in its review. ““Sardonic, cruel, funny, macabre, yet surprisingly good-hearted, this bizarre adventure won’t fit into standard commercial theatrical slots for animated features. But deserved critical and fan support should eventually guide it to its niche audience.”
Clash, November 8
Set during the Arab Spring, the action takes place entirely in the back of a police paddy wagon—and the fact that it’s still so gripping and emotionally affecting is testament to the skill of director Mohamed Diab. (This is his follow-up to his critically acclaimed feature Cairo 678). Clash premiered at Cannes, to great praise. “Gabr’s handheld camerawork significantly contributes to the near-constant feeling of unease, where everything is off-balance and the viewer feels practically as shaken as the characters,” Variety wrote. “Aside from the keen sense of claustrophobia, the lensing captures in horrifying, quick-eyed observation the chaos outside, from a shocking mob stoning early on to a truly petrifying riot on a spaghetti junction flyover. At the end, the message is clear: any sense of national unity has disintegrated, and the escalating violence is driving Egypt over the edge into bedlam.”
The Light of the Moon, November 9
In light of the revelations about Harvey Weinstein’s decades-long abuse of women in the film industry, SLIFF replaced his film The Upside with The Light of the Moon, which takes the subject of sexual assault head-on. “Instead of simply putting in a film that we thought would do well, we thought, ‘Let’s try and address the subject,'” Cinema St. Louis executive director Cliff Froehlich told SLM‘s Sarah Kloeppe. The screening will be followed by a panel organized by St. Louis’ own Safe Connections. Panelists include cinematographer, Autumn Eakin, a Webster University alum; Safe Connections’ executive director, Susan D. Kidder, as well as Dan Pearson the org’s prevention director; and Metro STL YWCA CEO Adrian Bracy. All proceeds from the screening will go to suppor the work of Safe Connections and the YWCA’s Women’s Place program.
Call Me By Your Name, November 10 (Sponsored by Ted Wight)
One of the biggest breakouts at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Luca Guadagnino’s adaptation of André Aciman’s novel has won accolades all through the year as it’s traveled the festival circuit. Set in Italy during the early 1980s, it follows an intellectually precocious but still naive teenage boy, who finds himself falling in love with Oliver, his father’s 20-year-old grad school intern. After complaining about a rather dry, uninspiring Sundance, Vanity Fair film critic Richard Lawson wrote that it was rescued by this film, a work of art of “such dizzying beauty and rich, genuine feeling that if I were to go home today, I would still call the whole festival a success…the film is a swirling wonder, a film about coming of age, about the secrets of youth, the magic of summer, the beauty of Italy. As a steady and unrelenting snow descended on Park City, Call Me by Your Name kissed Sundance with light and warmth.”
For Akheem, November 11
This critically acclaimed documentary premiered at the Berlin Film Festival, and went on to the Tribeca and Toronto Film Festivals, but was shot right here in St. Louis. It follows 17-year-old Daje Shelton, who’s attending Judge Jimmie Edwards’ Innovative Concept Academy, working to better her life despite the poverty, systemic racism, and intergenerational trauma that’s par for the course for kids growing up in North City. And then she has a baby—the Akheem of the title—and begins her fight not just for her own future, but her son’s as well. The Hollywood Reporter called the film “a quietly impactful documentary with the texture of a narrative feature,” and IndieWire called it the film that redefined what a documentary film could be in 2017.
Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra: The Blot, November 12
On the last night of the festival, SLIFF celebrates pioneering woman director Lois Weber, who’s been called “the most important female director the American film industry has known.” SLIFF will screen a restored print of her 1921 filmThe Blot with a live score from STL’s own Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra. Weber’s film was ahead of its time in its use of acutal locations and natural light, as well as its subject matter: the struggles of women who are born to “genteel” families who, thorugh circumstance, end up in poverty and are forced to make terrible, self-destructive decisions as a result. Nearly a decade before making The Blot, Weber pioneered the split-screen technique in filmmaking, and made some of the first films with sound. A great companion piece to The Blot is Wanda, Barbara Loden’s groundbreaking, cinema verite film from 1970, which tackles some similar issues. Wanda screens on November 11, and features a post-screening panel with local film critic Diane Carson and publisher Danielle Dutton, whose imprint Dorothy recently published an acclaimed book on the film, Suite for Barbara Loden.
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