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BIG-SCREEN EPIC

Comprehensive coverage of the Eighth Annual St. Louis International Film Festival

The eighth annual St. Louis International Film Festival (SLIFF) is held Oct. 29-Nov. 7 at the Plaza Frontenac (210 Plaza Frontenac, Lindbergh Boulevard and Clayton Road), Tivoli (6350 Delmar Blvd.) and West Olive (12657 Olive Blvd.) theaters. Tickets for fest events (including seminars and coffees) are $7 each and available at the venues one hour before the event. A variety of passes are also available: a six-film pass for $36; a 12-film pass for $72; and a gold pass, which includes all films and special events, for $300. New Filmmakers Forum (NFF) passes, which include all NFF films, seminars and special events, cost $50 for the general public and $30 for students. Passes may be purchased in person at the SLIFF office, 55 Maryland Plaza, until opening day; passes are available throughout the fest at the venues.

Special events include a prefestival screening of The Big Brass Ring at the Esquire (6706 Clayton Rd.) on Oct. 28; a Spin magazine "Meet the Filmmakers and Stars" party at Blueberry Hill (6504 Delmar Blvd.) on Oct. 30 (cost is $20); a screening of the silent The Phantom of the Opera, with accompaniment by the New Music Circle, at the Tivoli on Halloween; an Alliance Française-sponsored happy hour before the Nov. 4 Tivoli screening of Train of Life at Brandt's Market & Cafe (6525 Delmar Blvd.); an NFF opening-night party at Blueberry Hill on Nov. 5 (cost is $20); four NFF seminars at the Tivoli on Nov. 5; coffee and conversation with NFF filmmakers at Blueberry Hill on Nov. 6 and 7; a screening of The Brian Epstein Story at St. Louis University High School (4970 Oakland Ave.) on Nov. 6; and a free closing-night awards party at the Sheraton Clayton Plaza Hotel (7730 Bonhomme Ave.) on Nov. 7.

Sidebars to the festival include the New Filmmakers Forum (NFF), a juried competition showcasing work by emerging directors; the Documentary Sidebar (DS), an audience-vote competition of nonfiction films; the African-American Sidebar (AA), films focusing on the theme of "Sights and Sounds of Urban Realism"; and the Critic's Choice Showcase (CC), selections by area reviewers of underappreciated or underseen films of the past 15 years. Films appearing in sidebars are noted by an acronym preceding the movie's name.

For more information, call the festival hotline at 367-FEST (3378).

Capsule reviews are written by Safir Ahmed, Diane Carson, David Ehrenstein, Cliff Froehlich, Bill Gallo, Glenn Gaslin, Frank Grady, John Hodge, Brian Hohlfeld, Robert Hunt, Chris King, Andy Klein, Melissa Levine, Kevin Renick, Randall Roberts, Joseph M. Schuster, Eddie Silva, Luke Y. Thompson and R D Zurick. "NR" indicates the film is not reviewed.

Thursday, Oct. 28

Esquire

7 p.m.: The Big Brass Ring. George Hickenlooper, U.S., 1999, 95 min. Introduced and discussed by Hickenlooper and producer Michael Beugg. See feature on page 18.

Friday, Oct. 29

Plaza Frontenac

6:30 p.m.: Abilene. Joe Camp III, U.S., 1999, 104 min. An earnest rural drama cut from the Hallmark Hall of Fame mold, Abilene is, to paraphrase Abe Lincoln, the kind of movie that will be liked by those who like this kind of movie. The first film by writer/director Camp, Abilene has some great casting and a story that's whisper-thin. Hotis (Ernest Borgnine) receives word from his sister-in-law Emmeline (the wonderful Kim Hunter) that his estranged brother has suffered a stroke. Emmeline also happens to be Hotis' long-lost love. In a story point no doubt inspired by the same true incident dramatized in David Lynch's The Straight Story, Hotis sets out on the 100-mile journey on a riding mower. It's supposed to be a journey of self-discovery, but Borgnine, as charming and surprising as his performance is, stopped being introspective somewhere around 1963, and the simple, straightforward script doesn't help him much. We're in Horton Foote country without the subtext, and it's left to the actors to deliver the insight. Fortunately, Camp has some good ones, especially Hunter, whose radiant performance gives the film its emotional center. Introduced and discussed by Hunter. (BH)

9 p.m.: All About My Mother (Todo Sobre Mi Madre). Pedro Almodovar, Spain, 1999, 101 min. In his most mature, least manic film to date, acclaimed Spanish director Almodovar uses the accidental death of an adored teenage son to send distraught mother Manuela on a journey of symbolic and literal discovery. Searching for the absent father now known as Lola, Manuela builds a substitute family, including a nun and her agitated mother, a famous actress and her junkie, and a transsexual prostitute. Coping with grief through new friendships and an admirable resilience of spirit, Manuela reinvents her life through the theater and its community. All About My Mother celebrates and moves us with joyful and humorous, ironic and sad moments in Manuela's struggle. Superb performances by all, accomplished cinematography and art direction, Alberto Iglesias' effective music and, above all, heartfelt empathy for the human struggle earned Almodovar this year's best-director award at Cannes. In Spanish with English subtitles. (DC)

Tivoli

7 p.m.: Last Night. Don McKellar, Canada, 1998, 93 min. What would you do if you knew the world was going to end at midnight tonight? How would you spend your last hours? With whom and where? What record would you want to play as time ran out? These are the questions posed in the award-winning Canadian film Last Night, a touching, funny, heart-wrenching and ultimately life-affirming film set in Toronto during the last six hours of life on Earth. The reason for the planet's demise is never revealed, and it doesn't matter; instead, filmmaker McKellar, who also stars, focuses on a handful of characters and their ultimate choices. At the same time, McKellar invites us to look at our own lives. Midnight comes daily, after all, and the choices we make in the hours preceding are just as revealing and important as they would be on the last night of our lives. Introduced and discussed by McKellar. (BH)

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