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BIG-SCREEN EPIC

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

2 p.m.: NFF Seminar: My Shorts Are Showing. A panel on short films and their potential rewards moderated by Kathy Corley, professor of film at Webster University, with panelists Jonathan Buss (director of "Express: Aisle to Glory") and Veena Sud (director of "One Night").

3:30 p.m.: NFF Seminar:Following: How a No-Budget Film Becomes a Festival Darling. A case study on Following, with producer Emma Thomas and Next Wave Films' Mark Stolaroff.

5 p.m.: NFF Seminar: Studio Films, Indie Films and Me. A panel on criticism with critics Rich Cline of BBC Radio, Diane Carson of The Riverfront Times, Joe Holleman of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Audrey Hutti of KSDK (Channel 5).

7 p.m.: NFF: Following. Christopher Nolan, U.K., 1998, 70 min. Bill (Jeremy Theobald) -- out of work, lonely and with a vague notion of becoming a writer -- develops the habit of following strangers down the streets of London. One of his subjects turns out to be Cobb (Alex Haw), a slick young burglar who, as a result of his professional skills, quickly spots Bill and confronts him. He ends up taking Bill under his wing, showing him how a real invader of privacy works. Seduced by what he learns, Bill goes even further and violates one of Cobb's cardinal rules: Based on photos and belongings, he grows so infatuated with Lucy (Lucy Russell), one of their victims, that he contacts her and insinuates himself into her life. The rest of the plot unfolds as a series of genuine surprises; first-time writer/director Nolan packs an amazing number of complications into a film that barely times out at 70 minutes. Despite working on the lowest of budgets, Following hasn't a hint of amateurism, technically or aesthetically. If it has a major flaw, it's that the story is too compact to absorb in a single viewing. Like Bryan Singer's The Usual Suspects, which was almost certainly an influence, the movie's plot revelations make us repeatedly reevaluate our assumptions about what we've seen. Things that may have appeared improbable become more rational as further layers of deception are peeled away. Introduced and discussed by producer Emma Thomas. (AK)

7:15 p.m.: Streetheart. See Oct. 31, Plaza Frontenac.

9:30 p.m.: DS: American Movie/Coven. See Nov. 3, Tivoli.

9:45 p.m.: Shorts Program 2. Program 2 starts off with "Whacked," an outrageous one-joke film by Rolf Gibbs that explains why so many New Yorkers are dropping dead in the middle of the street. The paradoxical "Five O'clock Shadow" (by Traci Carroll) is a fine example of pure cinema, as it tells its creepy story with hardly any dialogue, leaving viewers to ponder what was real and what was dream. Sophia Trone stars in her own worst nightmare, "The Deformation of Myrna Brown," which finds a rash way of proving that you are literally what you eat. Kids suffer untold indignities from their insurgent inflatables in "Billy's Balloon," a twisted but inexplicably funny cartoon by Don Hertzfeldt. "Last Words," by Belgian artist Wim Vandekeybus, is a stagebound and hectic tribute to the Theater of the Absurd. It tells the story of a scream seller and his confrontation with the local tyrant, who attempts to purchase his own dying words in order to cheat death itself. Presented in the form of an educational filmstrip, "Das Clown" (by Tom E. Brown) delivers an AIDS parable of a kindly old shopkeeper's clown doll who comes to life one stormy night to wreak predictable havoc. Swiss composer Dominik Scherrer directed his own noisy opera, "Hell for Leather," substituting grungy bikers for Satan and his followers, who brutally torment the pious in a purposefully bleak London setting. Introduced and discussed by Carroll and Trone. (RDZ)

Midnight: Cannibal!: The Musical. See Oct. 30, Tivoli.

West Olive

7:15 p.m.: Free Enterprise. See Nov. 2, Tivoli.

9:45 p.m.: The Terrorist. See Oct. 31, West Olive.

Saturday, Nov. 6

Blueberry Hill

10 a.m.: NFF: Coffee with the Filmmakers. A discussion with Eight Lanes in Hamilton producer Mark Yaney, The Corndog Man writer/director Andrew Shea and Roberta writer/director Eric Mandelbaum, moderated by He Said, She Said screenwriter Brian Hohlfeld.

Plaza Frontenac

2 p.m.: DS: Kurt Gerron's Karussell. See Oct. 31, West Olive.

4:15 p.m.: West Beirut. See Nov. 1, Plaza Frontenac.

7 p.m.: The War Zone. Tim Roth, U.K., 1999, 98 min. Dramatizing the repulsive, rarely examined horror of father-daughter incest, first-time director and veteran actor Roth doesn't flinch in his presentation of its ugliest moments in The War Zone. Isolated physically in the British countryside and emotionally by repeated denial of the abuse, this perverse nuclear family includes father and mother, 18-year-old daughter and the 15-year-old son from whose viewpoint the narrative unfolds. As in Gary Oldman's Nil by Mouth (which this film resembles in its uncompromising courage), Ray Winstone is again the terrifying, victimizing father. Tilda Swinton is the willfully oblivious mother, preoccupied with her third pregnancy. A fearless director, Roth makes Alexander Stuart's screenplay, based on his 1989 novel, appropriately horrific. Keeping the camera at a respectful distance, Roth uses the characters' silence and gestures, the father's intimidation and brutality to build inexorably to a climactic confrontation. This is a very tough, painfully honest and eminently praiseworthy film. (DC)

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