Reel Change

The St. Louis International Film Festival has revamped its organizational structure and enlisted new personnel. Two former programmers aren't impressed with the résumés.

"I'll give you a perfect example. We did a Sinatra salute a couple of years ago, and one of the things we wanted to get was Ocean's Eleven. Now, 'Let's get Ocean's Eleven, great.' It's a Rat Pack movie, and we had this big thing going at the Fox Theatre with a big band and a Sinatra sound-alike. The only problem is, there's no print of Ocean's Eleven available. I ended up -- this is the truth -- I ended up using Martin Scorsese's personal copy of Ocean's Eleven for no charge.

"Now, I want you to know, if you think that was easy to accomplish, easy to locate, if you think it's just picking up a phone and saying, 'Marty, it's Audrey ...'" She laughs at her own impersonation of a mogul.

Still, if Clark lacks experience, he isn't lacking in vision. He's proposed that the festival be slimmed down, with fewer films (and select films receiving additional screenings) and venues kept within the radius of the city's central corridor: the Tivoli, the Hi-Pointe, the St. Louis Art Museum, the Missouri Historical Society. The most radical element of his proposal is the exclusion of Plaza Frontenac. Last year, the festival ballooned to more than 100 films, with Frontenac and the AMC West Olive 16 extending the event into West County. Clark believes less would provide more, allowing for "a festival environment -- drive 10 minutes down Skinker and go to another film."

St. Louis International Film Festival's Shirley Marvin, executive director, and Chris Clark, film-program manager. According to Clark, "I've worked in restaurants and hotels and things for most of my life. I'm used to dealing with the public and dealing with people on the phone -- not so much the negotiation part of it, but I think I can work that out."
Jennifer Silverberg
St. Louis International Film Festival's Shirley Marvin, executive director, and Chris Clark, film-program manager. According to Clark, "I've worked in restaurants and hotels and things for most of my life. I'm used to dealing with the public and dealing with people on the phone -- not so much the negotiation part of it, but I think I can work that out."
Audrey Hutti, former film-fest programmer: "I'm very proud of what I was able to accomplish. I will put my programming up there, say, 'Take a look at it. What do you think?'"
Jennifer Silverberg
Audrey Hutti, former film-fest programmer: "I'm very proud of what I was able to accomplish. I will put my programming up there, say, 'Take a look at it. What do you think?'"

He's also well aware of the festival's status in the international film world. St. Louis is considered a "C market" (C-plus at best) and does not even come close to the rank of the "destination" festivals, unable to offer the Colorado Rockies in late summer (Telluride), the Utah ski slopes in winter (Sundance) or the Càte d'Azur in spring (Cannes). It's just St. Louis, all year long. But with the proper promotion, he believes, SLIFF can break through the attendance plateau (around 12,000 tickets sold each of the last three years) and offer films that won't be seen anywhere else in town. "In the past," says Clark, "it was felt that it was important to have some major studio releases. I feel it's a waste of time. Why bother? If it's a big theatrical release, it's coming here anyway. Why should we do that? Why should we waste a slot when we could get something else that may never come here, or may come here in a year, or might wind up at Webster in three years, or might be in Chicago is the closest it ever gets? We'd like to offer the public an opportunity to see these things that as a C market -- which I guess we are -- we probably won't get or may get late or have to drive 400 miles to see it."

Clark also sets as a goal greater visibility for SLIFF throughout the year. For example, a screening of this year's Sundance hit Girlfight, a feature film that focuses on women boxers as its main protagonists, will be sponsored by the festival this September, with director Karyn Kusama -- a former St. Louisan -- in attendance. "We need to bring more film and keep our name alive throughout the year."

Both Jones and Hutti agree with Clark's assessments (whether they are actually implemented depends on what comes out of that "visioning" session), but Hutti doubts that SLIFF has the people to get those quality films. "Working in the film industry and getting to know the players and the personalities that you have to deal with is a unique enterprise, believe me," she says. "I think you need to build relationships, and they trust you, you trust them. That's how it works. I don't think you can just bring skills from any old nonprofit. I don't believe that. I don't think it's like the Cancer Society. I don't think it's like other nonprofits. It's a very unique entity."

For more information, seeThe Big Picture.

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