"It amazes me each year how much great work is going on out there," says Chris Clark, artistic director of Cinema St. Louis. Although this comes from a man who sees films from all over the world, he's not talking here about Iran, Hong Kong or any other trendy hotbed of world cinema. This time "out there" is "in here."
The St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase is a celebration and exhibition of local cinema, from talent that has been under your nose all along. It started humbly two years ago as a weekend-long event at the Tivoli Theatre run by the St. Louis Film Office. But when the Office folded, Cinema St. Louis (the group that puts on the St. Louis International Film Festival) took it under its well-established wing. They moved it, expanded it and added a "prize": consideration for inclusion within SLIFF itself and thus exposure to critics, distributors and festival junkies.
With more than 50 films to be screened, though, competition will be fierce. The vast majority are shorts, grouped into loosely themed programs ("Soothing the Savage Beast," "It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time," etc.), and they range from comic vignettes to experiments, such as sequences of Buddhist monuments "evolving rhythmically" to Thai jazz music. Documentaries are well represented this year, covering topics that include the Lemp Mansion, the Treaty of Versailles and, notably, "Jackie Robinson," directed by Ladue Middle School auteur Joe Anton.
But it's the full-length selections that will garner the most interest. Daniel Byington's Radio Free St. Louis: This is Chuck Norman profiles the well-known businessman and philanthropist. Meanwhile, Bruce Marren's Gaslight Square: The Forgotten Landmark goes further into the past to show the history of St. Louis' original hipster district. And Amphetamine, directed by Chris Grega, has a gala premiere at the Pageant.
A lively tale of four guns-for-hire planning to rob their drug boss, Amphetamine has been three years in the making and its ambition shows. While you may feel you've seen some of it before (in various heist films or in Swingers), the actors are engaging and the film's Tarantino-esque dialogue is smooth and well-oiled. Furthermore, its well-used location shots of the Courtesy Diner, Rocket Bar and other hangouts should be snapped up by Metropolis and other groups looking to make the city cool again.
Grega, a self-taught filmmaker, wasn't looking to inspire tourism, though. "Amphetamine could really take place anywhere," he says. "That's what I love about shooting here -- it's so versatile." Indeed, with its sharp writing and labyrinthine double-crosses, it holds up not just as a "St. Louis movie" but as a heist thriller in its own right. Clark is equally supportive of the film's crossover chances. "Whoever does not show up that night will wish that they did or lie to their grandchildren about it later."