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Around the World in Eleven Days

Think globally, watch locally at the fifteenth annual St. Louis International Film Festival.

The St. Louis International Film Festival isn't Telluride or Toronto. Out-of-town cinephiles don't plan their year around it; paparazzi don't pack the streets. But for SLIFF executive director Cliff Froehlich — and, we'd add, for the film-loving St. Louis public — that's a good thing.

"We're a regional festival, not a destination festival," Froehlich says. "But we do think we're offering some of the best films in the world. We're showing many films that simply won't get the opportunity to play in St. Louis. And the best way to see any movie is on the big screen."

Now in its fifteenth year, SLIFF continues to bring in daring films by big-name auteurs: This year's slate includes Werner Herzog's Rescue Dawn, Claude Chabrol's A Comedy of Power and André Téchiné's Changing Times. The inclusion of such esteemed directors is undoubtedly a draw, but this is not just a festival for the art-house set.

Daddy dearest: Mr. Mayor is both an interesting 
documentary and a loving family portrait.
Daddy dearest: Mr. Mayor is both an interesting documentary and a loving family portrait.
Buzzworthy: Everybody's excited about The O Tapes.
Buzzworthy: Everybody's excited about The O Tapes.

"We don't specialize in one type of genre," Froehlich explains. "We can't be all things to all people, but we want to offer a wide selection so that no one feels intimidated. People have this notion that [film] festivals are only for the elite, for cinephiles. In fact, there's a significant number of movies that people would really enjoy if only they gave [them] a shot."

Over the next two weeks, SLIFF will offer many films that deserve a shot. Festivalgoers can attend a midnight screening of The Host, a brilliantly campy Korean monster film. There's a caper film (Ireland's What Means Motley?), two slasher comedies (Behind the Maskand Severance), a gangster movie (Johnny Was) and a charming British teen flick (Starter for Ten). On the opening night of the festival (Friday, November 10), an extraordinary program of animated shorts screens at the Tivoli; selections include "The Fan and the Flower" and "Guide Dog" by Academy Award-winning director Bill Plympton and "Moongirl" by Nightmare Before Christmas director Henry Selick.

This year's festival also brings a number of special events (although, with nearly 50 directors being flown in to discuss their films, one might argue that the screenings themselves qualify as special events). The Sundance Channel New Filmmakers Forum's Emerging Director Award will be given to one of five up-and-coming directors. At 11 a.m. Sunday, November 12, members of the public are invited to stop by the Tivoli and have coffee with the NFF judging panel, which includes New Yorkmagazine film critic David Edelstein (formerly of Slate). And stick around for another treat: a game show in which panelists (including Crumb, Ghost World and Bad Santadirector Terry Zwigoff) watch short documentaries and decide which are real and which are staged.

While there are far too many films and events to include in this space, RFT staffers have reviewed some of the week's most intriguing. (See the November 16 film section for selections from SLIFF's second week.)
Brooke Foster

Fuck(Steve Anderson). First things first: The F-word does not stand for Fornication Under Consent of the King. Or For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. Or anything else. Its origins are a mystery, but word's impact is not. The film points to its omnipresence in culture, from Meet the Fockers to French Connection UK T-shirts to hamburger chain Fuddruckers. Early in Fuck, Sam Donaldson calls the F-bomb "a grand word with so many meanings" and admits using it from time to time. In an I Love the 80s-like fashion, the film is divided into segments, including "Fuck Hollywood," "Fuck Politics" and "Fuck Religion," and talking heads dissect how it's affected each institution. What's so interesting is the film's juxtapositions of evangelicals and Ron Jeremy, of Hunter S. Thompson and Judith "Miss Manners" Martin, of Concerned Women for America and Janeane Garofalo. The movie highlights the arbitrary nature of the word and points to the ridiculousness of the FCC ruling that said it's indecent as a noun but not as an adjective. Some people love the word for its historical contributions and its advancement of free expression, while others claim those four letters hurl us toward a wholly uncivilized existence. All told, this largely entertaining film advances, uh, freedom 629 times. Screens at 9:45 p.m. Monday, November 13, at the Tivoli.
Kristie McClanahan

Mr. Mayor(Michael Barnard) In 1949 Alfonso J. Cervantes placed a phone call to his wife Carmen, effectively kicking off what would become more than two decades of public service to the City of St. Louis. He told her he'd decided to run for alderman of the Fifteenth Ward; she asked him what an alderman was. His reply: "I don't know, but I said I'd do it."

For the Cervanteses, the documentary Mr. Mayor could easily double as a family photo album. Chronicling a deeply personal account of a tumultuous time in St. Louis history, eldest son A.J. Cervantes Jr., who produced the film, combines hundreds of interviews, photos, newspaper clippings, and excellently restored film and audio excerpts to tell the life story of the city's 43rd mayor.

"It's an interesting, classic American rags-to-riches story — a kid from the wrong side of the tracks working hard with enormous energy, becoming hugely successful in business and his family life and politics, and leaving a major imprint on St. Louis," the producer says. We spoke to Cervantes about Mr. Mayor, which opens the St. Louis International Film Festival on Thursday.

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