By Alan Scherstuhl
By Chuck WIlson
By Amy Nicholson
By Chris Klimek
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Stephanie Zacharek
SLIFF celebrates its sweet sixteenth with a two-week party.
The St. Louis International Film Festival (November 8 through 18) could easily overwhelm you with the quantity and quality of its selections this year; the RFT staff discovered this the hard way when we perused the schedule and collectively chose to review more films than could fit in the paper — what follows are our day-by-day picks for just the first week of the festival. (Head online to find even more staff suggestions for the second week of the festival.) But there was also another lesson learned after the big box of screeners showed up at the office, and a small yet violent fistfight broke out between two staffers over the rights to review Election Day. Experience bested youthful vigor in that tussle, but the keen lesson gleaned from the fracas was this: People get fired up for quality films. And the SLIFF is rife with them, from documentaries to features to short subjects. Hopefully no fights break out in line; if they do, avoid a genial-looking, red-haired fella with a dastardly right hook — he'll see whatever movie he darn well pleases.
Visit www.cinemastlouis.org for a look at the full schedule. Tickets are $10 per screening, but various levels of festival passes are available.
Falaq and Rukahs, USA
7:15 p.m. Friday, November 9, at the Tivoli Theatre (6350 Delmar Boulevard, University City) This film hits you like a shotgun blast to the groin. Breaking down the topic of AIDS in the African-American community, directors Falaq and Rukahs of St. Louis hip-hop crew the Apostlez have crafted a film that is equal parts documentary, blaxploitation, performance art, music video and Schoolhouse Rock propaganda. What makes the work unique, other than its scattershot approach, is the fact that it runs the gamut in terms of African-American culture and music. While the soundtrack has a decidedly Southern hip-hop flavor (it was filmed in St. Louis, after all), there are segments that feature blues, electronica and experimental jazz. Similarly, though most of the documentary and narrative aspects of the film center on lower middle-class and poor blacks dealing with AIDS, there are also white-collar workers and a segment devoted to the taboo topic of black males engaging in closeted gay sex. A raw, powerful and unique film.— Keegan Hamilton
Hear and NowIrene Taylor Brodsky, USA
If you flip a light switch on and off but can't hear it, does it make a sound? After 65 years of deafness, Sally and Paul Taylor don't know. But they've both elected to undergo cochlear implant surgery in the hope of restoring their hearing, and if all goes well, they'll finally find out. Written, directed and largely narrated by their daughter, Irene Taylor Brodsky, Hear and Now follows Sally and Paul's lives (both are graduates of the Central Institute for the Deaf) through family photos and home videos as they deal with their collective apprehension and cautious hope for a successful outcome. Save the too-frequent cutaway shots — mostly incoming waves and birds in flight — this documentary is thoughtfully and lovingly shot by Taylor Brodsky as she tries to answer the film's question she posits early on: "They are just really good at being deaf people...at this point, why hear now?"
— Kristie McClanahan
We Are TogetherPaul Taylor, UK/South Africa
The children of Agape want you to hear them sing. As their angelic voices crescendo, they combine into a harmonious force. It's generally quite easy to ignore South African orphans like these — many the offspring of AIDS victims — because their country, culture and troubles seem far removed from our own. We Are Together, a must-see at the festival, brings us much closer to their reality; the documentary portrays a struggling family that has suffered the loss of both parents in an honest and inspiring way. Singing reinforces the family bonds, whether they're singing in a tiny sky-blue, two-room family home or when six of the children sing at Agape, "a place for kids without parents." That is how Slindile puts it, a 12-year-old with an unwavering spirit and an almost-perfect pitch. While the amalgamation of heart-wrenching topics makes this film a definite tearjerker, it's equally uplifting and packs in a few surprises along the way.
— Jeanette Kozlowski
Election DayKaty Chevigny, USA
Shortly before midnight on Election Day 2004, the splenetic reality begins to root and fester: George W. Bush has squeaked out another term. No hanging chads this time, but again our quadrennial day of destiny has been fouled by voting irregularities, mainly in the heavily Democratic precincts of Ohio. At this point the camera zooms in on the anguished face of a woman in Stockholm, Wisconsin. "How," she asks, "did this country get to be so divided? Has it always been this way?" This feature-length documentary is rife with such poignant and, at times, infuriating montage. Tracking an eclectic assemblage of voters the full maddening day of November 2, 2004, award-winning director Katy Chevigny sticks a thermometer into America's collective mouth. There's the international election observer in St. Louis, astonished to see voters waiting in line for more than two hours. There's the officious Republican Committee man in Chicago rallying the rottweiler wing of his party: "We got to keep control!" And there's the young African-American woman in Ohio who gets the runaround about what precinct she's permitted to vote in, until she cries out, "This is so monumental. I have to vote." What Election Day does best is steer clear of two-party warfare — in fact, we never hear the names of Bush or John Kerry even mentioned — and offer instead a nuanced and entertaining portrait of average Americans badly wanting to perform their electoral duties in a climate of language barriers, disenfranchisement and confounding ballot practices. As a Wisconsin farmer puts it, "They had four years to get this right!" — Ellis E. Conklin
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