Meet our first MasterMinds: The RFT rewards four outstanding young St. Louis-based artists in the categories of film/video, visual arts, literary arts and performing arts

I love my job. Like any job, it can be a pain; I suppose that, were this the best of all possible worlds, I'd be lying in a hammock on some (climate- and bug-controlled) beach being alternately fed bon bons, lobster pad thai and expedition-grade tequila. Oh, and a massage. At least twice daily.

But we take what pleasure we can get in the world in which we find ourselves, and by and large my job is, well, fun.

At least that's what I thought right up until the day two weeks ago that I telephoned the four recipients of this year's inaugural Riverfront Times MasterMind Awards and broke the news that we intended to present them with grants of $2,500 apiece, no strings attached.

Matthew Krentz
Jennifer Silverberg
Matthew Krentz

That, my friends, is pleasure. By which I mean pure, unalloyed capital-G capital-F Good Feeling. Since then I've gushed (uncharacteristically, I might add) countless times to countless people that my goal now is to be rich, just so I can give away money.

As we said when we embarked on this project, the intent of the MasterMind Awards is to honor the innovators whose cultural and creative contributions are helping to redesign — and redefine — St. Louis.

Before we introduce the four 2008 MasterMinds, each of whom is profiled in the pages of the Fall Arts Guide you now hold in your hands, I'd like to single out some of the many folks and organizations that offered their time and counsel.

The Regional Arts Council and the St. Louis Artists' Guild, for generously sharing their resources. Cliff Froelich of Cinema St. Louis, for supplying his much-appreciated perspective, as well as piles of DVDs. Kim Humphries, artist extraordinaire and Critical Mass board member, for his patience and arts smarts. David Clewell, because he's a magus. And, finally, graphics wizard Scott Gericke of designlab,inc for creating the MasterMinds logo and designing the cover of this supplement.

To those I've neglected to mention: Totally my bad! I'll try to do better next year.

Film/Video Mastermind: Matthew Krentz
Matthew Krentz wrote the script for Streetballers in just 30 days. He took a bit longer — two years, to be exact — to cast the film. Krentz didn't seek his actors in theater departments or formal auditions. Instead, he went to the dramatic epicenter of the city: its basketball courts. He met with ballers in street games and on playgrounds. He consulted with Preston Thomas, the Forest Park Community College coach who once called the shots for the Harlem Globetrotters. And he picked his star, Jimmy McKinney, out of a crowd.

"Jimmy's a natural," Krentz says of the former Mizzou powerhouse who now plays pro ball in Germany. "He has that smile, that charisma. I had confidence in my ability to direct, and I was confident in Jimmy's ability to act."

And McKinney shines as Jacob Whitmore, a sweet guy from the north side who must balance basketball, family issues and his coursework at Forest Park Community College. As John Hogan, an Irish-American ballplayer with a tough family life, Krentz proves that his acting is on par with his significant writing and directing capabilities.

There's a third major star in Streetballers, and that's St. Louis. The film's extraordinary cinematography captures the city's strange beauty and hard truths, from the dark-paneled booths of south-side taverns to the pounding rhythms of north city's pickup-basketball scene. Krentz would not have considered shooting the film anywhere else.

"St. Louis is very authentic, and so full of untapped resources," he explains. "There's just this St. Louis energy that's very supportive."

That energy hummed on July 24, when Streetballers made its St. Louis premiere at the Tivoli Theatre during Cinema St. Louis' annual St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase. The screening sold out. People packed the aisles. Krentz was delighted by the warm reception and by the diversity of the crowd. The film took Best Dramatic Feature honors at the festival and will screen again here in November at the St. Louis International Film Festival.

The momentum built by Streetballers gives Krentz hope for his in-the-works projects. He's producing Sugar on the Floor, a female-driven drama written by Streetballers co-producer Vernon Whitlock. Sugar won the Grand Jury Special Prize for best original screenplay at the Urbanworld screenwriting competition. But when actor Blair Underwood (Dirty Sexy Money, In Treatment) offered to purchase and direct the film, Krentz and Whitlock politely declined.

"Vernon needs to make his directorial debut," Krentz says of his friend, whom he describes as talented and determined. "Besides, Underwood wouldn't have made this movie in St. Louis."

Krentz's dedication to his hometown is genuine and refreshing. He finds his best stories here. Krentz isn't much for schmoozy film-scene parties; he prefers to shoot pool with friends. It's during these encounters with "real people," as Krentz describes them, that he finds the rhythm for his dialogue and the inspiration for his characters.

Having never gone to film school, Krentz relies instead upon experience and the mentorship of others. He studied marketing at Rockhurst, a Jesuit university in Kansas City, but quickly found that business held no appeal for him. There was, however, one class he loved: a seminar on cold-calling. The students were asked to sell a product to a customer with no interest in buying. Krentz was great at making the sale — not because he's a consummate businessman, he reasons, but because he loves acting. The film bug bit hard, and upon a subsequent weekend visit to St. Louis, Krentz summoned the courage to tell his mother about his new career plan.

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