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
BanishedMarco Williams, USA
When an elderly white man tells director Marco Williams that he moved to Harrison, Arkansas, because the town has no black people, the revelation is shocking not because he admits to his own bigotry — it's that the man had the audacity to say it on camera. But then, that's the genius of Williams' documentary Banished. In exploring the dark secrets of three towns that expelled their black residents during the Jim Crow era, Williams captures modern Americans discussing race with a brutal honesty rarely shared in mixed company. Closest to home is the story of Pierce City, Missouri, which in 1901 sent some 300 African-Americans fleeing after a white woman was allegedly murdered at the hands of a black man. Given its setting in southwest Missouri, it may be easy to dismiss what happened in Pierce City as a historic aberration possible only in rural America. Easy, that is, until one ventures to north St. Louis or any urban city where racial cleansing continues to this day in the form of white flight. — Chad Garrison
OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of SpiesMichael Hazanavicius, France
OSS 117 is the code name of France's greatest secret agent, Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath (Jean Dujardin). He's dapper, he's suave, and he's also a chauvinistic, boorish cad with a vivacious love for French colonialism. These slight character flaws might be problematic on his current mission, as OSS 117 is charged with bringing "lasting peace to the Middle East." And in the Cairo of 1955 (or now), such a man can do much more harm than good. Hazanavicius' sly satire of spy films pokes fun at James Bond, but not in the Austin Powers sense. Dujardin plays it straight, mining the humor in cultural ignorance, the Gallic sense of superiority and the oft-noted homoerotic undertones of the genre with an eloquently arched eyebrow and an effortless panache. Dujardin's cool, jazzy style matches the swingin' score perfectly. It's not a spy movie pastiche — it's homage, with just the right amount of fromage. — Paul Friswold
48 AngelsMarion Comer, Ireland
An emotionally devastating film about faith: its dangers, its rewards and its power to change us. Nine-year-old Seamus (Ciaran Flynn) knows the disease he has will kill him soon. He sets out in a sail-less, oar-less boat in order to find God on the water, just as St. Columcille did &mdash and he finds Him. Or at least, he believes the unconscious, bearded man with the scalp wound and the bleeding abdomen is Him. James (John Travers), the angry Protestant teen he finds almost simultaneously, doesnt believe the man to be God. But Seamus conviction cows the older boy, and the two manage to get him from the beach to a safe house. Together, the trio complete Seamus journey &mdash despite the best efforts of the IRA and the police. Comer uses almost no incidental music; the silence, coupled with the ever-present bleak Irish sky, creates a contemplative, hushed wonder. The uniquely Irish gift of making even the smallest words sound achingly beautiful when spoken aloud and Flynns haunting eyes cause the denouement to be both heartbreaking and life-affirming. — Paul Friswold
Spine Tingler: The William Castle StoryJeffrey Schwarz, USA
Spine Tingler takes you back to a time when going to the movies was an event and a cultural institution. The straightforward documentary tells the story of William Castle, the poor mans Alfred Hitchcock, and a master of 1950s and 60s B-horror movies, famous for the outlandish gimmick promotions that accompanied them. For instance, The Tingler, the 1959 Castle classic starring Vincent Price that lends the documentary its title, required theatres to install electric buzzers under select seats to shock audience members at key times in the film, a setup Castle christened percepto. Castles delightfully low-budget, campy flicks and their ilk defined the horror genre for nearly three decades before the emergence of the70s slasher genre, and the documentary provides insight to the mentality of a different, and infinitely more fun, movie-going era. It's a great primer for those not familiar with Castles work but nothing groundbreaking for cinephiles who have seen it all. — Keegan Hamilton
Orange RevolutionSteve York, USA
Imagine the 2000 election if Al Gore hadn't been allowed to campaign on TV or radio, if someone almost succeeded in killing him and if he really did lose the election unfairly. Would Americans leave their jobs behind to protest in Washington D.C.? Or would they just move on? Although Orange Revolution doesn't pose this exact question, it certainly forces you to entertain the possibility. The documentary follows Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko as the once-handsome man morphs to an unrecognizable, lumpy-skinned survivor of a semi-successful poisoning. After his near-death experience, Yushchenko loses a fraudulent election and his followers are outraged. In late November of 2004, more than half a million Ukrainians migrate to the country's capital (through sleet and snow, mind you) to protest in a nonviolent revolution. Many set up camp in a tent city outside the Central Electoral Commission and work together to eat, sleep and fight for democracy. As evidence people still give a shit, this inspirational documentary is a wake up call for every apathetic voter and cynic.
— Jeanette Kozlowski
The PaperAaron Matthews
Times are tough at The Daily Collegian, Penn States student newspaper. Circulation is down. Too often, the letters to the editor column sits empty. Reporters continually bungle the papers diversity coverage, most embarrassingly referring to a black poker player as Queen of spades. The universitys public-affairs machine infuriates the Collegian staff by blocking access to the administration and football team. The editor in chief declines to make a bigger issue of rape on campus because it happens way too often to be newsworthy. Individual reporters struggle with boredom, sexism and frustration with journalistic objectivity. In short, The Daily Collegian faces the same problems as every other newspaper in America. Aaron Matthews documentary follows the staff through the 2005-06 school year. The Collegians young journalists are clueless, self-righteous and earnest (sometimes painfully so), but they are also dedicated, articulate and resourceful, and all together they &mdash and Matthews &mdash effectively demonstrate how a newspaper functions &mdash or doesnt. — Aimee Levitt
Manual of LoveGiovanni Veronesi, Italy
A breezy, comic examination of the four stages of love &mdashfalling in love, the romantic crisis, the affair and abandonment &mdash Veronesis quartet of stories are linked by briefly shared characters and framed by a popular self-help book that gives the film its title. Each of the four stories is marked by a peculiarly Italian sense of passion that dwarfs the rather limp American conventions of romantic comedy. Tommaso (Silvio Muccino) falls in love with the force of a cannonball, lacking even a shred of doubt. Ornella (Luciana Littizzetto) exacts a brilliant and terrifying vengeance after shes been betrayed by her husband, but not in a Fatal Attraction, clichd manner. And Goffredo (Carlo Verdone), abandoned by his wife, wallows in his misery without resorting to drink, self-abuse or the support of a goofy, comic friend. The result of all this unbridled passion and lovemaking is a charming and unexpectedly inspirational trip through not just the human heart, but the soul. — Paul Friswold
Call of the WildRon Lamothe, USA
The best thing to happen to Ron Lamothe is that both he and director Sean Penn chose to make a movie about Chris McCandless &mdash the subject of Jon Krakauers best-selling book Into the Wild &mdash at the very same time. Without Penns large-scale production crew upstaging and thwarting Lamothe at every turn, this self-indulgent documentary would have little to offer except for the most obsessed fans of McCandless, whose 1992 death remains something of a mystery. Lamothe works under the theory that he and McCandless share a spiritual bond because they both graduated college in 1990 and spent a few years traipsing the globe in search of adventure and identity. But the similarities end there. After retracing McCandless travels ad nauseam, Lamothe arrives in Alaska where a local drunk sums it up best: McCandless died because he was a dipshit who had no business living in the wilds of Alaska. Lamothes film offers a counterpoint to the McCandless mythology, if nothing else. — Chad Garrison
Chicago 10Brett Morgan, USA
In resurrecting the bloody bedlam of the Democratic National Convention in August of 1968, Chicago 10 offers a stunning glimpse into the searing rage (Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?) that enveloped the country in a year that began with the Tet Offensive and ended with Apollo astronauts reciting biblical verse as they orbited the moon. With fascinating archival footage and a pounding rock & roll soundtrack, we are transported back to the streets of Chicago to watch protesters beaten, tear-gassed and flung into police paddy wagons. Mayor Richard Daley demands law and order, while Walter Cronkite pronounces it a police state. The most ingenious aspect of the documentary, though, is its treatment of the Chicago 8, that included Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman and Bobby Seale, who are brought to trial and charged with inciting the riots. The re-enactment of the trial is done completely in cartoon animation &mdash so very fitting, considering that the proceedings were nothing but farce and, like that final week in August and America itself in 1968, rife with lunacy. — Ellis E. Conklin
Twisted: A BalloonamentaryNaomi Greenfield and Sara Taksler, USA
Sort of a Wordplay for the balloon-twisting set, Twisted: A Balloonamentary, follows lovable nutjobs who spend their free time shaping latex into everything from tropical chimps to geishas &mdash and sometimes into big business. Among others, we meet Michele, a Vegas entrepreneur whos turned balloon-twisting into a multimillion-dollar venture; James who brings the art to some of Atlantas toughest neighborhoods; and John, who twists balloons into crucifixes and spreads the Good Word (with the help of his video series, of course). These artists gather annually for Twist and Shout, an international balloon-twisting competition, where most of the film takes place. The reverence they have for their idol, British balloon master David Grist, the hilarity they find in jokes that start You may be a balloon artist if and the camaraderie they have as a group makes for a surprisingly touching documentary about the joy that comes with sharing your passion with others &mdash whatever it may be &mdash in a tangible, if temporary, way. — Kristie McClanahan
How to Cook Your LifeDoris Dörrie, Germany
Cooking is not just working on food, believes Zen priest and chef Edward Espe Brown, its working on yourself. So begins How to Cook Your Life, a mellow and meandering tutorial in the fundamental Buddhist principle of mindfulness as it relates to chopping a carrot or sourcing a head of lettuce. Filmmaker Doris Drrie sets this self-help session on the exquisite grounds of Buddhist centers in Austria and California, where Brown teaches, but she doesnt dissect the chef (or any of the characters) so much as glaze over what one senses may be his interesting, and volatile, inner life. In the end we never really know the chef, nor do we have a sense as to why mindfulness might add more to our own culinary, and other, lives. — Kristen Hinman
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