2011 SLIFF Preview | Sarah Boslaugh

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SLIFF smHere’s a documentary-centered look at some of the highlights of the festival.

For some people, November means football, turkey, and turning leaves. Nothing against any of those things, but for me November means the annual St. Louis International Film Festival, now in its 20th year and still living up to a previous year’s slogan: “Once a year, the world comes to St. Louis.” You can go to Afghanistan or Paris or the British Isles, and even further, all for the price of a film ticket, and that’s the kind of bargain you shouldn’t pass up. Here’s a documentary-centered look at some of the highlights of the festival, which runs November 10 to 20.

SB hellandbackagainDanfung Dennis borrows a fictional technique, the narrative flashback, for his documentary Hell and Back Again (11/20 Webster University/Moore Auditorium 3 p.m.). After an opening sequence documenting the deployment of a platoon in Afghanistan, the film shifts to focus on one soldier, Sergeant Nathan Harris, who was seriously wounded and returned to his home in North Carolina for rehabilitation. Harris suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and this is presented in the film through flashbacks to combat in Afghanistan, effectively putting the audience inside his head.

Survivors of a different kind of war figure largely in We Were Here (11/17 Tivoli 6:30 p.m.). For people younger than about 40, it’s hard to communicate how dreaded a disease AIDS was before the widespread use of antiretroviral drugs, and the many changes that disease brought to America’s gay community (and also to the relationship between citizens and the medical establishment). Directors David Weissman and Bill Weber take you back to those bad old days through interviews with five San Francisco residents who lived through it. It’s simple yet very intense, and if you have any interest in gay history, you won’t want to miss it.

Pink Saris (11/16 Tivoli 9:30 p.m.) is directed by Kim Longinotto and focuses on the work of Sampat Pal, an Indian woman who advocates for the rights of lower-caste girls and women in rural India. The most horrifying stories are told matter-of-factly (a husband insists he hit his wife not with a stick but with a cattle prod; a father-in-law accused of raping his son’s wife explains that does his best to lock her up but she keeps running away), while Longinotto’s low-key style allows another story, about Sampat Pal, to gradually emerge. Shown with Dilli, a 25-minute short by Sushmit Ghosh and Rintu Thomas, which presents the stories of Delhi slumdwellers forced from their homes during the recent Commonwealth Games.

Director Nancy Buirski combines well-chosen archival footage and contemporary interviews in The Loving Story (11/16 Tivoli 7:15 p.m.), a documentary about the couple who challenged Virginia’s law against interracial marriage. In 1958, Virginia residents Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving were wed in the District of Columbia. Married out of state, the Lovings were arrested, jailed, and sentenced to one year in jail upon their return to Virginia, with the sentence suspended if they would leave Virginia. They appealed this all the way up to the Supreme Court, which in the 1967 decision Loving v. Virginia overturned all state anti-miscegenation laws.

SB pruittigoemythEveryone’s seen the photos of the Pruitt-Igoe houses imploding, but what led up to that point? The Pruitt-Igoe Myth (11/12 Washington U./Brown 3 p.m.), examines that question in a documentary that pairs white-screen interviews of former residents with a wealth of archival footage. Director Chad Freidrichs finds many different stories in this tale of public housing gone wrong, from population loss due to suburbanization to a simple lack of maintenance, while Pruitt-Igoe residents remember both the good and bad times in the enormous (33 buildings on 57 acres) development. Director Freidrichs and several of the film’s interview subjects will be in attendance.

Modern life is full of microcosms, and one such world in miniature is documented in My Comic Shop DocumentARy (11/19 Tivoli 1:15), directed by Anthony Desiato. The nucleus of the microcosm in question is the Alternate Realities comic book store in Scarsdale, New York, founded in 1992 by Steve Oto, a person who, in the words of his friends and associates, is not the easiest guy to figure out. Nonetheless, a little community grew up around the shop, and customers, clerks, and related hangers-on offer their thoughts on Oto, his shop, comics fandom, and various other topics. My Comic Shop DocumentARy will appeal mainly to other members of similar subcultures, but if you’re one of those people, you won’t want to miss it. With director Desiato.

And speaking of subcultures, what could be more natural at a film festival than a film about films? These Amazing Shadows (11/20 Webster U./Moore 1 p.m.) borders on being an infomercial for the National Film Registry, but is also so rich in clips and talking heads discussing them that it’s of general interest, as well. And here’s a bit of trivia for you: The Registry was created in response to Ted Turner’s ill-fated experiments with colorization.

There probably won’t be too many dry eyes in the house by the end of The Bully Project (11/16 Tivoli 6:30 p.m.), directed by Lee Hirsch, which looks at the lives of five students who face school bullying on a daily basis. Spoiler alert: There are suicides, an arrest, and the best demonstration you could hope for of the power of videotape when it comes to defending the interests of the weak. As much as you sympathize for the victims, you’ll also be enraged at the adults who prefer to pretend that nothing is wrong.

Carol Channing is one of a kind, and her distinctive qualities are celebrated in Dori Berinstein’s documentary Carol Channing: Larger than Life (11/19 Tivoli 1 p.m.). Berinstein’s many interview subjects attest to Channing’s old-school values—never miss a performance, do whatever is necessary to make a show successful (one remarks that Channing would attend the opening of an envelope if it would help to sell tickets)—while many performance clips pay tribute to her artistry on stage.

I’m not sure what would motivate Donald Trump to build an ostentatious golf resort in a protected nature area on the Scottish coast, unless it’s because he’s run out of Americans to fool. His efforts in building said resort, and the deleterious effects on local residents and the environment, are documented in Anthony Baxter’s You’ve Been Trumped (11/14 Tivoli 6:45 p.m.). Baxter’s film demonstrates that the corrupting power of money knows no national boundaries (and also that men with comb-overs should avoid strong winds).

SB pipeOn a similar theme, Risteard O’Domhnaill’s The Pipe (11/14 Tivoli 9:15 p.m.) documents the efforts of the residents of Rossport, a small village in Western Ireland, to resist placement of a natural gas pipeline that would run through nearby Broadhaven Bay and 9 km inland. Their actions bring them in conflict not only with Shell Oil, but also with their own government and police force. Shown with Greg Balkin’s 13-minute short film A Salton Soul, which focuses on the reflections of a lifelong Salton Sea resident.

In Miss Representation (11/12 Frontenac 7 p.m.), director Jennifer Siebel Newsom examines the way women are presented in American media. Clips from many forms of media (including television news programs, magazines, and music videos) are intercut with interviews (subjects include Rachel Maddow, Margaret Cho, and Condoleeza Rice) to support Newsom’s thesis the popular media repeatedly asserts, directly and indirectly, that it is more important for females to be young, beautiful, and sexy, than to attain power and exercise it responsibly. With a post-film discussion including Madeline Di Nonno (of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media), Anne Bader (Webster University), Kathy Corley (Webster University), and James Scott (Saint Louis University).

In The Man Nobody Knew: In Search of My Father, CIA Spymaster William Colby (11/19 Webster U./Moore 3 p.m.), Carl Colby (son of the film’s subject) takes us on a march through American history through the lens of his father’s career. William Colby served in the OSS during World War II, and then joined the CIA where he rose to hold the post of Director of Central of Intelligence from 1973 to 1976. Only a few minutes are spent on Colby’s post-CIA life (which included a surprising divorce and a suspicious death by drowning), a choice in keeping with this film’s all-business approach to its subject. The Man Nobody Knew is full of talking heads (among them Donald Rumsfeld, Bob Kerry, and Brent Scowcroft) and archival footage and keeps its eye so firmly on world events that you may feel at the end of it that you that still don’t know William Colby, but have instead enjoyed a nice little review of recent American diplomatic history.

SB codependentlesbianIf you crossed a personals ad with an Ed Wood movie, you might come up with something like Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same (11/12 Tivoli 9 p.m.), a fun parody of 1950s black-and-white sci-fi flicks with a sweet love story at its heart. The plot of Madeleine Olbeck’s film doesn’t make a lot of sense, but neither did the plots of those old creature features, right? The setup is that the Plant Zots has an ozone crisis caused by too much love, so several residents travel to Earth to have their hearts broken. Zoinx (Susan Ziegler) immediately takes up with earthling Jane (Lisa Haas), while Zylar (Jackie Monahan) and Barr (Cynthia Kaplan) have more difficulties adjusting to life on Earth. Location shooting in New York adds to the fun, as does a soundtrack by Clay Drinko.

Leave It on the Floor (11/17 Tivoli 8 p.m.) takes you inside the world of drag balls, as seen through the eyes of handsome young Bradley (Ephraim Sykes). Kicked out of the house by his homophobic mother, Bradley’s gaydar brings him into what is for him a strange new world of the House of Eminence. Glenn Gaylord’s script is thin, but the film is brought to life by some truly committed performances and the appearance of a number of real drag performers, including Barbie-Q, Chanel Cartier, and Lady Red Couture.

Two documentaries written and/or directed by John Turturro explore different aspects of Italian culture. In Rehearsal for a Sicilian Tragedy (11/19 Frontenac 1 p.m.), John Turturro returns to his Sicilian roots to explore the island’s unique culture, with particular attention to traditional Sicilian puppetry. Directed by Roman Paska with stunning cinematography by Marco Pontecorvo, this documentary discusses everything from tuna fishing to the history of Turturro’s family. Turturro himself directed Passione (11/20 Tivoli 1:30 p.m.), which celebrates the musical traditions of Naples. The heart of the film is the performance of 23 songs (from cheesy dance numbers to heart-rending ballads) presented music-video style, which capture the exuberant and contradictory Neapolitan approach to life—grand emotion coupled with ironic self-awareness—while giving the audience a first-rate tour of the city and its environs.

Who wouldn’t like to trade place with Dino, the title character of A Cat in Paris (11/12 Wildey 1 p.m.; 11/20 Washington U./Brown 12 p.m.), who enjoys a comfortable daytime existence in the household of young Zoe and her mother, and spends each evening adventuring across the rooftops of Paris? This charming animated film plays with the conventions of mystery films (I dare you to not think of Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief while watching it), uses a distinctive flat style with many references to modern art, and will delight adults as well as the children who are its target audience. | Sarah Boslaugh

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