Previewing the St. Louis International Film Festival

| Contributing Writer

This Thursday, over 20,000 filmmakers, cinephiles and everyday moviegoers will descend on St. Louis for the Annual Whitaker St. Louis International Film Festival. Now in its 25th year, the festival screens over 400 films across a 10-day period from Nov. 3 through 13.

To prepare for this cinematic marathon, I spoke with Cliff Froehlich, the executive director of Cinema St. Louis, the nonprofit organization that puts on the festival. A former film critic for the Riverfront Times, Froehlich now oversees programming for the festival.

“We do have a pretty active filmmaking scene here in St. Louis,” Froehlich said. “We’re really pleased to highlight that aspect of who we are as a city and as a state by featuring the work that was made here and also by people who came from here.”

Over 30 of the films shown this year have Missouri roots in one way or another. Some are documentaries about the challenges St. Louis faces as a community. “Mean Streets: Viewing the Divided City through the Lens of Film and Television,” which highlights 15 screenings on segregation in St. Louis and around the nation, is one such program. It is sponsored by the Center for Humanities and Washington University Libraries. The hope is that these films will engender conversation about the issues at hand. Many of the films in the series are free.

Some films shown are organized into regional or thematic categories. There are spotlights on human rights, women in film and LGBTQIA* films. “We want to make certain that we’ve got a good, solid range of different sorts of movies on offer,” Froehlich said, “And then, also, there are a number of subject matters that we want to make certain get addressed in some fashion or another, during the course of the festival.”

For the aspiring filmmaker, a handful of master classes are offered on subjects like editing, fair use issues in documentaries and screenwriting.

The films are shown in a dozen venues across the city. The Tivoli, Brown Hall Room 100 on campus, the West Campus Library, the Missouri History Museum and Hi-Pointe Theatre are among the closest to campus. Single tickets for most screenings are $10 with a student ID card, but there are also many free events and screenings.

Here are a few films you should put on your festival list (curated with the help of our own Film & Media Studies professor Colin Burnett):

“Destiny”: A new restoration of Fritz Lang’s 1921 silent film about a woman who bargains with death to save her fiance. It is accompanied by a live score, played and composed by Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra. Saturday, Nov. 5 at 8 p.m. Webster University’s Moore Auditorium. $15.

Ixcanul: Guatemala’s submission to last year’s Academy Awards depicts the daily life of Mayans on a coffee plantation. Though it’s not a documentary, the characters are actually played by Guatemalan Maya farmers. Friday, Nov. 4 at 12 p.m. and Saturday, Nov. 5 at 9 p.m. Plaza Frontenac Cinema. $10 with ID.

“Fatima”: In this moving portrait of immigrant life, a woman tries to teach herself French in order to better provide for her children. Friday, Nov. 4 at 4:15 p.m. and Saturday, Nov. 5 at 2 p.m. Plaza Frontenac Cinema. $10 with ID.

“The Red Turtle”: A collaboration between Studio Ghibli and Dutch animator Michael Dudok de Wit, the film depicts the life of a castaway and the bonds he creates with the animals around him, all without a word of dialogue. Saturday, Nov. 12 at 6:15 p.m. Plaza Frontenac Cinema. $10 with ID.

“Bob’s Tour: Understanding What We See”: Directed by Washington University graduate Jun Bae, the film profiles Wash. U. architecture professor Bob Hansman and his bus tours of racially divided St. Louis. Saturday, Nov. 5 at 4 p.m. Brown Hall, Room 100. FREE.

“Ovarian Psychos”: An Los Angeles-based, all-woman, Latina bicycle gang seeks to reclaim the streets as safe for all. The St. Louis bicycling group “The Monthly Cycle” is hosting a group ride to the screening for all genders. Thursday, Nov. 10 at 7:30 p.m. .ZACK (3224 Locust Ave). $10 with ID.

Also check out these bigger name films before they come to town: “Jackie” (a portrait of Jackie Kennedy in the days following her husband’s assassination), “Lion” (an Indian boy adopted by an Australian couple wishes to find his way back home), “The Eagle Huntress” (a young Kazakh girl trains to become an eagle hunter, a tradition reserved only for boys) and “Manchester by the Sea” (a man returns home to a fishing village to care for his teenage nephew).

For more information and a complete schedule, go to