WU participates in annual film festival as screening hosts

Lydia McKelvie | Staff Writer

With streaming on the rise, it’s sometimes difficult to see the appeal of a cinema experience. Why would I go all the way to a movie theater to see something I don’t even know I’ll enjoy, when I can rewatch “Parks and Rec” at home in my pajamas instead? Despite this, when the St. Louis International Film Festival (SLIFF) came knocking this weekend with free events on Wash. U.’s campus, I decided to take up the offer and attend my first independent film screening. What I found through SLIFF was a unique, accessible and artistic experience that I am eager to try again.

SLIFF is an annual event put on by Cinema St. Louis, a non-profit whose mission is “to showcase the best in international, documentary and American independent cinema.” They have been running SLIFF for 28 years, with the support of various donors and members of the community. SLIFF is their largest event of the year, with over 25,000 attendees annually.

The popularity and longevity of the festival are attributed to the accessibility of the screenings through low and often even free ticket prices and locations at many different theaters and campuses within different communities. SLIFF offers 64 free screenings, including multiple screenings at the Brown School that cover a wide range of topics and genres.

SLIFF also represents a special opportunity for a truly unique cinema experience, as Cinema St. Louis tries to bring in as many of the directors of the films as possible for Q&As or informal conversations with the audience. The festival is also a chance to see the films before a wider release. As many of the films shown have received and continue to receive critical acclaim, the opportunity to see the film and talk to the director is one that not many audience members may have.

The film I attended, “From Wounded Knee to Standing Rock,” was shown at the Brown School as part of the Human Rights Spotlight promoted by Sigma Iota Rho, the International and Area Studies honors society at Wash. U. It was a documentary by director and journalist Kevin McKiernan about the armed occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973 by members of the American Indian Movement (AIM). McKiernan experienced this conflict first hand as a reporter on his first assignment. When the FBI ordered a news media blackout at the location, McKiernan smuggled himself inside the besieged AIM stronghold and became close friends with many of the people involved. McKiernan then connected this armed conflict to the ongoing legacy of the movement, including the recent protests at Standing Rock.

McKiernan was present at the screening, and his excitement and passion for his work was visible throughout the screening and the Q&A that followed. The audience shared in his excitement and spent most of the Q&A thanking him for his work, which has spanned continents and decades documenting human rights abuses for the public good.

The movie was created primarily through firsthand footage of Wounded Knee, taken by McKiernan and hidden for the last 40 years to protect the identities of the parties involved. It also included engaging and insightful interviews with various figures from the original footage in the present day, helping to communicate the subject’s endless struggles. Despite the modern-day interviews disclosing some of the outcome before the story of Wounded Knee is concluded, the incredible tension of the situation remains palpable through the expert editing and narration. This is not just a story of tragedy and loss, but a more complex story of humor in the face of challenge and pride in the face of systemic disrespect.

Deeply moving, informative and at times tragic, this documentary told an important story about the American Indians’ struggle for their rights, specifically from the 1970s onwards. It was a story that I had not heard before, that of an armed occupation on U.S. ground that had me rooting for the occupiers at every step, and it taught me about my own misconceptions and ignorance. In a community that often complains about an artificial “Wash. U. bubble,” cinema like this is the perfect wake-up call.

The St. Louis International Film Festival is continuing this week and upcoming weekend, with multiple showings at the Brown School, the Tivoli, the Missouri History Museum and many more locations around St. Louis. The schedule, including individual film and screening information, can be found at cinemastlouis.org.

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