The 18th Annual SLIFF will be held Nov. 12-22, 2009. The festival annually features the St. Louis premieres of more than 250 films from nearly 40 countries. Please click (here) for ticket and venue information.
HERE ARE A SAMPLE OF SOME OF THE FILMS AND DOCUMENTARIES SHOWN: (OUTTOWN's CRITIC COMMENTS ARE SHOWN IN RED)
The Choir Michael Davie, Australia, 2008, 80 min. Sunday, Nov. 22, 1 p.m., Tivoli 3
Shot over four years in Leeuwkop, South Africa’s largest prison, “The Choir” records the inspiring efforts of bank robber Coleman to transform his life – and those of his fellow inmates – through song. The documentary focuses on the travails of a 19-year-old newcomer, Jabulani, who initially resists choirmaster Coleman’s guidance but eventually perseveres to become a key member of the musical group. Although the choristers hope for a victory at the National Prison Choir Competition, the film is concerned with more than just that
undeniably suspenseful contest. Filled with joyous song but unafraid to confront bleak reality, “The Choir” provides probing insight into the challenges facing South Africa by frankly recounting the warts-and-all stories of its subjects.
“Chops,” which debuted at the 2007 Tribeca film fest, tells the story of a group of kids with extraordinary musical ability who learn to make the most of their gifts – and lives – in an acclaimed public-school jazz program in Jacksonville, Fla. The film provides a front-row seat on the young musicians’ transformation into a top-flight ensemble and culminates in a journey to New York City, where the school competes against the best high-school jazz bands in the nation at the prestigious Essentially Ellington Festival. Filmmaker magazine writes: “Comparisons could be made to ‘Spellbound‘ or ‘Wordplay‘ as director Bruce Broder follows the gifted students of the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts as they practice for the competition. But what’s different is it not only shows their talents but how feeding off one another’s abilities makes them create unbelievable music.” Wynton Marsalis puts it more simply: “The film is so well made, a labor of love … just the feeling of it, the soul of it all.” Followed by a discussion with Jazz St. Louis’ Phil Dunlap.
Drool Nancy Kissam, U.S., 2009, 85 min. Monday, Nov. 16, 9 p.m., Frontenac 1 Tuesday, Nov. 17, 9:15 p.m., Frontenac 1
Anora, an unhappy housewife and mother, accidentally kills her husband after he catches her in bed with a woman, forcing the lovers to go on the lam with Anora’s two teenage children. Wildly unpredictable, sinisterly funny and surprisingly poignant, “Drool” marks the directorial debut of Nancy Kissam, whose screenplay for the film was awarded the top competition prize at the 2007 Slamdance Film Festival. Laura Harring (“Mulholland Drive”) turns in a wonderful performance as Anora, earning her a special acting award at this year’s Los Angeles Outfest. “Drool” was also named the Best Fiction Feature at the Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival. Jill Marie Jones (“Girlfriends”) and Oded Fehr (“Sleeper Cell”) also star.
Game of the Year Chris Grega, U.S., 2009, 90 min. Sunday, Nov. 15, 9:30 p.m., Tivoli 3
In this sharp-witted mockumentary from St. Louis director Chris Grega (“Rhineland,” “Amphetamine”), a group of St. Louis gamers attempts to get on the British reality-TV show “Game of the Year.” The small group of friends at the center of the film have been battling mystical creatures side-by-side for years, with the aid of copious amounts of beer, patient girlfriends and wives, and the requsite 20-sided gaming cube, but the pressure of an upcoming national competition and their own individual neuroses threaten to break up their game. With writer-director Grega.
Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench Damien Chazelle, U.S., 2009, 82 min. Wednesday, Nov. 18, 7:15 p.m., Tivoli 3
“Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench” tells the story of a young Boston jazz musician who drifts from affair to affair, his trumpet the only constant in his life. He makes a promising connection with an aimless introvert named Madeline, but their relationship is cut short when Guy leaves her for a more outgoing love interest. The two separated lovers slowly wend their way back together through a series of romances punctuated by song. A full-fledged musical that recasts the MGM tradition in a gritty, near-documentary style, “Guy and Madeline” stars Jason Palmer, recently named by Down Beat Magazine one of the Top 25 Trumpeters for the Future, and features all-original music composed by Justin Hurwitz. When it premiered at Tribeca, Variety raved: “A magical amalgam of Jean-Luc Godard, Miles Davis, Morris Engel and ‘The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,’ helmer Damien Chazelle’s ‘Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench’ catches you off-guard and keeps you there.” With writer-director Chazelle.
Followed by a discussion with Jazz St. Louis’ Phil Dunlap.
Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense Lars Larson, Michael Rivoira & Peter J. Vogt, U.S., 2009, 93 min. Tuesday, Nov. 17, 7:15 p.m., Tivoli 1
Combining interviews with 75 artists and live recordings culled from 25 hours of concerts, “Icons Among Us” is a dynamic survey of today’s greatest jazz musicians. The film draws material from a Documentary Channel four-part series of the same name and features such luminaries as Herbie Hancock, Terence Blanchard, Bill Frisell, Ravi Coltrane, Medeski Martin & Wood, Russell Gunn and the Bad Plus. “Icons Among Us” captures the spontaneity of performers who have an intimate knowledge of their instruments and a full knowledge of jazz history, but unlike Ken Burns’ “Jazz,” which looked primarily toward the past, this documentary – as its subtitle implies – speaks in the present tense, offering a timely, vibrant trip though the clubs and festivals of the current jazz scene and the lives of contemporary musicians. With co-director Rivoira.
Co-presented by AFI PROJECT: 20/20
London River Rachid Bouchareb, U.K./France/Algeria, 2009, 87 min., English, French & Arabic Tuesday, Nov. 17, 9:30 p.m., Tivoli 1
Guernsey farming woman Elisabeth (Brenda Blethyn of “Secrets & Lies”) heads into the throng of north London after regular calls to her daughter go unanswered. As news of the London subway bombings of July 2005 moves from background noise to disturbing prominence, the unfamiliarity of the city becomes ever more unsettling. On a similar search for his missing son, African farm worker Ousmane from rural France is equally at sea. When the two eventually meet, they discover that their children were roommates and perhaps something more. “London River” won the Silver Bear at the 2009 Berlin International Film Festival. The Hollywood Reporter says: “French director Rachid Bouchareb (‘Days of Glory’) brings great sensitivity to the fictionalized tale, which goes a step beyond the obvious in its description of England’s multiracial society scarred by deep-seated prejudice but capable of change. Without glossing over the tale’s hard edges, the film ends on a positive note of ethnic tolerance.”
Mine Geralyn Pezanoski, U.S., 2009, 80 min. Wednesday, Nov. 18, 7:30 p.m., Webster
“Mine” tells the story of ordinary citizens, many of them poor and of color, tirelessly searching for their beloved pets after Katrina and fighting frustrating custody battles that continue more than three years later. A story of the essential bond between humans and animals, “Mine” also serves as both a compelling meditation on race and class in contemporary America and a testament to the power of compassion and volunteerism. A gripping and poignant picture of Katrina victims who loved, lost and sometimes found their pets, “Mine” won the Audience Award as Best Documentary at SXSW. Variety calls the film “a quintessentially American story of good intentions stifled by rampant bureaucracy,” and Entertainment Weekly’s PopWatch blog declares it “the best movie I saw during the week-long SXSW Film Festival.” With director Pezanoski. Followed by a panel on the issues raised by the film with director Pezanoski, subjects Mary Britsch and Debbie Musgrave, and Best Friends Animal Society attorney Ledy VanKavage.
Munyurangabo Lee Isaac Chung, Rwanda, 2007, 97 min., Kinyarwanda Wednesday, Nov. 18, 5 p.m., Frontenac 1 Thursday, Nov. 19, 7 p.m., Frontenac 1
Friends Munyurangabo, a Tutsi, and Sangwa, a Hutu, leave Kigali on a journey tied to their pasts: Munyurangabo wants justice for his parents, who were killed in Rwanda’s horrifying genocide, and Sangwa wants to visit the home he deserted years ago. But their friendship is tested when Sangwa’s wary parents disapprove of Munyurangabo, warning that “Hutus and Tutsis are supposed to be enemies.” Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at LA’s AFI Film Festival, “Munyurangabo” has played the world’s finest fests, including Cannes, Toronto and Berlin. Roger Ebert, in a glowing review, says that “Munyurangabo” “is in every frame a beautiful and powerful film – a masterpiece.” Variety is even more effusive: “Like a bolt out of the blue, Korean American filmmaker Lee Isaac Chung achieves an astonishing and thoroughly masterful debut.”
Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire Lee Daniels, U.S., 2009, 109 min. Saturday, Nov. 14, 7:30 p.m., Hi-Pointe
Winner of both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at Sundance, Lee Daniels’ adaptation of the controversial novel by poet Sapphire takes an unflinching look at the life of Clareece “Precious” Jones (Gabourey Sidibe, in a fearless breakthrough performance), an illiterate, obese teenage girl living in 1987 Harlem. After becoming pregnant with her second child at the hands of her father, Clareece enrolls in an alternative school to place her life back on track. Championed by both Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, “Precious” also features standout performances from Mo’Nique as Precious’ tyrannical mother and Mariah Carey as a sympathetic welfare counselor. In a post-fest roundup, the LA Weekly’s Scott Foundas declared that “there isn’t much I’ve seen at Sundance this year that I wouldn’t trade for the sight of a hard-won smile finally making its way across Precious Jones’ stoic, beautiful, wounded face.” Followed by a discussion on the issues raised by the film with Deanna Rhodes, CASA case advocacy supervisor, and Tina Amrein, CASA volunteer since 2004.
Sponsored by Stella Artois Co-sponsored by Majic 104.9 FM, Clear Channel Radio
Pressure Cooker Jennifer Grausman & Mark Becker, U.S., 2008, 99 min. Sunday, Nov. 15, 5 p.m., Tivoli 3
Three seniors at Philadelphia’s troubled Frankford High School find an unlikely champion in Wilma Stephenson. A legend in the school system, Stephenson uses a hilariously blunt boot-camp method of teaching culinary arts, and her approach is validated by years of success. Stephenson’s fierce direction has helped countless students move from working-class Philadelphia’s tough row houses to the nation’s top culinary schools, and in “Pressure Cooker,” she prepares new acolytes Tyree, Erica and Fatoumata for the Culinary Institute of America‘s scholarship competition. The LA Times says the film “manages to be moving, inspirational and tremendously real without ever turning manipulative or preachy,” and the Village Voice praises Stephenson for serving “as a reminder of what the right teacher can mean to a kid looking for a way out.”
The Rink Ron “G Whiz” Butts, U.S., 2009, 60 min. Saturday, Nov. 14, Noon, Hi-Pointe
“The Rink,” directed by legendary local DJ “G Whiz,” takes an engaging look at the urban roller-skating tradition in the African-American communities of St. Louis and East St. Louis. Fondly recalling the glory days of skating at such venues as the Crystal, the Palace and Skate King, the film mixes interviews with rare archival footage and photographs. The St. Louis American says “The Rink” “leaves no wheels unturned. Comprehensive and calculated, the film recreates the connection and illustrates the true passion that skaters have for their sport of choice.” With director Butts.
RiseUp Luciano Blotta, U.S., 2009, 88 min. Friday, Nov. 20, 9 p.m., Webster
“RiseUp” takes viewers on a journey into the heart of Jamaica, the birthplace of reggae. In a society where talent abounds and opportunity is scarce, three distinct and courageous artists attempt to rise up from underground obscurity. With music and appearances by legends Lee “Scratch” Perry, Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare and a slew of new and soon-to-be stars, “RiseUp” follows reggae artists in the dangerous streets, back alleys and crowded dancehalls of Kingston and the countryside. Although the film surveys the underground scene, it focuses on three emerging musicians: Turbulence, whose “Notorious” video launches him to prominence; Ice, a faux-ghetto rich kid with real musical chops; and Kemoy, a beautiful country girl with an equally gorgeous voice. The Miami New Times enthuses: “By focusing on a few wannabes and winners struggling to compete in one of the most vibrant and energetic music scenes ever, ‘RiseUp’ gives a voice to individuals behind the up-beats.”
Sponsored by Ken and Nancy Kranzberg
Rough Aunties Kim Longinotto, U.K./South Africa, 2008, 103 min., English & Zulu Sunday, Nov. 22, 3 p.m., Tivoli 3
“Rough Aunties” – which won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at Sundance – provides a group portrait of a remarkable group of feisty, resolute women unwavering in their stand to protect and care for the abused, neglected and forgotten children of Durban, South Africa. This latest documentary by internationally acclaimed director Longinotto (“Sisters in Law,” “Divorce Iranian Style”) follows the outspoken, multiracial cadre of Thuli, Mildred, Sdudla, Eureka and Jackie as they wage a daily battle against systemic apathy, corruption and greed to help the most vulnerable and disenfranchised of their communities. Despite the harsh realities of violence, poverty and racism in the women’s work at the Bobbi Bear child-welfare organization and in the heartaches of their personal lives, the film is filled with grace, wisdom, friendship and a deeply stirring conviction.
Say My Name Nirit Peled, Netherlands, 2009, 75 min. Thursday, Nov. 19, 9 p.m., Tivoli 1
In a hip-hop world dominated by men and noted for misogyny, the unstoppable female lyricists of “Say My Name” speak candidly about class, race and gender in pursuing their passions as female emcees. The documentary takes viewers on a wide-ranging tour of urban culture, from hip-hop’s birthplace in the Bronx to Philly, Detroit, Chicago, Atlanta, LA and London. Featuring interviews and musical performances from such diverse artists as Remy Ma, Rah Digga, Jean Grae, Erykah Badu and Estelle, the film includes both pioneers (MC Lyte, Roxxanne Shante and Monie Love) and newcomers (Chocolate Thai, Invincible and Miz Korona). Although it delves into the personal stories of women balancing professional dreams with stark realities, music remains center stage. As the Austin Chronicle attests: “‘Say My Name’ avoids the survivor-syndrome trap, instead focusing on drop-dead skills, nonstop style, and at times a ferocity far more terrifying than mere gangsta rap thuggery. It’s a lyric both heartbreaking and exhilarating.”
Sponsored by Majic 104.9 FM, Clear Channel Radio
in the Air Jason Reitman, U.S., 2009, 108 min. Saturday, Nov. 14, 7 p.m., Tivoli 1
The Oscar®-nominated director of “Juno” and “Thank You for Smoking” continues his ascent with the dramatic comedy “Up in the Air,” starring Oscar® winner George Clooney as a corporate downsizing expert whose cherished life on the road is threatened just as he is on the cusp of reaching 10 million frequent-flyer miles and has met the seeming woman of his dreams (Vera Farmiga). The uniformly excellent cast includes Jason Bateman, Anna Kendrick, Danny McBride, Melanie Lynskey and J.K. Simmons. Shot largely in St. Louis, “Up in the Air” was the buzz film of the Telluride and Toronto film fests, with critics loudly trumpeting its Academy Award® potential. IndieWire calls the film “a witty, charming and moving exploration of a world we all recognize,” and Variety asserts that “Clooney has scarcely ever been more magnetic onscreen.” With writer-director Reitman and executive producer Michael Beugg, recipient of SLIFF’s Charles Guggenheim Cinema St. Louis Award. Followed by Q&A between St. Louis Post-Dispatch critic Joe Williams and Reitman, recipient of SLIFF’s Contemporary Cinema Award.
Sponsored by American Airlines (SHOW IS SOLD OUT)
Within Our Gates Oscar Micheaux, U.S., 1920, 79 min. Friday, Nov. 13, 7 p.m., SLAM
“Within Our Gates,” writer-director Oscar Micheaux’s impassioned response to D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation,” shines a revealing light on the racism of U.S. society, provocatively including scenes of lynching and attempted rape. Micheaux was a pioneering African-American filmmaker and novelist whose career stretched from the silent era through the 1940s. “Within Our Gates,” the oldest surviving “race” film, was thought lost until a single print was discovered in Spain in 1990 and restored by the Library of Congress in 1992. This screening will feature an original score by Cairo, Ill.’s Stace England, who recently released “The Amazing Oscar Micheaux,” a CD of songs inspired by the filmmaker’s life and work. Respected film biographer Patrick McGilligan, author of 2007’s “Oscar Micheaux: The Great and Only – The Life of America’s First Black Filmmaker,” will introduce the program and participate in a post-film discussion. With McGilligan and live musical accompaniment by Stace England and the Salt Kings.
Co-presented by Washington U.’s Center for the Study of Ethics and Human Values
Youssou N’Dour: I Bring What I Love Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Senegal, 2008, 100 min., French, Wolof, English & Arabic Friday, Nov. 20, 7 p.m., Webster
Far more than a concert film, “I Bring What I Love” immerses the audience in the world of Africa’s most famous musician, Youssou N’Dour, concentrating on a tumultuous period in which he creates his most personal and controversial work. Intending to celebrate Islam through the album “Egypt,” N’Dour is instead labeled as blasphemous for merging the sacred and secular. Although “I Bring What I Love” provides intimate glimpses of N’Dour’s family life in Dakar, Senegal, it also features abundant music, as he travels the world with his elaborate “Egypt” concert tour. The San Francisco Chronicle writes: “In 2007, when Time magazine named Youssou N’Dour one of the world’s 100 most influential people, it had Peter Gabriel profile the African singer, with Gabriel using such descriptions as ‘voice of liquid gold,’ ‘source of inspiration’ and ‘major African leader.’ All these qualities are on display in this mesmerizing documentary.”
Sponsored by Ken and Nancy Kranzberg