Two feature films shot in Sauget and three shorts involving metro-east residents are among the 96 selections in the 12th Annual Whitaker St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase Saturday through July 12.
The Showcase is presented by the nonprofit Cinema St. Louis, which serves as the area's primary venue for films made by local artists.
It screens works that were written, directed, edited or produced by St. Louis area natives or films with strong local ties. The 16 film programs that screen at the Tivoli Theatre in University City serve as the Showcase's centerpiece. Many programs include post-screening question and answer sessions with filmmakers.
"There were incredibly strong entries this year in a highly competitive field of works by the amazingly talented St. Louis filmmaking community," said Chris Clark, artistic director of Cinema St. Louis.
Professor Dan Cross, director of Southwestern Illinois College's film studies/motion picture production program, has one student and two alumni whose works made the cut.
"The St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase is the most important venue for local filmmakers. It provides local filmmakers, including my students, with a tremendously important opportunity to see their film in a beautiful theater like the Tivoli, reach an audience of people who appreciate film, and compete for prizes," he said. "I'm so grateful for Cinema St. Louis and all the volunteers who make this wonderful event possible."
Brian Elliott, who attends SWIC, produced, directed and wrote "The Trigger," a 15-minute thriller that will screen on Tuesday in the 9:45 p.m. program. He also shot and edited the movie.
""It's one of the best films I've ever seen in my years as a film teacher," Cross said. "I was so happy to hear that the film was accepted and will reach a wider audience, as it is so good, it really deserves it. It is rare to see a student film with acting of this quality. Every time I watch the movie, it affects me and takes my breath away. Brian also paid an amazing attention to detail, making sure every prop, costume, makeup effect looked right."
The film is about two sisters during wartime, struggling to survive without losing their faith, which is severely tested by the circumstances. Betsy Bowman, Kat Myers, and Hunter Sansone star in the film.
"The Trigger" is Elliott's first entry into any kind of festival. "I've been making movies for seven years. I've been a storyteller from the time I could talk. It evolved into drawing, then writing," Elliott said.
A seventh-grade film project opened his eyes to a whole new medium. "That summer I worked hard, bought a camera, and as they say, the rest is history. I can't really imagine doing anything else and enjoying it near as much."
Zia Nizami, a photographer at the Belleville News-Democrat, produced and directed a series of documentary shorts and music videos called "BelleVegas Rocks!" spotlighting original music in the metro-east. It began as a rockumentary video feature last summer online at www.bnd.com (and can also be seen on YouTube.com).
Nizami, who took several of Cross' production classes at SWIC, has been at the Showcase before, with the 2008 documentary, "The War Within," about post-traumatic stress syndrome afflicting veterans.
A 13-minute version of "BelleVegas Rocks!" featuring the bands Kentucky Knife Fight, Billy and the Jets, and the hip-hop collective Doorway, will be shown on Tuesday, in the 5 p.m. program.
"The Showcase is a nice outlet. It's a great venue for short films, which are not seen as much. There are some really good shorts in it," Nizami said. "You get to watch it with an audience -- it's so much better than watching it by yourself on your iPhone."
Tim Venhaus of Belleville, who earned an associate in arts-film degree at SWIC and is a senior cinema production major at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, wrote and acted in the comedy short "My Dad Lives in a Trunk."
The absurd romantic comedy was produced by "Alt.News 26:46," which is a SIUC student-run magazine-style TV program that airs monthly on the PBS station WSIU. Venhaus won Alt.News' annual screenwriting competition last spring, and their Sandbox Productions made the 11-minute short.
The film, directed by Katie McCall of Carbondale and produced by Cara Gordon of Baldwin, is about a college student worried about his girlfriend meeting his eccentric dad. It will be shown on Wednesday in the 9 p.m. program.
Two full-length narrative films, "Fatal Call" and "23 Minutes to Sunrise," will be shown, but are classified "works in progress." Shot in Sauget, with Judee Sauget credited as a producer on both, the films are directed by St. Louisans and feature numerous local residents in casting and behind the scenes.
"Fatal Call," a thriller directed by Jack Snyder ("Ghost Image"), will close the Showcase at 7 p.m. on July 12. Mitch (Jason London) leaves his small town to start a new life and begin a tantalizing romance with the beautiful and seductive Amy (Danielle Harris). But he soon finds himself on a nightmarish roller-coaster ride, accused of murder and running from both the law and a mysterious stranger out to kill him. The film stars Kevin Sorbo of TV's "Hercules," too.
Shot in Sauget as well, "23 Minutes to Sunrise" is Jay Kanzler's first narrative feature for his Day of Fun Pictures. It stars Eric Roberts, Nia Peeples, Bob Zany and Jilanne Klaus Barnes, and is about the lives of eight people who become intertwined in an out-of-the-way late-night diner. The 80-minute film screens at 7:15 p.m. Monday.
Cinema St. Louis annually kicks off the Showcase with free filmmaking seminars. This year's offerings on Saturday begin with presentations on a trio of ambitious TV productions originating in St. Louis: the reality show "Welcome to Sweetie Pie's," the animated series "Voltron Force!" and the documentary series "Homeland: Immigration in America." All three seminars take place at the Centene Center of Arts & Education, with Kaldi's Coffee contributing free coffee and pastries.
Later, at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, the day of seminars concludes with a free screening of native St. Louisan Ryan Eslinger's first feature, "Madness and Genius." A co-presentation with CAM's Concrete Cinema series, the event features a post-film discussion with Eslinger.
Other highlights of this year's Showcase include:
* "Homeland: Immigration in America." This upcoming PBS documentary series -- produced by Nine Network of Public Media in St. Louis -- is previewed with segments from each of its three parts and a discussion of the issues explored in the film. The series addresses key immigration issues facing our country through the lens of the 2012 election.
The program features series filmmakers, subjects, and special guest Ray Suarez, narrator of "Homeland" and correspondent for PBS's "NewsHour." The event is free, but a ticket is required (limit 4 tickets per person). It will screen at 4 p.m. Sunday.
* "Joplin, Missouri: A Tornado Story." This moving documentary by Columbia, Mo., filmmaker Chip Gubera chronicles the aftermath of the horrific 2011 Joplin tornado. The film is narrated by George Noory, host of "Coast to Coast AM." It will be shown at 7 p.m. Monday.
* "Dignity Harbor." Mike Gualdoni's documentary -- a nominee for the 2012 Student Academy Award -- chronicles a group of people living in a homeless encampment along the Mississippi River in downtown St. Louis and their struggle to survive the winter. The 52-minute film will be shown at 2 p.m. Sunday.
The Showcase hosts a free closing-night awards party on July 12 at Blueberry Hill's Duck Room. KDHX-FM DJ Rob Levy will spin music, and Cinema St. Louis will announce the Showcase films chosen for inclusion in the St. Louis International Film Festival. Awards for the best Showcase films will be given by the St. Louis Film Critics Association. Complimentary beer is supplied by Stella Artois; cash bar for all other drinks. Attendees must be 21 or older.
Tickets for film programs from July 8-12 at the Tivoli are $12 each; $10 for students with valid and current photo ID and for Cinema St. Louis members with valid membership cards. Advance tickets are on sale at the Tivoli Theatre box office (5-10 p.m. Monday-Friday and 2-10 p.m. Saturday-Sunday). No phone sales, but tickets can be purchased online at tickets.landmarktheatres.com. There is a $1 per-ticket service charge; online sales are limited to full-price tickets only.
The filmmaking seminars, "Madness and Genius" screening, and closing-night awards party are free and do not require tickets. The screening of "Homeland: Immigration in America" is free but tickets are required; tickets are available in advance and day of show at the Tivoli box office (limit of 4 per person).
For more information and a complete schedule, the public should visit www.cinemastlouis.org.