Dan Cross answered an email call for zombie extras to shoot an underground mining scene in Crystal City, Mo., but once on set, the SWIC filmmaking instructor's skills were invaluable.
He is now credited as editor, one of the directors of photography, and assistant director for the completed feature "Go South for Animal Index." He also did sound work, color correction, visual effects and credits.
The film, based on a poem by Stefene Russell, is the opening night full-length feature presentation at the St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase, which runs July 14-18 at the Tivoli, sponsored by Cinema St. Louis.
A genre mash-up, "Go South for Animal Index" has experimental elements but does tell a story ---four storylines intersect in the context of the first successful test of the atomic bomb at Los Alamos. It has no spoken dialogue, but is edited to a rock-musical setting of Russell's poem.
"I signed up just to see the location and what was going on but when (director) Chris King realized I had skills as a cinematographer, I was quickly promoted and spent most of that first day shooting instead of acting," Cross said.
Cross, who is the director of the film program at Southwestern Illinois College, has championed many of his students' work that has been selected over the years for the Showcase, an annual event that screens works that were written, directed, edited or produced by St. Louis natives or films with strong local ties.
Subtitled "A Fable of Lost Almost," the film follows four storylines: the development of the nuclear bomb on a secret military base; the nuclear-waste-related illness of a tribal girl living on the edge of the base and her mother's attempt to heal her through traditional ceremonies; the travels of the widow and daughter of a scientist who dies on the base and the mother's attempt to cheer up the girl as they seek a new home after their eviction; and the drafting into military service of a vendor of stuffed animals, who then defects from the base on foot. All of these storylines intersect dramatically in the context of the first successful test of the atomic bomb.
"All in all, this has been the most exciting project I've done in my career as a filmmaker. Working with Chris has been so rewarding; he trusts the people he works with and allows all of us so much creative freedom and input, it makes everyone an integral part of the project," Cross said. "I think silent movies are the purest form of cinema, telling the story, as they do, solely through action, gesture, and image."
King explained that Poetry Scores Productions' second feature follows the process of their first film, "Blind Cat Black" in 2007.
"We take a long poem, set it to music, release that as a record -- in a genre we call the poetry score, a long poem set to music as one would score a film. Then we go back later to write, shoot and edit a silent movie to that (poetry) score," he said.
"So these movies are "silent" in that we don't write or record dialogue, though the aural experience of them is not silent at all. You are listening to music, mostly rock music, the whole time. Much of that music features poetry sung to rock songs, though there are many instrumentals as well. This fits the history of silent movies, by the way. They were not silent, actually -- they were screened with live music or a pre-recorded orchestral score. They just were not 'talkies,' King said.
"The edit has taken nearly a year of work, but I was happy to do it because the of the quality of the material," Cross said.
The large ensemble cast includes many well-known St. Louisans: former fire chief Sherman George, in his film debut; international burlesque stars Lola van Ella and Kyla Webb; African-dance impresario Mama Lisa Gage; architectural historian and preservationist Michael R. Allen; and the poet herself, who also is an editor for St. Louis Magazine and an indie-film actress.
It will screened at 7:15 p.m. Sunday, at the Tivoli Theater in University City's Delmar Loop.
Cross and King, editor of the St. Louis American, want to work together again, and arehave teaming up as co-directors for another film adaptation of a poem, "Jack Ruby's America."
"I will write the scenario again, and he will be director of photography. We fancy ourselves as Coen Brothers at this point, working together from conception to production to editing," King said.
Other films include a rockumentary that looks back at the Mississippi River Festival and the St. Louis classic-rock music scene of the late '60s and early '70s.
The Showcase's programs range from full-length fiction features and documentaries to multifilm compilations of fiction and documentary shorts.
"Many programs include post-screening Q&A with filmmakers. Filmmakers of all ages within a 120-mile radius of St. Louis are strongly encouraged to submit their works, or at the very least attend the event to celebrate with us and the amazingly talented St. Louis filmmakers," Artistic Director Chris Clark said.
"Something in the Water: A St. Louis Rockumentary" by Kathy Bratkowski
Showing: Sunday, July 14, at 2:30 p.m., at the Tivoli
"Something in the Water" looks back at the unique set of circumstances that electrified the classic-rock music scene in St. Louis in the late '60s and early '70s. The documentary chronicles the advent of free-form radio at stations such as KSHE, the storied concerts at the Mississippi River Festival and Superjam, and the area musicians who used St. Louis stages to reach a national audience.
Featuring rare interviews, archived MRF concert footage, and photos from the musicians themselves, "Something in the Water" is a funny, honest, and unique account of "ground zero for rock and roll," as told by those who played a major role in the emergence of classic rock in St. Louis.
Interviewees include Rich Dalton, Mark Klose, David Grafman, Mark Boatman and Roger Boyd of Head East, Pat and Danny Liston of Mama's Pride, Steve Scorfina of Pavlov's Dog, Supe Granda of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Lyle Ward, Ron Elz, Bob Heil, Steve Schankman, and Joe Edwards. (79 min.)
Local filmmakers who have shorts in the Showcase include Corey Logsdon and Jackie Manker in Life Lessons Shorts, which feature multiple directors on Sunday, July 14, at 5 p.m., Tivoli:
"Peace in Mind," Corey Logsdon, 5 minutes. A grandfather shows his grandson the importance of peace.
"Stifled," Jackie Manker, 7 minutes. A mother's prescription-drug addiction strains her relationship with her teenage son.
Lynelle White, a SWIC filmmaking alumnus and former winner at the Showcase, will screen in the Relationship Shorts on Wednesday, July 17, at 7 p.m. at the Tivoli.
"Good Night Trina," Lynelle White, 18 minutes. A part-time call girl who thinks she's seen it all gets more than she bargained for with her latest client.
TJ Keeley will screen "I Remember, or Where Have All These Past Things Gone" in Experimental Shorts at 9:30 p.m. on Sunday, July 14, at the Tivoli.
"I Remember, or Where Have All These Past Things Gone?: A Retrospective," TJ Keeley, 20 minutes. A son visits his mother and they recall stories from their past in an exploration of memory, life, love, loss, and imagination that's inspired by the work of Virginia Woolf and Jeanette Winterson.
For a complete schedule, ticket and venue information, visit the website: