Illinois filmmakers featured at St. Louis Film Festival

For the News-DemocratNovember 11, 2013 

Illinois filmmakers will be spotlighted in two Sundays worth of programming at The Wildey Theatre in Edwardsville, as part of the 22nd annual Whitaker St. Louis International Film Festival Nov. 14-24.

The festival will screen 330 films, including 75 narrative features, 63 documentaries and 192 shorts, representing 54 countries.

The highlight of this year's fest is an appearance Nov. 22 by Oscar-winning writer/director Oliver Stone, who will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award, will discuss his career, and will screen his director's cut of "JFK" on Nov. 22, the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination.

The fest will host more than 100 filmmakers and related guests, including honorees Jon Jost (Lifetime Achievement Award), Arsen Anton Ostojic (Contemporary Cinema Award), Nina Davenport (Women in Film Award), and Edwardsville native A.J. Schnack (Charles Guggenheim Cinema St. Louis Award).

The festival will open Thursday with the St. Louis premiere of "We Always Lie to Strangers," an extraordinary documentary on Branson, Mo., by AJ Schnack ("Kurt Cobain About a Son") and David Wilson. The film premiered to great acclaim at the SXSW, the South By Southwest Music and Media Festival in Austin, Texas, and was featured at such major documentary fests as Toronto's Hot Docs and Full Frame.

Other prominent films featured in the festival include "August: Osage County," "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom," "Nebraska," and "Philomena."

Cliff Froehlich, SLIFF director, is excited that Schnack's documentary will open the fest. "We've been fans of A.J.'s since his first film, 'Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns,' (about the band They Might Be Giants), and we always like to promote local filmmakers. It was apparent A.J. would go on to great things. We have shown all his films at the festival," he said.

After seeing "We Always Lie to Strangers" at SXSW this past spring, Froehlich jumped on the opportunity to snare it for SLIFF. "We think it's a perfect way to start the festival, with two native sons -- A.J. and David Wilson, who is from Columbia, Mo., and started the True/False Festival (documentaries) there. It's not just a high-quality film, but it also spotlights Branson, Mo,, and we'll have an entertainment component, too, by having The Lennons perform, so it will have great music as well."

As for Schnack being honored with the Charles Guggenheim Cinema St. Louis Award, Froehlich said: "He is a great candidate because he has done significant work."

"We are always excited about the festival, compiling a great mix of international and independent films and documentaries, but we are very pleased to have Oliver Stone here, showing his director's cut of 'JFK' on the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. It is quite a phenomenal feather in our cap," he said.

Stone will speak at 7 p.m. Nov. 22 at the Tivoli Theatre in St. Louis.

The four films playing

at the Wildey include:

"Caucus" by Edwardsville native A.J. Schnack, Sunday, Nov. 17, at 4:30 p.m. (It also will be shown at 6:45 p.m. Friday at Plaza Frontenac Cinema.)

In intimate, often funny, and sometimes emotional detail, "Caucus" tells the story of the 2011-12 campaign in Iowa as eight Republicans fight to become their party's standard-bearer and take on Barack Obama. To win, each has to first navigate state fairs, town-hall meetings in pizza halls, and agitated questions from the increasingly contentious GOP base. A never-before-seen look at an unforgettable political season, "Caucus" documents the remarkable and unorthodox GOP field, with special focus on former Sen. Rick Santorum and Rep. Michele Bachmann. Both would fight to stay relevant in a contest where nearly every candidate would lead the race at some point: the governor of Texas, the former U.S. House speaker, a former pizza-chain CEO, and the presumed national frontrunner about whom no one seems particularly enthusiastic.

"She Loves Me Not" by Alton native Brian Jun, Sunday, Nov. 24, at 4 p.m.

A collaborative work from Brian Jun, a metro-east native and Webster University graduate who has made a trio of previous SLIFF appearances ("Steel City," "The Thacker Case," "Joint Body"), "She Loves Me Not" is co-directed with William Sanderson. In the film's three linked vignettes, reclusive novelist Brady Olinson (Cary Elwes of "The Princess Bride") struggles to find romance and meaning in his life despite comically disastrous circumstances. Though once a successful author, Brady is now essentially a has-been: An alcoholic, a liar, and a womanizer, he repeatedly proves his own worst enemy. In the midst of remodeling his riverfront mansion and burdened with alimony, Brady is more than a bit cash poor, and he's desperate for another bestseller. In an attempt to extract a new book, Brady's publisher hires a publicist (Caitlin Keats) to "clean him up," but he's anything but amenable to her help and is further distracted by an affair with his pretty assistant (Briana Evigan).

The film, which was shot in Alton, also stars Lisa Edelstein ("House M.D."), Joey Lauren Adams ("Chasing Amy"), and legendary actress Karen Black in one of her final film roles. Film Threat praises "She Loves Me Not" as "an engaging film about a seemingly unlovable man, wrapped in quick-witted patter one second and creeping suspense in the next."

"Something in the Water" is a documentary on the local music scene in the '60s and '70s by St. Louisan Kathy Bratkowski. It will be shown Nov. 24, at 6:30 p.m.

It looks back at the unique set of circumstances that electrified the classic-rock music scene in St. Louis in that period. 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.

"We Always Lie to Strangers" by Edwardsville's own A.J. Schnack on Nov. 17, at 7 p.m.

It is a story of family, community, music, and tradition set against the backdrop of Branson, Mo., one of the biggest tourist destinations in America. A remote Ozark Mountain town of just 10,500, Branson hosts more than 7.5 million tourists a year and generates nearly $3 billion in annual tourism revenue. At the heart of Branson's appeal are the more than 100 staged music shows that have earned the town the moniker of "the live music capital of the world." These shows are well known for their "family" style of entertainment. Crowds from around the country, and particularly from the American Midwest, flock to Branson for this return to old-fashioned values. The filmmakers spent the past five years documenting Branson and profiling four families who live and perform there.

For more information on venues, tickets and film listings, visit or call 314-289-4150.

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