East St. Louis documentary will be shown during St. Louis film showcase

For the News-DemocratJuly 10, 2014 

Informative documentaries telling the story of East St. Louis, on families dealing with heroin overdoses, and a look at St. Louis at 250 years are among the highlights of the 14th annual Whitaker St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase from Sunday through Thursday.

An annual presentation of the nonprofit Cinema St. Louis, the Showcase screens works that were written, directed, edited or produced by St. Louis natives (120-mile radius) or films with strong local ties.

Talented local artists, including SWIC film instructor Stacy Singh, are responsible for the 16 film programs that will screen at the Tivoli Theatre, 6350 Delmar Blvd., in University City.

There are 94 films, ranging from full-length features and documentaries to multi-film compilations of shorts, selected for this year's event. Many programs include post-screening Q&As with filmmakers.

The Showcase also hosts a free closing-night awards party on Thursday at Blueberry Hill's Duck Room. At that time, Cinema St. Louis will announce the Showcase films chosen for inclusion in the St. Louis International Film Festival. Juried awards for the best Showcase films also will be given. Complimentary beer is supplied by Stella Artois; cash bar for all other drinks. Attendees must be 21 or older.

Highlights include:

"Against All the Odds," a powerful documentary on courage, community and spirit in East St Louis, directed by Sandra Pfeiffer, will be shown at 5 p.m. on Tuesday.

Pfeiffer, who graduated from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale when she was 50, painstakenly researched material for six years. She has used candid interviews, archival footage and traditional blues and jazz recordings to tell the story of this impoverished city and its sturdy African-American population that has survived gruesome historical events.

"I was inspired by an NPR story about a group of African American women in St. Louis who were community organizers. I found Fern Watts in East St. Louis. She took me under her wing and introduced me to East St Louis, and I discovered a larger story -- one that needed to be told about a deeply historical city whose population, though troubled, pushed on despite the severe urban decline. Grassroots community organizers abound in that city, so often they are the glue that holds the city together," Pfeiffer said.

She noted this quote by the late Rube Yelvington, former editor of the East St. Louis Journal: "... there are a thousand acts of heroism everyday in a city where the people are either too proud or too poor to leave."

"I looked for that heroism. And found it again and again along with some almost unknown historical facts. Example: The 1917 Race Riot. I researched the city's past with a scrutinizing eye, trying to leave no stone unturned and found that East St Louis' history mirrors America's history in significant ways," she said.

"Making 'Against All the Odds' has made me a better person, a better citizen and changed my perspective on life in America. I am grateful," she said. Pfeiffer lives in the small farming community of Simpson, and specializes is social activism documentaries.

U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin, an East St. Louis native, as well as Mayor Alvin Parks, officials, religious leaders, professors and many people who make a difference are included in this hour-long piece.

"A Portrait of St. Louis at 250 Years," directed by Eric Wilkinson for the Missouri History Museum, is the closing-night feature presentation. This film provides a contemporary, elegant and loving collective portrait of some of the people and places that make up the city. It will be shown at 7 p.m. Thursday.

"A Short Life, A Cautionary Tale of Heroin Overdose " is directed by Illinois-based Derek Phillips, whose nephew died of the drug. He focused on four sets of parents telling their stories, torn apart by loss. The 60-minute documentary will be shown at 5 p.m. on Monday.

"Elegy to Connie" is a 60-minute documentary directed by Sarah Paulsen that will be shown at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, July 13. Employing stop-motion animation to address the events leading up to and following the Kirkwood City Council shooting, it is retold by a group of unintentional women activists who are bound together by their friendship with slain Councilwoman Connie Karr, and celebrates Connie's legacy as a leader.

"When the Saints" is a thought-provoking documentary directed by Dan Parris. It is the story of one man's mission to fight sexual exploitation in the heart of Malawi, Africa. The film challenges viewers to care about justice for girls who are trafficked in rural Africa. It will be shown at 12:30 p.m. Sunday.

"A Dungeon Master's Guide to Life" is a comedic narrative feature, directed by Christopher Bruemmer, about a down-on-his-luck dungeon master whose life spirals downward when his best friend starts dating the only girl they know. The 72-minute film will be shown at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday.

"Made in China," a 13-minute drama short by Stacy Singh, a Southwestern Illinois College film professor, will be shown among the Drama Shorts Program beginning at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

For a full schedule, visit www.cinemastlouis.org for times and film descriptions.

Tickets for the film programs are $12 each; $10 afor students with valid and current photo ID and for Cinema St. Louis members with valid membership cards. Tickets may also be purchased in advance at https://tickets.landmarktheatres.

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