The St. Louis International Film Festival has exploded from modest beginnings to offer a kaleidoscopic cultural experience straight from the heartland of America.
“When we started out, it was a tiny event — maybe around 25 films,” Cinema St. Louis Executive Director Cliff Froehlich said. “This year we have around 300 films, including 90 narratives, 48 documentaries and 24 shorts.”
Not only will it spotlight the latest in cinema, but the festival will also give cinephiles the opportunity to get up close and personal with their favorite directors.
“There will be over 100 filmmakers in attendance," he said. "Many are local, but others come from all over the world. It’s a great value to the audience.”
The bulk of the films consist of shorts, Froehlich said. He explained this is unique because many times people don’t have the opportunity to view shorts on the big screen.
“We chose from a lot of international films this year,” he said. “We had over 1,200 submissions.”
Cinema St. Louis takes a lot into account when choosing films, but one underlying concept is very important.
“The bottom line is that we want the film to be interesting and artistically challenging,” he said. “You have to sort of leap out and take a chance. It’s pretty obvious what is a good film and what is a bad film, but there is a lot of gray area that makes deciding difficult.”
The films this year represent many different cultures and subjects. The opening night film will be “Casino Jack,” starring Kevin Spacey in a performance Froehlich said is Oscar-worthy.
Another much-hyped film is “Rabbit Hole,” starring Aaron Eckhart and Nicole Kidman. The movie is a critically acclaimed narrative following the grieving process after the death of a child.
“We have a lot of high-profile films this year,” Froehlich said. “It’s quite a sight.”
High-profile films aren’t even the most talked about at SLIFF this year. What really gets the locals going are the films that literally hit home.
“St. Louis-related documentaries get a lot of buzz,” Froehlich said.
No matter the genre, each film provides insight into mankind.
“We really focus on the sort of program that illuminates an aspect of the human condition,” Froehlich said. “We have films, many films from Asia and Europe — especially France.”
Most of all, the festival wants to give everyone a chance, he said. They give little-known films a place to be shared and give St. Louis natives the opportunity to bring culture into their lives.
“Many of these films will receive no distribution whatsoever,” he said. “We want to make them accessible to an audience.”
He also wants to foster interest in film in an area not necessarily regarded as a center of cinematography.
“It’s a regional festival, so we try to cater to a region of about a 120-mile radius,” Froehlich said. “We want to bring this great work to our community and make these films accessible.”
The most valuable aspect of SLIFF, Froehlich said, is the opportunity to see films you otherwise couldn’t while getting a firsthand experience.
“It’s very difficult to get a hold of these films, and even if you could, you won’t have the director sitting next to you while you watch them,” he said.