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Looking through the Lens

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Welcome to Cinema St. Louis' new blog, The Lens.

Because this is a collaborative venture with the St. Louis Beacon, which is generously co-hosting our blog, some readers may need an introduction not only to The Lens but also to Cinema St. Louis (CSL), so before we move to the feature presentation, let's start with a short subject:

Now in our 17th year, CSL is a nonprofit arts organization that presents film-related programming at a host of St. Louis-area venues. Our premier - and premiere - event is the St. Louis International Film Festival, an 11-day cinematic extravaganza held annually in November, but we keep reeling through the year, as a visit to our Web site will attest.

CSL wants to continue expanding our year-round presence, and that's the primary motivation for The Lens, which we hope will become the go-to site for local cinephiles. That doesn't mean we'll be parochial in our interests. The Lens will certainly have a specifically St. Louis perspective when it's relevant, but film encompasses the world, so we also want to offer material on every aspect of movie culture, with no ties to a particular place. And we certainly have no intent of replacing such local Web resources as the estimable stlfilmwire. In fact, you'll find many of those worthy sites listed here, and we encourage you to visit them.

Rather than limit the blog to entries by the CSL staff, we decided to invite several dozen writers to contribute. I've spent 20 years in the world of journalism - as a film critic and executive editor for the Riverfront Times and as arts-and-entertainment editor for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch - so I have a bulging Rolodex of chronically underemployed writers, most with St. Louis ties, who have an interest in film. The Lens will provide an opportunity for those folks - including critics, academics, journalists, novelists, poets, essayists and filmmakers - to write, at any length and in any form, about all film-related topics. If and when they have an itch to write about a particular movie, actor, or film subject, The Lens will let them scratch it. Some will write once (or more) a week; others perhaps once a year or just once in a lifetime.

The blog will allow for a wide array of approaches: simple reviews (and we'll sometimes be posting multiple perspectives on the same film), stray thoughts, essays, reported articles, cartoons, photos, even audio clips and videos. If our writers want to write about a current trailer, we'll link to it and let them ruminate or rant. If they want to gas on for 5,000 words on Iraq-war films or George Clooney's chin cleft or Abbas Kiarostami's photography, we'll open the vent. Depending on the writer, the point of view will vary from the intensely personal to the Olympian. In the future, we also hope to offer periodic interviews with movie creators, and we'll be inviting filmmakers to contribute accounts of life on the set or in the editing bay. Now and again, we'll host a round-table e-discussion, in which several contributors will be invited to have a focused discussion about a particular topic.

This isn't an entirely altruistic venture, of course: We'll also be using The Lens as a vehicle to promote and preview CSL events, so the blog will allow you to stay fully up to speed on the latest information on the St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase, the St. Louis International Film Festival, and our other projects.

An important note: CSL will be exercising only minimal influence over The Lens' contributors, and the opinions they express will be their own. Often, of course, we'll share the viewpoint of the blog's writers, but occasionally we'll disagree strongly with their opinions. We want this to be an open forum - though we may weigh in with our own thoughts and start a dialogue.

Speaking of which: We encourage you to respond to the blog's posts. Knowing how passionate people are about films and how rude and uncivil Web discussions can sometimes become, I do implore readers to exercise a reasonable degree of restraint. To quote Austin Powers: "Ooo, behave!"

Finally, please consider the initial weeks of The Lens as our baby steps. We're inevitably going to wobble and fall now and again, but soon enough we'll find our stride. So check back often to see just how far and fast we'll eventually run.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.