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2012 Film Festival has special offerings for students

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 12, 2012 - The Georgia Frontiere Cinema for Students Program is a week of free film programming for students as part of the St. Louis International Film Festival. Screenings are Nov. 12 through Nov. 16 at the Missouri History Museum's Lee Auditorium, the Center for Creative Arts, Plaza Frontenac Cinema and Sheldon Concert Hall.

Funding is additionally available for students to be bused free to theaters and also for free in-school presentations of selected films during the same week, November 12-16. 

Some highlights

"Shakespeare High"

Yet another good, inspirational documentary story of a niche competition for students, the perennial Southern California Shakespeare competition, which famously helps all involved to learn self-discipline, teamwork, heartbreak, otherwise impossible success, etc. With cameos from Kevin Spacey, who also produced.

"Defiant Requiem"

The documentary story of how Rafael Schachter brought high culture and great music to the lives of Holocaust victims in the Terezin prison camp in Czechoslovakia from 1942-44. First secretly, then openly, he trained and conducted an imprisoned choir, leading them in Czech opera, then Verdi's "Requiem." The Nazis running the camp even invited the International Red Cross to a performance, as an indicator of the "humane" conditions. Yet another example of the strange ironies surrounding the creation and destruction of culture in the Nazi death camps. The haunting music fills the movie.

"Stories From an Undeclared War"

What starts as a typically inspirational story takes odd turns: A clueless-noble-teacher-in-the-'hood keeps finding strange ways to dig in deeper and teach better for her students. She talks the school district into letting her teach the same students every year. She finds an “Anne Frank” who survived, a girl who wrote a book about the war in Sarajevo, and brings her to the school. She finds ways for her students to stay at school late into the night. In short, the teacher gets around unimagined barriers — and the students respond. And, no surprise, they become famous and controversial. A documentary about a surprisingly untypical teacher and the hopeful results in her students: unpredictable, sloppy, genuine, life-changing learning. This documentary is the real-life basis for the Hilary Swank movie, "Freedom Writers" (2007).

"The Show Must Go On"

A candy-colored documentary about the legendary Flying Wallendas, and their life behind the scenes, maintaining their act despite smaller circus audiences, aging family members and the intensity of keeping each other safe on the wire. They are famous especially for their signature 7-person pyramid — without a net. The filmmaker's decision to use a color filter and soulful minimalist music heightens the tension. Watching the movie is nearly as scary as watching the act live.

"The Prep School Negro"

Produced and directed by André Robert Lee, this movie is a relatively unusual form, an autobiographical documentary. Over the opening credits, Lee himself narrates: "I had planned to tell the story of black kids in private schools, but just as I began, Mom had a stroke and the project became personal." A self-described unhappy man, Lee spends the first half of the film documenting his experience as a poor kid on scholarship in the prestigious Germantown Friends School of Philadelphia. Then slowly but steadily, the movie becomes a meditation on why Lee nearly "lost" his family by leaving south Philly and eventually becoming a success in New York.

"Camilla Dickinson"

Based on a 1951 Madeleine L'Engle novel of the same name, "Camilla Dickinson" is a sweet-hearted but raw story of a rich Manhattan girl, age 15, who struggles with her parents' disintegrating marriage in small, frightening steps. This is old-school story-telling from a world half-a-century gone, but still emotionally honest and satisfying. A very adult movie that is nevertheless suitable for kids down to middle school age. If you're weary of movies about teenagers who act like decadent 30 year olds, this movie can thrill you, altogether decently, with the real struggles of stepping out of childhood into the winds of adult life.

"Band of Sisters"

An eye-opening documentary describing the community work of U.S. nuns in the last 50 years. Long before other American women could become doctors or lawyers and when women teachers were expected to resign the moment they married, nuns were running entire hospitals and schools and building low-cost housing for the needy. Early in the film, Sister of Mercy Lillian Murphy says, "We are the risk-takers in the Church. We are down there with the people, we know what their needs are," and the rest of the movie solidly makes the case. If your image of a nun is a humorously frightening grade-school dictator, this movie may make you re-consider.

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