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St. Louis International Film Festival offers 'smart' mix, from puppets to jazz

A still from "The Drunkard's Lament," University City native Jim Finn's re-imagining of Emily Brontë's novel "Wuthering Heights." 10/31/18
St. Louis International Film Festival

One way to size up the 27th annual St. Louis Film Festival is by the numbers. It’ll feature 413 films at 14 different venues, from mainstays like the Landmark Tivoli Theatre in University City to Old Bakery Beer Company in Alton. Organizers expect a record 30,000 to attend.

Another is the breadth of programming, from a fantasy story told through puppets and animation to a documentary about black jazz musicians who were asked to join United States propaganda efforts during the Cold War.

“It’s always been a very strongly programmed festival,” said filmmaker Jim Finn, a University City native who is one of three Charles Guggenheim Cinema St. Louis Award honorees this year. The 11-day festival begins Thursday.

“They take chances with work and it’s very smart,” Finn said, “because they see the festival as ways to get films that wouldn’t normally open in smaller cities or outside of the major coastal areas.”

Finn’s film “The Drunkard’s Lament” is a version of “Wuthering Heights” told from the point of view of Emily Brontë’s brother, Branwell Brontë. Following its screening at the festival, Finn will lead a role-playing game based on the film with the audience.

Actor John Goodman, an Affton native and graduate of Missouri State University (then known as Southwest Missouri State), will receive the festival’s lifetime achievement award before a sold-out screening of 1998 film “The Big Lebowski.”

“We certainly want to bring in the people who are going to put butts in seats, but we also want them to be people who are doing high quality work,” said Cliff Froehlich, executive director of Cinema St. Louis, the group that presents the festival. “And Goodman absolutely qualifies on that basis.”

Froehlich said this year’s lineup has an unusually high 16 films that are likely to see wide theatrical release. But after the festival, St. Louisans will only be able to see most of them online or on DVDs, as they won’t be shown in theaters.

“We want to serve many different audiences,” Froehlich said.

“We don’t have a single audience, we have many audiences and we want to have choices for everybody.”

"Owned: A Tale of Two Americas" is a documentary grouped in the Mean Streets series. 10/31/18
Credit St. Louis International Film Festival
"Owned: A Tale of Two Americas" is a documentary grouped in the Mean Streets series.

Some films will be grouped by topics. Two series include Show Me Cinema, featuring films with Missouri connections, and Mean Streets, including films about racial segregation.

“We hope we have a serious role to play in stimulating discussion. We can’t effect change on our own but we can certainly expose people to things they don’t encounter in their own lives,” Froehlich said. “We have emotional reactions to film that we don’t necessarily have when we’re reading statistics or a newspaper article, even a really good one.”

Follow Jeremy on Twitter @jeremydgoodwin.

Jeremy is the arts & culture reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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