Documentary | St. Louis Public Radio


Gena Stringer labors in the hospital with doula Benetta Ward as Brittany Ferrell captures the moment for her film project.
Provided | Brittany Ferrell

When a Ferguson police officer killed Michael Brown in 2014, St. Louisan Brittany Ferrell left nursing school to join the protests. Five years later, she’s pouring her activism into another outlet: a film project.

“You Lucky You Got a Mama” focuses on how African Americans are three times as likely to die from pregnancy-related complications and childbirth as white women.

Ferrell wants to show people that the higher risk to African Americans is a complicated situation with a simple cause.

“Let’s name it for what it is, and it’s racism,” Ferrell said. “It’s racial bias.”

"Living In Tents" chronicles an encampment of homeless people by the St. Louis riverfront. 9/27/18
Courtesy Artica Films

Paul Crane was scouting sites for an assignment in a photography class in 2010 when he came upon an encampment of homeless people living in tents by the St. Louis riverfront, not far from the Four Seasons hotel. He befriended one of the leaders of the community, and soon set up his own tent there while he shot footage for a documentary film.

The result is “Living In Tents,” which became available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video in August and will be shown at the St. Louis International Film Festival in November.

Cami Thomas, producer of the Smoke Screen documentary series with fellow filmmaker Calvin Tigre.
Cami Thomas

St. Louis activist and filmmaker Cami Thomas moved back to St. Louis from college a year after Michael Brown’s death. While news of the 2014 shooting and the protests that followed grabbed national attention, she was miles away at school — grappling with the developments and fallout.

When she returned to St. Louis, Thomas said people told her she was fortunate to move back “after the smoke cleared.” In talking with neighbors and friends, however, she wondered if locals weren’t still wrestling with age-old problems — namely segregation and discrimination.

In the wake of Ferguson unrest, longtime St. Louisan Henry Biggs felt a pull to do something about the issues facing the St. Louis region.  He chose to swim.
Swimming to Ferguson

University City resident Henry Biggs remembers hearing “a lot of talk” about bridging St. Louis’ racial divides and disparities in the months that followed Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson four years ago.

“But I didn’t really see many people saying, ‘OK, well, what’s the thing that I could do?’” Biggs recalled this week on St. Louis on the Air.

For Biggs – a longtime St. Louisan, scholar and athlete – that one thing ended up involving a whole lot of swimming. He decided to swim the entire 28 miles of water surrounding Manhattan in New York City, and he asked people to pledge a dollar per mile to support “things that would make the Ferguson area better.”

Protestors against dark money make their presence known in Washington.
Dark Money, a PBS Distribution release

With a growing lack of transparency clouding money’s influence on politics around the United States, a new film digs into the issue by zooming in on one state in particular: Montana.

Why Montana? The choice of setting came down to three factors: the presence of whistleblowers, diligent enforcers of campaign-finance law and a watchdog press.

“We could actually tell the story there,” the documentary’s director, Kimberly Reed, said Friday on St. Louis on the Air.

Daje Shelton and her high-school boyfriend, Antonio Shumpert, welcome their baby boy, Ahkeem, into the world.
File | Provided | Jeff Truesdell

By the time Daje Shelton of St. Louis was 17, she’d already lost lots of friends to gun violence. One was shot while waiting at a bus stop, another while walking to the store.

Shelton had few outlets for expressing her grief and coping with emotions about that trauma. In her world, fighting, not talking, was a typical way to address conflict. After one fight, she was expelled from high school.

People line the sides of West Florissant during a protest held to marke the one year anniversary of Michael Brown's death.
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

After a Ferguson police officer fatally shot Michael Brown Jr., local artist Damon Davis hit the streets. What he saw there conflicted with TV news reports and social media posts he’d seen that emphasized clashes between protesters and police.

“It was absolutely nothing like what was being portrayed by the media,” Davis said.

Instead of clashes with police, he noticed people exercising their first amendment rights. So when budding filmmaker Sabaah Folayan contacted Davis about collaborating on a documentary about the protests, he felt compelled to work with her. That documentary, “Whose Streets?” will be released locally and across the nation tonight. 

Damon Davis and Sabaah Folayan will discuss "Whose Streets?" on Thursday's St. Louis on the Air,
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

This Friday, in St. Louis and across the nation, the first nationally-distributed documentary about the protests, activism and aftermath in the wake of the police shooting death of Michael Brown Jr. in Ferguson will be released.

Jon Else, filmmaker and author of "True South," discussed the legacy of St. Louis filmmaker Henry Hampton with St. Louis on the Air on Wednesday.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

Filmmaker Henry Hampton grew up in segregated St. Louis, Richmond Heights to be specific, during the 1940s. He would go on to found a film production company called Blackside, Inc. in Boston. His company produced over 80 documentaries and other productions and most notably created “Eyes on the Prize.”

The 14-part documentary is considered one of the most influential and definitive documentaries about the 30 years encompassing what Americans call the civil rights movement era, from Emmett Till to the Black Panthers.

Saadiq Mohhamed and Sa'ad Hussein are two Somali soccer stars that have started a new life in St. Louis after leaving their war-torn home. They are pictured here working with children at a St. Louis soccer park.
J.R. Biersmith

There was a point late into the filming of “Men in the Arena” that director and St. Louis native J.R. Biersmith realized his relationship with the documentary’s subjects was fundamentally altered. A journalist by trade, this was a different challenge than he was used to — but then again, everything in Somalia, where Biersmith had traveled to shoot the documentary about the national soccer team, was a challenge unlike anything he was used to.

Judi Hampton joined St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh.
Alex Heuer / St. Louis Public Radio

When it premiered in 1987, the 14-hour documentary series “Eyes on the Prize” was the definitive story of the civil rights movement from 1954 to the mid-1980s.

Nearly 30 years later, the documentary series is making a resurgence due, in part, to the efforts of Judi Hampton, whose late brother, Henry Hampton, produced “Eyes on the Prize.” The Hamptons grew up in St. Louis and Judi Hampton continues to live in the area part time.

William J. Clinton Presidential Library

This year’s Sundance Film Festival premiered a documentary about someone St. Louisans know and love: the incomparable Maya Angelou. The film is titled “Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise” and will have its St. Louis premiere on Thursday, March 24 at the Missouri History Museum, as part of Washington University Libraries Film & Media Archive’s Henry Hampton Film Series.  It is the first documentary to be made about Angelou’s life.

Images from St. Louis International Film Festival

This year St. Louis Public Radio is reviewing films from The St. Louis International Film Festival that relate to prominent issues facing our city.

In this installment, St. Louis Public Radio looks at films that offer a multitude of perspectives on race as it affects culture on a local, national and international scale: "Four Way Stop," "Goodbye Theresienstadt," "Finding Bosnia," "My Friend Victoria," "Korla!" and "Aram, Aram."

St. Louis Film Festival will be largest in event's history

Nov 1, 2015

Radioactive waste, racial injustice, murder mysteries and selling drugs on the internet are all topics for the screen in this year’s Whitaker St. Louis International Film Festival. According to festival Executive Director Cliff Froehlich, the two-week long run of screenings will be unlike previous efforts.

“It’s fairly overwhelming I have to admit. This is the largest festival we’ve ever mounted,” said Froehlich.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 28, 2013 - "Dirty Wars" is a disturbing documentary about America's clandestine use of drones, long-range missiles and deadly midnight raids for what are called "targeted assassinations" in Africa and the Middle East. The attacks are theoretically directed at known terrorists, but sometimes -- often, the filmmakers contend -- innocent people are killed. In one case that drives veteran war correspondent Jeremy Scahill on an obsessive investigation deep into zones of death, two pregnant women are among the casualties of a raid.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 11, 2013 - During the United States’ 200-plus years, military veterans have at times been honored and at other times forgotten.

After World War I, perceived mistreatment led veterans to camp out in Washington. After World War II, Congress -- and then-President Harry S Truman, a World War I vet -- crafted the GI Bill and other measures to help veterans readjust to civilian life.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 6, 2013 - Since 1965, Vic and Grace Phillips made their home in Ballwin. There, they raised three children, including son and broadcast journalist, Stone Phillips.

Today, the Phillips live in a retirement community in North Carolina, and the years, conversations and choices it took to get them there are documented in “Moving with Grace,” a new documentary filmed and produced by Phillips.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 1, 2013 - People in St. Louis -- a city that loves its brick -- likely cannot imagine what the conditions are for those producing contemporary bricks in third world countries. Tonight, Community Cinema presents “The Revolutionary Optimists,” which brings us into Calcutta’s slums where children are working in unimaginable conditions to produce bricks.

The film will be broadcast at a later date as part of Independent Lens on Nine PBS. The Community Cinema Series is a partnership among Nine Network, Independent Television Service and museum.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 29, 2013 - For the disabled women veterans profiled in the documentary "Service: When Women Come Marching Home,” the transition from active duty to civilian life holds special challenges -- for them, for their families, for their communities and for the Veterans Administration, which is responsible for providing their long-term care.

On Movies: Say yes to 'No'; Check out 'The Silence'

Mar 29, 2013

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 29, 2013 - In 1988, under pressure from Western democracies, Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet called for a national plebiscite on his presidency.

A no vote, Pinochet promised, would end his 15-year reign, which had been marked by the murder, torture and arbitrary imprisonment of tens of thousands of his fellow citizens. If a majority voted yes, the general would remain president for another eight years.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 26, 2013 - Each year, more than 300,000 school-age children go through the criminal justice system. This means that America, a country with the worlds’ highest incarceration rate, is also the global leader in the criminalization of its children. Due in large part to “zero tolerance” policies adopted in the late 1990s, our country’s educational and juvenile court systems have become major suppliers to the school-to-prison pipeline.

True False Film Festival has truly arrived

Feb 26, 2013

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 26, 2013 - For many St. Louisans, the sight of felt tiger tails flapping from the backside of cars zipping down Interstate 70 means they are approaching Columbia. Immediately the association is Mizzou and sports, but once a year this college town plays host to what many feel is the premiere documentary festival in the world: The True/False Film Festival.

Community Cinema showcases the life of Whitney Young

Feb 5, 2013

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 5, 2013 - Whitney Young Jr. made waves in history. Although few history books highlight his accomplishments, he is a man worth learning more about. This Wednesday night come to the Community Cinema presentation at the Missouri History Museum to see a free showing of The Powerbroker: Whitney Young’s Fight for Civil Rights. The film explains Young’s path to becoming one of the most influential leaders in the civil rights movement.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 25, 2013 - If things work out for Elizabeth Simons, she could be leaving the bitter St. Louis air soon for an all-expense paid week in LA.

The whole time, though, she’ll be thinking about our bus stops.

Simons, program manager with Live Well Ferguson, is one of 10 finalists in a project by the company GOOD and the Marriott Hotels and Resorts to spend a week in LA at GOOD headquarters. Voting has ended, and the company will announce the winner of the competition by Feb. 1. 

On Movies: Secrets uncovered in 'The Flat'

Dec 7, 2012

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 7, 2012 - "The Flat" is a fascinating documentary about a man's difficult search for the truth about his family, a real-life mystery story that touches on truths about all of us. But it began as something much simpler.

Arnon Goldfinger is a filmmaker, and when his 98-year-old grandmother Gerda died and the family assembled at her well-appointed Tel Aviv flat to go through her many belongings, sifting treasure from trash, Goldfinger decided to film the gathering. 

Community Cinema: A life in art and a chance to create

Dec 4, 2012

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 4, 2012 - Wayne White, a man who wears many creative hats -- painter, sculptor, cartoonist, puppeteer, set designer, art director, animator and illustrator has a life worth documenting. From art directing a music video for the Smashing Pumpkins, to designing Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, this man is impressive. And the documentary about him, “Beauty is Embarrassing,” is a must see.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 9, 2012 - Space travel probably isn’t in filmmaker Frank Popper’s future. Still, it is in his fantasies.

For Popper, who has two films in the Nov. 8-18 St. Louis International Film Festival, documenting an out-of-this-world journey would be the ultimate filmmaking experience. Growing up with a father in the Air Force and surrounded by conversations about sonic booms and jet engines infused young Popper with a fascination for space flight.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 23, 2012 - They ran, jumped and swam with so much grace and determination that some viewers might have found it hard to believe that these athletes were in their 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond. The stories of athletes competing for the gold in Senior Olympics nationwide are captured in an inspiring documentary, called "Age of Champions." It is making its way across the country in local showings ahead of its PBS debut next year.

Film about Janesville plant should spark discussion

Oct 1, 2012

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 1, 2012 - When General Motors shut the doors of its assembly plant in Janesville, Wisc., in 2008, about 2,000 residents who were used to good-paying union jobs making SUVs and pickup trucks were now in a town with more people than jobs. The story of what happens to this population is captured in the documentary “As Goes Janesville,” which is playing Oct. 3 at the Missouri History Museum.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, August 10, 2012 - “Monument to the Dream” -- documentarian Charles Guggenheim’s masterful 1960s tribute to the builders of the Gateway Arch -- is undergoing a “facelift” to bring it into the digital age.

His daughter Grace Guggenheim, who is overseeing the digitization, acknowledges that it is a heavy responsibility.