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.

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.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 27, 2012 - In March 2009, Sherri Frank Weintrop got a mammogram, just like she knew she was supposed to, and was told everything looked good. Only a few months later, she found a lump in her breast and her doctor soon diagnosed her with stage I breast cancer.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 5, 2012 - The narrative of immigration stretches across this nation's history, from the pilgrims' journey across the sea, to the U.S. Supreme Court last week striking down much of Arizona’s stringent immigration laws.

It’s a continuing, ever-changing story, but it’s never a simple one.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 2, 2012 - Cheryl Haworth, 29, does not have your standard body for sports, as a 5'8" woman, weighing more than 300 pounds, she is an outlier. However when you google, "strongest woman in the United States," her name pops up.

This Thursday night viewers can learn Haworth's almost unbelievable story in the documentary "Strong!." The film captures Haworth’s struggles and accomplishments in weightlifting, a sport that does not normally have women from her weight class.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 19, 2012 - Bob Marley died in 1981, but he remains the biggest star in reggae music. A Marley compilation album, “Legend,” released three years after his death, has sold more than 25 million copies worldwide, His iconic songs -– such as “I Shot the Sheriff," "No Woman, No Cry," "Stir It Up,"  "Jammin’"  and "Redemption Song" – helped create reggae, which was born in the slums of Kingston, Jamaica, and married traditional lilting Caribbean rhythms with the power and passion of rhythm & blues.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 13, 2012 - The relocation of the NBA’s New Jersey Nets serves as the catalyst for "The Battle for Brooklyn." The documentary, directed by Michael Galinsky and Suki Hawley, chronicles the fierce, struggle beginning in December 2003, between developers Forest City Ratner, an arm of the largest publicly traded development company in the United States, and the local community, led by activist Patti Hagan and resident graphic designer-turned-activist Daniel Goldstein.

(Screen captures/press kits/ compiled by Kelsey Proud/St. Louis Public Radio)

It’s been a good year for documentary films focused on issues in St. Louis and for local filmmakers. “The Pruitt-Igoe Myth,” about the urban housing complex of the 1950s and 60s; “Brick by Chance and Fortune,” which looks at St. Louis’ architectural heritage; “The Gray Seasons,” about a four-year span with the Saint Louis University women’s basketball team; and "Give a Damn?," the story of three St. Louisians who explore the issue of poverty across three continents; have all been popular at film festivals in 2011.

As part of St. Louis Public Radio’s series, “A Good Year”, Bill Raack spoke with Cliff Froehlich, the executive director of Cinema St. Louis. Here's a summary of their conversation: 

(Rachel Lippmann/St. Louis Public Radio)

On Wednesday, students at the City Academy, a private school in north St. Louis, will have a chance to view a civil rights documentary shot and edited by their schoolmates.

Documentary on Blake Travis takes shape.

Dec 30, 2010

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 30, 2010 - St. Louis musician Blake Travis passed away on Feb. 26, 2010, and the Beacon noted his passing with an article that focused on his contributions to the St. Louis music scene as a member of bands such as the Road Apples and Dangerous Kitchen - as well as his talents as a storyteller. The article also previewed two musical tributes for Travis at the Sheldon Concert Hall and at the Schafly Tap Room that raised funds for a scholarship for his daughter.

Commentary: A new dimension of Hoop Dreams

Jul 19, 2010

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 19, 2010 - The contrast between the vigils held for LeBron James and for Oscar Grant was compelling and brings new meaning to the phrase "hoop dreams."

The phrase was made popular by a documentary following two African-American males who dreamed of making it as professional basketball players. It captured the idea that sports are a way for Black males to "succeed." Music is often another golden avenue, and perhaps we can add politics as the newest way to reach that status of an "exception."

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 4, 2009 - "Why not plant trees?"

It is such a simple question -- but one that would spark a grass-roots environmental movement in Kenya that eventually took on national overtones of political freedom and women's rights.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Filmmaker Socheata Poeuv once asked her father to describe the worst part of his life under the Khmer Rouge, the nightmarish regime that ruled Cambodia from 1975-1979 and was responsible for the deaths of 1.7 million people from starvation, disease or execution.

It was the silence, her father said.