St. Louis Film Festival `a Real Step Forward'

Article excerpt

The third annual St. Louis Film Festival opens tomorrow and continues through Sunday, May 1.

This year's festival will present 36 movies, as compared to 29 last year and two dozen the year before. Movies will be shown at three theaters instead of one. But the major advance this year is that at least 10 filmmakers will visit St. Louis and talk about their work.

Only one or two film makers appeared at the first two festivals, and there were no organized discussions. No awards were given.

This year, director Joseph H. Lewis, who reached his 87th birthday on April 7, will receive the first annual Distinguished Hollywood Film Artist Award from the festival. Lewis will appear at the screening next Thursday of his 1950 B-movie classic "Gun Crazy."

Lewis is familiar to St. Louis film buffs from his popular appearances at the Webster University Film Series. He is highly respected for the astonishingly innovative visual and narrative techniques he brought to very low-budget crime movies, designed to be "second features" to fill out the bottom half of double bills.

Also, the directors of four of the movies on the schedule - "Suture," "blessing," "Where the Rivers Flow North" and "The Fire This Time" - will appear on Sunday at a panel discussion on American independent film production. It's co-sponsored by the St. Louis Film Office. (See the festival schedule for details on this and other appearances by film makers.)

Barbara Jones, director of the festival, said, "I think it is a real step forward, getting so many directors in. This year, we have three `sidebars' focusing on particular areas of filmmaking: Young Americans, African-Americans and the New German Cinema."

Seven films are included in the Young Americans sidebar and two in the African-American sidebar. The New German Cinema sidebar, cosponsored by the Goethe Institute of St. Louis, will present four films.

About half the festival movies had their premieres in January at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah. "I thought young American directors made a particularly strong showing this year at Sundance," Jones said. "And the movies we have picked up range from the avant garde, like `Suture,' to fairly traditional works like `Where the Rivers Flow North.' "

For the first time, the two rival distributors that dominate commercial movie-going in St. Louis - AMC and Wehrenberg - will share the festival. The festival will run for six days at AMC's Esquire Theatres, 6706 Clayton Rd., Richmond Heights. Then it will spend four days at Wehrenberg's Shady Oak, 7630 Forsyth Blvd., Clayton.

The two movies in the African-American sidebar and "Freaked," part of the Young Americans sidebar, will be shown at the independent Tivoli Theatre, 6350 Delmar Blvd., University City.

The purposes of the festival, as before, are to bring in films that wouldn't ordinarily come to St. Louis and to highlight films that might get lost in the shuffle of major releases. Over the last two years, only about a third of the films from the festival returned to St. Louis for regular runs.

Some of this year's festival entries can be counted on to return. That includes the opening-night feature "Widow's Peak," starring Joan Plowright, Mia Farrow and Natasha Richardson; foreign-language Oscar winner "Belle Epoque" and "Backbeat," about the early Beatles. Most festival films probably won't be back.

"We want to make the festival an event for the city, a special time," said Jones.

Tickets are $5.50. Advance tickets can be bought between noon and 6 p.m. today at the Esquire and the Shady Oak. For further information, call 726-6779.

FESTIVAL SCHEDULE

ESQUIRE, APRIL 22-27

(except as noted)

FRIDAY, APRIL 22

7 p.m. - "Widow's Peak": In a small Irish town where widows rule, new arrival Natasha Richardson sparks trouble by taking an interest in the local dentist. …