Cinema St. Louis is delighted to again offer in-person screenings during the 30th Annual Whitaker St. Louis International Film Festival (SLIFF), held Nov. 4-21, 2021.

Because the effects of the pandemic continue, this year’s fest will be a hybrid — with a significant number of virtual screenings also available — but in-person screenings will be held on all three screens of the Tivoli Theatre from Nov. 4-14 and Nov. 18-21. 

Other in-person screenings will take place at Washington University’s Brown Hall Auditorium (on the weekends of Nov. 5-6, 12-14, and 19-21) and Webster University’s Winifred Moore Auditorium (on the evenings of Nov. 5-14). 

In addition, the St. Louis Public Library’s Central Library Auditorium will serve as the in-person venue for six Golden Anniversaries screenings of films from 1971. Those screenings will be held on the afternoons of Nov. 6-7, 13-14, and 20-21. 

Finally, the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis will partner with SLIFF on two in-person screenings on the evenings of Nov. 4 and 11.

For those who prefer to view from home, many (though not all) of the films that receive in-person screenings will be available virtually through our partner Eventive from Nov. 4-21. SLIFF will also feature a substantial number of films, shorts programs, and livestreams that can only be accessed virtually. 

To protect the safety and health of patrons, SLIFF will require masks and proof of vaccination at in-person screenings. No concessions will be available at any of the venues, including the Tivoli, to ensure audience members remain masked throughout films. Full information on the festival’s Covid-19 policies appear below.

Program Overview

The 30th Annual Whitaker St. Louis International Film Festival, a presentation of the nonprofit Cinema St. Louis (CSL), continues to provide the opportunity for St. Louis filmgoers to view the finest in world cinema — international films, documentaries, American indies, and shorts that can only be seen at the festival.

 This year, after an all-virtual festival in 2020, SLIFF is pleased to offer a large selection of in-person events, including at all three screens of the Tivoli Theatre, which has been shuttered since the onset of the pandemic. For those who prefer to watch at home, we’ll still provide plenty of options, with nearly 100 virtual programs and livestreams.

Robert Greene

            SLIFF begins on Nov. 4 with a powerful new Missouri-based documentary, “Procession,” which is directed by Robert Greene, the filmmaker-in-chief at the Murray Center for Documentary Journalism at the University of Missouri. In the film, six men from Kansas City, Mo. — all survivors of childhood sexual assault at the hands of Catholic priests and clergy — come together to direct a drama-therapy-inspired experiment designed to collectively work through their trauma. Greene, who will receive SLIFF’s Contemporary Cinema Award, and many of the film’s subjects will attend the screening to participate in a compelling post-film Q&A.

            On the festival’s final day, SLIFF offers a Tribute to Mary Strauss, which includes a screening of Mary’s favorite film, “Sunset Boulevard.” Mary has played an absolutely essential role in Cinema St. Louis’ evolution, and we’re delighted to honor her with a Lifetime Achievement Award during our 30th edition.

            We’ll also honor two other filmmakers: Documentarian and native St. Louis Nina Gilden Seavey, who will present a free special-event program called “My Fugitive” at the fest, will receive the Charles Guggenheim Cinema St. Louis Award; and documentarian Deborah Riley Draper, whose film “Twenty Pearls: The Story of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority” screens at SLIFF, will receive the Women in Film Award.

The festival will screen more than 400 shorts and features, and the 2021 SLIFF offers an especially impressive array of the year’s most heralded films, including selections from such destination fests as Sundance, Berlin, SXSW, Hot Docs, Tribeca, Cannes, Venice, Telluride, Toronto, and New York. 

            Among the most enticing English-language studio films are Kenneth Branagh’s “Belfast” (winner of the People’s Choice Award at Toronto), Mike Mills’ “C’mon C’mon” (with Joaquin Phoenix), Michael Pearce’s “Encounter” (with Riz Ahmed and Octavia Spencer), Stephen Karam’s “The Humans” (with Richard Jenkins, Beanie Feldstein, Stephen Yeun, and Amy Schumer), Clint Bentley’s “Jockey” (with Clifton Collins and Molly Parker), Reinaldo Marcus Green’s “King Richard” (with Will Smith), and Eva Husson’s “Mothering Sunday” (with Colin Firth and Olivia Colman). 

“Belfast”

Major international titles include “A Chiara” from Jonas Carpignano, “Ahed’s Knee” from Nadav Lapid, “France” from Bruno Dumont (“Slack Bay”), “A Hero” from Asghar Farhadi (“A Separation”), “Hit the Road” from Panah Panahi, “Memoria” from Apichatpong Weerasethakul (“Tropical Malady”), “One Second” from Zhang Yimou (“House of Flying Daggers”), “Paris, 13th District” from Jacques Audiard (“A Prophet”), “Petite Maman” from Céline Sciamma (“Portrait of a Lady on Fire”), “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy” from Ryūsuke Hamaguchi (“Happy Hour”), and “The Worst Person in the World” from Joachim Trier (“Oslo, August 31st”). SLIFF also offers a pair of films from Radu Jude (“Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn” and “Uppercase Print”) and a trio of works by Hong Sangsoo (“In Front of Your Face,” “Introduction,” and “The Woman Who Ran”).

Significant documentaries include Joshua Altman & Bing Liu’s “All These Sons,” John Maggio’s “A Choice of Weapons: Inspired by Gordon Parks,” Rex Miller & Sam Pollard’s “Citizen Ashe,” Andrea Arnold’s “Cow,” Mobolaji Olambiwonnu’s “Ferguson Rises,” Brandon Kramer’s “The First Step,” Matthew Heineman’s “The First Wave,” Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s “Flee,” Julie Cohen and Betty West’s “Julia,” Peggy Callahan & Louie Psihoyos’ “Mission: Joy,” Max Lowe’s “Torn,” Debbie Lum’s “Try Harder!,” and Emily and Sarah Kunstler’s “Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America.”

And that’s just scratching the surface of the 2021 lineup, which includes nearly 20 American indies, 29 shorts programs, and eight free archival selections. Below are some of the other highlights of this year’s SLIFF:

The Divided City 

SLIFF’s The Divided City program focuses on the racial divide in St. Louis and other U.S. cities. The films are supported by The Divided City: An Urban Humanities Initiative, a program of Washington U.’s Center for the Humanities that addresses one of the most persistent and vexing issues in urban studies: segregation. 

Sponsored by the Center for the Humanities at Washington University

“The First Wave” documentary

Free and Discounted Programs

SLIFF continues our tradition of offering a large selection of free and discounted events to maximize the fest’s outreach into the community and to make the event affordable to all. In addition, for the 18th year, we present the Georgia Frontiere Cinema for Students Program, which provides free screenings to St. Louis-area schools. This year features 31 free in-person programs, including all screenings at the Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis Public Library, and Washington University. We’re also offering a pair of free screenings at the Tivoli, a free in-person master class, and six free livestreams. And the fest features 31 virtual programs at the special price of $5. 

Georgia Frontiere Cinema for Students Program

SLIFF offers free daytime screenings for children and teens from participating St. Louis-area schools. This year’s selections include shorts, documentary features, narrative features, and shorts programs. See the Cinema for Students section of the SLIFF website for full information.

Sponsored by Chip Rosenbloom and Lucia Rosenbloom (in honor of Georgia Frontiere) and the Hawkins Foundation, with support from the Jane M. & Bruce P. Robert Charitable Foundation 

Human Rights Spotlight

This selection of documentaries focuses on human-rights issues in the U.S. and the world. 

Sponsored by Sigma Iota Rho Honor Society for International and Area Studies at Washington University and the Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute

Master Classes and Seminars

SLIFF provides four free master classes — one in-person event and three livestreams — and a seminar. See the Special Events section of the SLIFF website for full information.

Sponsored by the Chellappa-Vedavalli Foundation

New Filmmakers Forum

The New Filmmakers Forum (NFF), a juried competition of works by first-time feature filmmakers, is an annual highlight of SLIFF. The featured films this year are “Delicate State,” “Papaw Land,” “Shellfish,” “Walk with Me,” and “We Burn Like This,” and the filmmakers will participate in a free roundtable discussion. The screenings and roundtable are hosted by the Missouri Film Office’s Andrea Sporcic Klund. The NFF Emerging Filmmaker Award — nicknamed the Bobbie in honor of the late Bobbie Lautenschlager, NFF’s longtime curator — is presented at SLIFF’s Closing-Night Awards Presentation. 

Sponsored by Barry & Jackie Albrecht and Pat Scallet

Race in America: The Black Experience

Because the events in Ferguson continue to resonate in St. Louis and the country, SLIFF again offers a large number of programs organized under the title Race in America: The Black Experience.  To maximize accessibility and promote dialogue, 12 of the 26 programs in Race in America are free. 

Sponsored by William A. Kerr Foundation 

Show-Me Cinema

Films made in St. Louis and Missouri or by current and former St. Louisans and Missourians are an annual focus of SLIFF. This year’s lineup of Show-Me Cinema is typically strong, featuring 18 feature films, three shorts programs, and four special events.

Sponsored by the Missouri Division of Tourism and Missouri Film Office

SLIFF/Kids Family Films                                                         

Cinema St. Louis presents a selection of eight family programs, including two documentaries and two free collections of shorts. Because patrons younger than 12 are not able to attend in-person screenings this year, all SLIFF/Kids programs are offered virtually.

Tivoli Theatre in University City

COVID-19 POLICIES FOR SLIFF IN-PERSON ATTENDANCE

The safety of our patrons, filmmakers, and volunteers is Cinema St. Louis’ top priority. To ensure everyone is protected, SLIFF has instituted a number of policies for the duration of the festival. 

These policies will be strictly enforced for the protection of everyone. 

Guests must follow the instructions of SLIFF staff members and volunteers. SLIFF reserves the right to deny admission or dismiss any customer for noncompliance. 

The following policies will apply during SLIFF:

  • Proof of full vaccination (at least two weeks after the final dose) of any FDA-approved vaccine is required for all staff members, volunteers, audience members, and filmmakers at each in-person screening and event.
  • Methods of confirming proof of full vaccination are:
    • CDC Vaccine Card and valid photo ID.
    • A photo of a CDC Vaccine Card and valid photo ID.
  • Guests should arrive no earlier than 30 minutes before the scheduled screening time. Any guests arriving earlier will be asked to wait outside in line until the theaters are prepared for seating.
  • Only guests age 12 or older will be permitted to attend.
  • Masks are required for everyone at all times in indoor spaces, and the face coverings must be consistent with the current CDC guidelines.
    • Paper masks, scarves, neck gaiters, shirts pulled up, masks with holes/filters/breathing valves, and makeshift masks are not acceptable.
    • New disposable surgical masks are available to all audience members.
    • Masks must completely cover the mouth and nose and must be replaced if wet or soiled.
    • PPE may be inspected for compliance or issued as needed.
  • No concessions will be available at any venue, and no eating or drinking will be permitted in the theaters. Outside food or drink will also not be permitted.
  • Guests should stay home if not feeling well or exhibiting symptoms of Covid-19 in the past 10 days.
  • Guests who have tested positive for Covid-19 within the past 10 days must stay home.
  • Guests are asked to wash hands as often as possible, use hand-sanitizing stations, and cover nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing.

Gloria Swanson and William Holden in “Sunset Boulevard”

TICKET AND PASS INFORMATION

TICKET PRICES

Individual tickets, for either in-person or virtual screenings, are $15 for general admission, $11 for Cinema St. Louis members and students with valid and current photo IDs. Prices are all-inclusive; no additional fees will be added.

The Tribute to Mary Strauss (held on Nov. 21) is $25 and includes a screening of “Sunset Boulevard,” which follows the event.

SLIFF also offers 31 free in-person screenings, six free livestreams, and 31 virtual programs for a special $5 price. Complete information can be found in the Free Events and Discounted Events sections of the festival website.

Free in-person screenings do not require a ticket.

PASS PRICES

Passes can be used for either in-person or virtual screenings and can be used to purchase multiple tickets for an in-person event. Three forms of passes are available:

Sponsors

Title Sponsor: Whitaker Foundation

Sustaining Sponsors: Albrecht Family Foundation, Chellappa-Vedavalli Foundation, Hawkins Foundation, Jane M. & Bruce P. Robert Charitable Foundation, Ward & Carol Klein, Nancy & Ken Kranzberg, Missouri Arts Council, Missouri Division of Tourism, National Endowment for the Arts, Regional Arts Commission, Chip Rosenbloom & Lucia Rosenbloom, Mary Strauss, Trio Foundation of St. Louis, TV5Monde, William A. Kerr Foundation

Presenting Partners: Center for the Humanities at Washington University, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, The Divided City, Eventive, Film & Media Archive at Washington University Libraries, Film & Media Studies Program at Washington University, Simple DCP, St. Louis Public Library, St. Louis Public Radio, Webster University Film Series

For more information, the public should visit cinemastlouis.org

By Lynn Venhaus
In a powerful feature-length film debut, Shatara Michelle Ford presents a gripping, relevant view of how traumatized women are still treated in the aftermath of sexual assault and the prevailing patriarchy about womanhood and consent.

Ford, who grew up in St. Louis, wrote and directed “Test Pattern,” which was shown at last year’s St. Louis International Film Festival. It won the inaugural Essy Award for best narrative feature, which is given to a film shot in St. Louis or made by a St. Louisan.

It’s about how an interracial couple’s relationship is tested after Renesha (Brittany S. Hall) is sexually assaulted and her live-in boyfriend Evan (Will Brill) drives her to several hospitals in pursuit of a rape kit.

Defying stereotypes, and with its exploration of identity and race, this work has flourished on the festival circuit, and as of Feb. 19, Kino Lorber is distributing it as a video on demand through their Kino Lorber Marquee platform (https://kinomarquee.com)

Ford’s realistic drama veers into psychological horror as everything about Renesha’s girls’ night with best friend Amber (Gail Bean) turns into a nightmare, from the predatory actions of brash e-commerce entrepreneur (Drew Fuller) to its day-after blurry, drugged, foggy trauma.

Not only does Ford delve into these ongoing systemic issues, but also features a frustrating quest to seek answers and justice that serves as an eye-opening indictment of health care inequities.

It is a lot to take on in one film, and Ford has much to say, but she uses one couple’s experiences as an intimate portrait of modern relationships and the framework to look at external forces affecting life today.

Using flashbacks in key moments, self-assured Ford establishes a loving opposite-attracts relationship between an easy-going white tattoo artist, Evan, a superb Will Brill, and a bright, beautiful black development director, Renesha, played shrewdly and delicately by Brittany S. Hall.

Interestingly, they meet during an innocuous girls’ night out of drinking and dancing. Their awkward encounters lead to a first date, then a first night together, then fast-forward to ‘now.’

As their mutual attraction has led to commitment, they have moved in together in a small starter house in Austin. Convincing in every way, their performances are intertwined in a truth.

Bored with the corporate world, Renesha has started a new job working for a non-profit, the Humane Society.  

That night, her pal Amber wants to celebrate, so she reluctantly goes to the Hacienda Social Club. Everything that unfolds screams “bad idea” – Amber, eager to party and already losing her inhibitions, falls prey to a pushy guy, Chris, (Ben Levin), who is toasting a business deal with his friend.

The flashy white guys keep the champagne flowing as they pressure each girl to drink more and dance – and despite Renesha’s repeated attempts at no, and that “I have a boyfriend,” she is stuck in this situation with her fun-loving friend, who is having a good time.

At some point, Renesha is slipped a “roofie,” the illegal date-rape drug Rohypnol, and when incapacitated, she is taken to Mike’s apartment, where he rapes her. She wakes up with little knowledge of how she got there or what happened.

A concerned and devastated Evan wants answers, insistently pursues a rape kit, but Renesha doesn’t want to go through the process. The tense journey does not go well, as each deal with their own emotional responses while facing the bureaucratic red tape of health care hell and a police report.

What is in no doubt is that they have been forever changed as a couple, tested both by gender roles and prejudice.

At only 88 minutes, the film leaves out some pertinent details, and the abrupt ending is not satisfying. But Ford’s flair for dialogue and crafting authentic characters is strong.

Cinematographer Ludovici Isodori’s has contrasted the two storylines masterfully, locations are well-chosen for a low-budget indie, while Robert Oyuang Rusli’s string-heavy score accents an entire gamut of emotions. Tchaikovsky’s “The Waltz of Flowers” from “The Nutcracker Suite” is a clever choice for a compelling scene.

Oscar Wilde’s quote, “Everything is about sex, except sex, which is about power,” is used as the film’s tagline, and Ford has wisely applied it to a modern exploration of how women are conditioned about sex and consent. Add institutional racism from a black woman’s perspective and the power shifts between couples, and you get one potent thought-provoking film.

“Test Pattern” addresses similar territory that “Promising Young Woman” tackles and will add more to the national conversation.

Like the impressive female-directed and written 2020 social commentaries “The Assistant” and “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” with this film, Ford proves she is an exciting new voice. Her name can be included in the growing list of formidable female directors with something to say.

Shatara Michelle Ford

“Test Pattern” is a 2019 drama written and directed by Shatara Michelle Ford, starring Brittany S. Hall and Will Brill. It is not rated and the run time is 1 hour, 22 min. The film is available as a video on demand through Kino Lorber Marquee. Lynn’s Grade: B+