Cinema St. Louis’ 21st Annual Whitaker St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase is virtual this year (thanks, COVID-19), but that only means you can watch any of its 102 films from the comfort of your own home. The festival runs July 16–25 and seeks to highlight work shot in St. Louis or made by St. Louis–based filmmakers, directors, and producers, or by those with strong ties to the region. The showcase will present 15 features as well as four master classes on various aspects of filmmaking.
The films will be available for rent—after a showcase attendee starts a film, they’ll have 48 hours to watch it. All of the films are accompanied by a recorded Q&A with filmmakers and/or documentary subjects.
This year’s master class topics are Special and Visual Effects, Cinematography, Sound, and Historical Documentary, and they will be available on YouTube after the showcase.
All content is available for streaming until July 25, the end of the showcase. At that time, an awards ceremony will announce the Best Showcase Film, the films that will be included in this fall’s Whitaker St. Louis International Film Festival, and other awards.
Multifilm ticket deals are available, as are student and Cinema St. Louis discounts. Individual tickets are $14.
This year’s 15 features are the following:
Animated and Experimental Shorts. All under 10 minutes, these 20 shorts dive in and explore where film is heading next.
The Balancing Act: Walking the Pandemic Tightrope. The Balancing Act shows the impact of the past year on Circus Harmony, St. Louis’s circus school. The documentary is paired with Castle Hill, a short film about a girl discovering a cult-like group, and Sound Off, about a dancer who experiences sudden hearing loss.
Comedy Shorts. From tried-and-true styles like mockumentary and parody to stranger fare, these comedy shorts—the longest a whopping 15 minutes—stick to the point: laughs.
Documentary Shorts 1. These five short docs, ranging from four to 30 minutes, provide insight into areas of the world that not everyone knows about. Two are research-focused, following scientists or professors on their journeys, one through Ethiopia and another bt Peru’s lakes. Others are more personal, depicting St. Louis neighborhood Kinloch through the eyes of one longtime resident or examining mental health crises in Black women. The final doc is experimental, discussing the Orphan Train movement of the 1930s.
Documentary Shorts 2. The eight shorts in this feature deal with individuals and their journeys, like local activist Maxi Glamour or the owners of Cherokee Street bookstore Hammond’s Books.
Drama Shorts 1. Whether poignant or horrifying, the 10 short films in this feature explore the depths of human emotion. Family and interpersonal conflict abound, as does conflict within oneself and confrontation with the past. The films deal with topics as diverse as grief for a lost parent, the struggles of coming out to family members, and adultery.
Drama Shorts 2. Although drama is a traditional category, there is nothing traditional about the 10 shorts in this feature. Some deal with real-world issues, like loss and college admissions stress. Others are more experimental or metaphorical. One seven-minute piece shows a mother obsessed with college admissions schemes, while another six-minute piece documents a family trip in the near future—after climate change has wreaked havoc on the world.
Experimental Shorts. The eight shorts in this feature have unique spins on the art of film. One, filmed over four years, captures the growth of its subjects in real time. Another is the story of a first date generated by an AI.
The Final 19. This first-person documentary follows Sergeant Dan Hefel, one of the last 19 prisoners of war to return from Vietnam. The true story details the illnesses and dangers he faced, including a helicopter crash and being tortured by the North Vietnamese Army.
Horror Shorts. These 12 short horror films include Veg Out, a comedy about bell peppers, and Last Bite, starring a POP! figurine-esque vampire.
House of Thunder. “People, when they hear about the Battle of St. Louis, they think maybe it was a Civil War battle. But it wasn’t,” local filmmaker Paul Schenkman says. His film House of Thunder is his second documentary, and it tells the complicated story of Great Britain’s failed assault on Spanish-held St. Louis in 1780. The battle, which he says was “much more significant than anyone ever realized,” but which few people have heard of, was an attempt to control the Mississippi and establish a base in the west of the American colonies.
Indians, Outlaws, Marshals and the Hangin’ Judge. University of Arkansas professor Larry Foley’s film is a mix of documentary and narrative, telling the true story of Hangin’ Judge Isaac Parker of Fort Smith, Arkansas, in the words of St. Louis journalist Ada Patterson as she wrote them over 100 years ago.
Interrobang. Some of the lighter fare of the festival, Interrobang is a comedy anthology exploring the moments after sex and the insecurities those moments bring to light. It is paired with Hella Drove the Movie, a 40-minute comedy about a man whose social media boasting turns dark when his wife is kidnapped and he and his friends must find a way to pay the ransom.
Once a Hero. A narrative film, Once a Hero details Navy SEAL and family man Bradley’s struggles with PTSD and addiction.
Thriller Shorts. These eight shorts include stories of fictional astronauts, a teen in dystopia, and a seemingly ordinary pandemic encounter.