THANKS FROM SLIFF
The 30th Annual Whitaker St. Louis International Film Festival (SLIFF) was held both in person and online from Nov. 4-21, 2021.
For information on the audience and juried awards presented by SLIFF on the fest's closing night, visit the Awards section.
The fest had a total estimated viewership of 21,646, including 11,564 St. Louis-area students who participated in our free Cinema for Students program. There were 5,740 in-person attendees and 4,342 online viewers. A note on methodology: Because most virtual programs were watched at home by more than a single person, online viewership was estimated by multiplying the number of total programs purchased (2,481) by 1.75.
Because of the hybrid nature of this year’s fest, viewers from outside the St. Louis area also participated in many programs, with 44 states and 16 countries represented.
SLIFF screened 412 films: 61 documentary features, 84 narrative features, 94 documentary shorts, and 173 narrative shorts. There were an additional two film programs exclusive to Cinema for Students. The fest also featured six livestreamed special events — four seminars/master classes, a New Filmmakers Forum roundtable, and the closing-night awards presentation — and six in-person special events.
A total of 31 programs were offered for free, and 31 virtual programs were offered at a discounted price of $5.
This year’s festival featured films from 78 countries in 37 languages.
- FESTIVAL HIGHLIGHTS
SLIFF continued 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 fest in 2020, SLIFF was 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 preferred to watch at home, we still provided plenty of options, with nearly 100 virtual programs and livestreams.
SLIFF began 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 received SLIFF’s Contemporary Cinema Award, and many of the film’s subjects attended the screening to participate in a compelling post-film Q&A.
On the festival’s final day, SLIFF offered a Tribute to Mary Strauss, which included a screening of Mary’s favorite film, “Sunset Boulevard.” Mary has played an absolutely essential role in Cinema St. Louis’ evolution, and we were delighted to honor her with a Lifetime Achievement Award during our 30th edition.
Between those two bookends, SLIFF screened more than 400 films. Particularly exciting for St. Louisans was our Centerpiece Event, the screening of “American Underdog.” The program included a post-film conversation with St. Louis Rams legend and Pro Football Hall of Famer Kurt Warner and his wife, Brenda Warner.
We also honored two other filmmakers: Documentarian and native St. Louis Nina Gilden Seavey, who presented a free special-event program called “My Fugitive” at the fest, received the Charles Guggenheim Cinema St. Louis Award; and documentarian Deborah Riley Draper, whose film “Twenty Pearls: The Story of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority” screened at SLIFF, received the Women in Film Award.
The 2021 SLIFF featured 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 exciting English-language studio films were 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).
Major international titles included “A Chiara” from Jonas Carpignano, “Ahed’s Knee” from Nadav Lapid ("The Kindergarten Teacher"), “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 offered 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 included 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 just scratches the surface of the 2021 lineup, which included nearly 20 American indies, 29 shorts programs, and eight free archival selections.