Each year, Cinema St. Louis gives local filmmakers a gift with a value that is impossible to overstate. Those accepted as participants for their St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase usually have an opportunity to see their work on the big screen before a broad audience – many for the first time.
The year 2020 marks a milestone year for the showcase. And while the COVID-19 global pandemic presented a challenge to the format of their regularly scheduled programming, the show is indeed carrying on as a virtual experience.
The 20th Annual Whitaker St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase is currently underway and will continue through July 19. The silver lining in the cloud that COVID-19 created is that those who purchase tickets for this year’s programming won’t be bound to date and time slots, as all selections are available for viewing the entire run of the showcase.
Another plus as the showcase celebrates 20 years is the diversity within the films. Nine selections speak to the African, African American and persons of color experience in some way – from lead actors, featured subjects, filmmakers and storylines. The films range in style from short animated to feature narrative, covering topics that span from the ripple effect of slavery, the eternal bond between a father and son, the damaging mental effects onset by lack of self-care and the process of preparing for college.
The King and the Pawn – In his animated short, recent Savannah College of Art and Design graduate Caleb Blue illustrates the bond between father and son that goes beyond a lifetime and is solidified over a standing game of chess. In “The King and the Pawn,” an adoring son patiently awaits the moment he can sit down with his busy father to learn the game. And while his dad’s commitments constantly tug at their time together, they establish a unique hack that allows for them to steal precious moments with the father as master and the son as student. The brilliance of the short lies in its ability to allows viewers to see the perspective of the father who prioritizes providing for his family from an entirely different vantage point. The film will inspire families to discover innovative ways to connect amid hectic schedules – and take advantage of every available second as an opportunity to show love and support.
Augustus. Jon Alston takes lesser known portions of the journey of one of America’s fiercest opponents to slavery with “Augustus.” The haunting story connects the generational trauma of slavery with institutional racism and abuse that continues to endanger Black lives. The current generation being regarded of as “the hope and the dream of the slave” is a common theme. Alston presents a nightmare of those enslaved having to bear witness to the bondage they defiantly envisioned being only halfway lifted as Black people live under the constant threat of attack and death as their skin is regarded as weapon and used to justify violence and apathy for their humanity.
The Ballad of John Henry. The legend of John Henry has become a triumphant story within Black America and American history. But filmmaker Matt Rice opens audiences’ eyes to the hauntingly tragic reality beyond the myth. Instead of a musclebound giant that gives birth to the man vs. machine argument, “The Ballad of John Henry” uses the song as a segue into a tragic tale. The film exposes institutional racism, health disparities and exploitation that Henry and countless others endured as disgraced Confederates stripped of their power to enslave, incorporated equally brutal and barbaric systems to exploit, punish and kill Black people for the sake of Southern economy.
The 20th Annual Whitaker St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase runs through July 19. For a full list of the films and related festival programming, visit www.cinemastlouis.org.