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Film festival offers time capsule of African-American experiences

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By Kenya Vaughn of the St. Louis American

For many, seeing historical illustrations of the African-American experience on film – whether it’s documentary or fiction – evokes a range of emotions.

There is the spirit of hope and possibility that comes with watching ancestors of the diaspora operating against seemingly insurmountable odds and circumstances, from fighting for freedom to the never-ending battle for equality.

And as we see young people unite to change the face of a nation for what would become the Civil Rights Movement – peacefully protesting for the liberties often taken for granted today – we are provoked to at least toy with the idea of taking action to make a difference for the advancement of black people.

Through The Stella Artois 19th Annual St. Louis International Film Festival (Nov. 11–21), Cinema St. Louis offers chronological samples of black people in America and beyond, from being enslaved to attempting to just be in a world that refused to acknowledge them as rightful sons and daughters of America. Here are a few to see.

Dog Jack – In Edward T. McDougal’s film adaptation of Florence Biros’ classic children’s novel, Dog Jack is a Civil War tale about 14-year-old slave named Jed. Dog Jack was his faithful companion as the young boy escaped and joined the Union Army.

The fervor to join the fight for the freedom of his people was dimmed by the injustices Jed experienced at the hands of his fellow Union soldiers. On his journey as a soldier and into manhood, Jed is forced to face the demons of his past and the truths that lie within them.

Dog Jack is inspired by the historical true-life adventures of the beloved canine mascot of the Pennsylvania 102nd.

Dog Jack will screen on Sat, Nov 20 at 1 p.m. in Washington University’s Brown Hall. Free vouchers for a kid’s meal at Chipotle will be given to the first 100 attendees.

The Harimya Bridge – Cultures are intertwined and prejudices must be overcome on both sides in Aaron Woolfolk’s debut feature film. The film is set in the present day, but Daniel Holder is forced to revisit the pain of his father’s death at the hands of Japanese soldiers during World War II as he settles the estate of his son, who had moved to Japan for a career and ultimately made a life for himself there. Holder’s son’s decision to move to the country that snatched the life of his father created a rift that was never mended, but generational prejudices must be set aside, for the future of this man’s family and personal happiness.

Harimya Bridge screens on Sat, Nov 20 and Sun., Nov. 2t at 1 p.m. at Plaza Frontenac.

Pennies for the Boatman – A sweltering summer in 1950s St. Louis is the setting for Niyi Coker’s adaptation of the award-winning play by Mario Farwell. A docile woman mundanely carves out a living as a seamstress and has a decent, albeit predictable, family life until her wayward sister returns home to stir up trouble and unearth the deepest of family secrets.

Pennies for the Boatman screens Sun, Nov 14 at 2:30 p.m. in Webster University’s Winifred Moore Auditorium

Freedom Riders – Over the decades, their name has become synonymous with the movement. But through a compilation of archival footage and present-day interviews, Stanley Nelson shows viewers how the decision for the C.O.R.E. group of college students to be passengers through the heart of the Jim Crow South ended up being the driving force towards the integration of a nation. Freedom Riders offers an often unseen perspective of these young soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement, along with a brutally honest assessment of the situation by the government officials charged with the task of stopping them in their tracks.

Freedom Riders screens at 7 p.m. on Mon, Nov. 15 at the Tivoli.

The Tao of Blake – When the world is first introduced to the recently deceased local musician and storyteller Blake Travis, he is not telling stories or singing songs. He is a teen speaking the truths regarding ways of life he and his peers are subjected to on CBS as a part of “16 in Webster Groves” during the days of segregation.

He smiled and discussed the harsh reality of being young and black in America at the time in a mild-mannered fashion. Travis’ spirit during that appearance set the tone for what would be a career that combined music with storytelling and spanned decades.

Blake would become a beloved local musician and storyteller, and his legacy and impact on society is celebrated through Kathy Corley’s film.

The Tao of Blake screens on Sun, Nov 21 at 5 p.m. in Webster University’s Winifred Moore Auditorium

Cinema St. Louis’ 19th Annual Stella Artois St. Louis International Film Festival takes place November 11–21 and features more than 70 films at several locations. For a full schedule of participating films, times and locationsm visit For more information, call (314) 289-4150.


Written by Symphony

November 10, 2010 at 1:24 pm

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