The last time Hollywood left a truckload of money in St. Louis was during the shooting of 1981's Escape from New York (tales of Ernest Borgnine's room-service excesses still circulate among local hospitality professionals). Our town may not be a hot location for out-of-town producers shooting big-budget films, but there's a growing network of independent producers plying their talents here, according to local filmmaker Frank McKeown.
"The St. Louis filmmaking scene is definitely growing," says McKeown. "The technology is getting cheaper. Now you can spend the $1500 on a camera and shoot video -- and the video looks good, and you can edit on your computer. Obviously that's good for filmmaking and for art, but if you're trying to make a career out of filmmaking, [judges at festivals] have 200 times more people to weed through. People have been saying that about screenplays for years -- there's one in a hundred worth reading. The same thing's coming about with finished films."
As for the frustrating climate of the independent film festival circuit, McKeown says, "Most of the [independent film] festivals aren't very independent anymore. You see short films at Sundance that were made by someone like Pee-Wee Herman and star Rob Lowe. That's who you're competing against to get your short seen."
If it's films by St. Louis directors you want to see (like McKeown's Chapter One: Rise of the Peacock, a comedy about a man leaving his wife and finding his true self), skip the Sundance Film Festival. Instead, take in locally produced cinema at the St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase from Sunday, July 11, through Thursday, July 15, at the Tivoli Theatre (6350 Delmar Boulevard). McKeown's film screens as part of the "Comic Relief" Short Subject Program at 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 14. A complete schedule of screenings is available at www.cinemastlouis.org, or call 314-454-0042, ext. 10 for more information. Tickets are sold on a first-come, first-served basis, so don't plan on ambling into the theater ten minutes late. Admission for each program is $7 to $9. For more on the individual films, see "Celluloid Dreams."