St. Louis International Film Festival introduces teens to diverse cultures

Kellin Hentoff-Killian is a young performer with the Circus Harmony group featured in “Circus Kids.”

By Madison Ginsberg

For 10 days starting Thursday, Nov. 11, St. Louisans will be treated to the wonders of foreign and independent cinema when the St. Louis International Film Festival (SLIFF) kicks off its 19th year. Executive director Cliff Froehlich, artistic director Chris Clark and operations supervisor Brian Spath have spent months previewing 1,500 films to select the 325 films to be shown at the festival, which runs through Nov. 21.

“We always strive to select the best possible films that stand out artistically and technically that our audiences will appreciate,” Clark said. “Eliciting emotions or engendering discussion after the film is always a goal.”

In addition to bringing audiences films on thought-provoking topics, SLIFF also strives to offer a cultural medley of films, screening movies from Argentina to Poland to Vietnam.

“We definitely try to touch as many cultures, regions of the world, ethnicities and social classes in the films we select,” Clark said. “[The festival] gives the audiences a chance to explore a variety of cultures and peoples across the world.”

Carter Purcell, a senior at Marquette High School and an avid moviegoer, said she thinks the festival provides exposure to the world outside of the United States.

“So many of these films we would never hear of, or have a way to get. But [at SLIFF] we have a great opportunity to learn about all different cultures,” Purcell said.

Although Purcell frequently watches European films, she saw her first Middle Eastern film at last year’s SLIFF. Purcell watched Dror Zahavi’s “For My Father,” an Israeli film about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

“After watching [the film], I was saddened by the current political situation, and moved to educate myself more about it. I had never really understood the reality of life in the Middle East, and I found myself feeling deep sympathy to the tragedies happening there,” Purcell said.

Despite the obvious cultural differences foreign films highlight, Clark believes SLIFF actually brings people together.

“As much as the films present the differences people have in this country or globally, the stories presented in the festival films also underscore how very much alike we are as humans no matter where we live and work,” Clark said.

Moviegoers searching for insight into their Jewish heritage have many films to choose from at the festival. Several films with Jewish themes that Clark recommends are “Nora’s Will,” “Circus Kids,” and “Prisoner of her Past.”

The festival also allows St. Louisans a rare opportunity to step outside the romantic-comedy/action-adventure comfort zone and open their eyes to cultures and themes that normally don’t get screen time locally.

“Teens all too often lose sight of the outside world, and SLIFF really reminds Americans about all the exciting and different cultures out there,” Purcell said. “It can motivate them to get educated, and to make a difference by being part of a global community.”

To view the entire list of films screening at the festival and to buy tickets, visit

St. Louis Int’l Film Fest

WHEN: November 11-21

WHERE: Plaza Frontenac, Tivoli Theatre and Hi-Pointe Theater, with additional screenings at Washington University’s Brown Hall and Webster University’s Winifred Moore Auditorium

HOW MUCH: $12 each or $10 for Cinema St. Louis members and students with current and valid ID