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The Lens: 2009 Film festival: Make choices; take chances

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 11, 2009 - It's here: the most hectic, crowded two weeks on the local cinematic calendar. The 18th annual St. Louis International Film Festival begins Thursday, presenting nearly 100 feature films, more than 40 documentaries and more than 100 short films of every description, as well as a range of panel discussions, award presentations, concerts and special events.

There are some film festivals - New York, Cannes - where, in theory, one could actually see ever single program offered, given enough leisure time, money and influence in securing tickets. This isn't one of them. On most days, films will running simultaneously on five local screens (Webster University, and two screens each at the Plaza Frontenac and Tivoli), with additional programs scheduled at various times at the Art Museum, the Hi-Pointe and Washington University.

You want to see Terry Gilliam's "Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus" and Richard Linklater's "Me and Orson Welles," but you've also heard good things about "The Young Victoria" - unfortunately they're all showing more or less simultaneously. Rule No. 1, as I once heard a festival veteran explain to a disappointed ticketholder, is that You Have To Make Choices.

But don't worry. Some of the films are being screened twice, Many, like the Gilliam films, "Up in the Air" and the opening night "An Education," are already scheduled to open for commercial runs shortly.

Others will certainly follow, if not onto local screens then certainly onto cable and your Netflix queue.

But many, especially those from countries less typically represented on art-house screens, will possibly never be seen again.

Which brings me to Rule No. 2: Take Chances. Compared to most commercial releases, where months of advertising and generic conventions have already told you exactly what to expect, a film festival offers the rare opportunity to see a film in a state of innocence. Walk into an auditorium with an open mind and no expectations and you might be surprised.

My comments to be found in the Lens as the festival proceeds make no claim of being an exhaustive account of the programs. Through the generous efforts of the festival staff, I've tried to preview a good percentage of the programs, but I can't claim that my random choices represent the best or most important films.

I've tried to select a pretty wide sample of films, knowing that some films would be unavailable for preview, but I don't want to give the impression that the reviews appearing here are the only films worth seeing or the best.

Just like any festival patron, I took a few chances, saw as much as I could, was disappointed by some, pleasantly surprised by others, but mostly found myself impressed - overwhelmed might be more like it - by the annual sensory overload.

The Lens is a blog of Cinema St. Louis, hosted by the Beacon.