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Take Five: Cinema St. Louis head on festival of 'Money, Need and Greed'

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Money is the subject of many a popular song: It “Makes the World Go ‘Round” in “Cabaret.” Dire Straits laments “Money for Nothing.” Money "is a hit,” according to Pink Floyd.

Money will also be explored in literature, film and theater in the April 4-6 Greater St. Louis Humanities Festival. “Money, Money! Need, Greed and Generosity” is sponsored by Cinema St. Louis and a dozen other organizations. The 2013 event is St. Louis’ second annual festival. It’s the brainchild of Washington University English professor Gerald Early, who was inspired by the Chicago Humanities Festival.

This year’s schedule includes a double dose of “Double Indemnity.” The film screens Thursday at Webster’s Moore Auditorium, and a pre-performance discussion takes place before The Rep’s Friday presentation of the play.

Despite the money theme, you don’t need much cash to participate. All events are free except the staging of “Double Indemnity” that follows the talk.

The three-day event also includes a Laumeier Sculpture Park-sponsored presentation on museums and money at the Contemporary Art Museum, a Prison Performing Arts staging at the Central Library of scenes from the play “Metamorphoses” featuring the story of King Midas’ golden touch, and a screening of “Greed.” “Greed” is a silent film accompanied by the Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra and followed by a discussion with film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum.

Cinema St. Louis executive director and festival spokesperson Cliff Froehlich talked with the Beacon about the festival and its focus on cold, hard cash.

The Beacon: What’s behind this year’s theme?

Cliff Froehlich: Each Humanities Festival has a theme, it explores a topic. It can be loosely defined but they like to organized around a particular topic so that it’s not just haphazard.

This year, we decided, because of the obvious importance of money in our lives and of course the persistent economic downturn, that money would be a good and broad enough topic that we could explore it from a number of different angles.

The festival will explore how it affects people’s lives, how people choose to give and why people choose to not give, in greedy fashion.

What else is new this year?

Froehlich: The first one we did in St. Louis was called “A Sense of Place.” It was about how place determines so much of who we are and what we do. There were maybe only three or four events that took place last year.

This year, it’s been expanded. More organizations and more individuals are participating. There are about twice the number of events that are taking place this year.

The film “Greed” has an obvious connection, given its name. How else is it a good fit?

Froehlich: The story itself involves the ways in which people’s behavior gets contorted by greed, by having money. They’re protective of it, and they end up misbehaving badly because of it.

“Greed” is also a nice case study of the ways in which money helps shape and distort what’s presented to us as art.

How are the arts and humanities well-suited to exploring money and greed?

Froehlich: Often, we view life through an artistic prism, and we see life reflected back at us through an artistic mirror. It also helps model our behavior: The things we see in movies and plays help show us how we’re supposed to behave and what’s wrong.

Art reflects, and it also shapes. When you’re dealing with these issues, it’s through art-making that many people begin to grapple with their implications.

What do you hope people with come away with?

Froehlich: We just want to stimulate thought. We want to present this diversity of points of view with regard to money and its importance in our lives, and stimulate people to think about what we believe on a personal level about money -- to ask: Are we doing the right things with regard to how we save and how we spend and how we give?

But also on a more societal level, are we doing the right thing as a society?

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.