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St. Louis International Film Festival highlights local issues, including legacy of radioactive waste

Still from feature film "First Secret City"
St. Louis International Film Festival

Cinema St. Louis’ St. Louis International Film Festival starts next week on November 5, bringing with it a group of films that are sure to inspire some conversation around town. “The First Secret City” is one of them.

“This film deals with an ongoing issue here in St. Louis about uranium and the legacy of World War II, that we’re still coping with,” said Cliff Froehlich, the executive director of Cinema St. Louis. “It’s been much in the news. It will remain much in the news, regrettably, for years and years and years to come. We thought this film in particular deserved a prominent placement at the festival.”

The documentary takes a look at the secret efforts of Mallinckrodt Chemical Works of St. Louis’ work refine the first uranium used in the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and the radioactive waste that was left in the area, including at West Lake Landfill, and contaminating Coldwater Creek.


Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
Cliff Froehlich, Alison Carrick and C.D. Stelzer

St. Louis filmmakers Alison Carrick and C.D. Stelzer are the directors of the film. You may know Stelzer from his journalistic work with the Riverfront Times and FOCUS/Midwest on Dow Chemical workers’ exposure to radioactive contamination.

On Friday, the two joined “Cityscape” host Steve Potter to discuss the film.

“I sensed that it was a big story myself, but I never realized that it was going to gain the kind of recognition that this issue is receiving now in the press, at all,” said Stelzer. “We operated in virtual anonymity for the three years we were doing this film, up until the last several months when the issue kind of took off and got legs of its own.”

The documentary uses archival footage, first-person interviews, and footage from contaminated sites but, notably, does not include narration.

“I think part of the reason was we wanted the people to speak for themselves and to kind of tell their own stories,” said Carrick. “When you hear from Dawn Chapman, who is involved with the West Lake Landfill, or some of the Coldwater Creek people, you really sense the human impact this has had on their lives and their families. That’s what really draws people in. That’s what drew me in.”

“It is a situation that needs immediate attention,” Carrick continued. “Thankfully now it is getting media attention, but for so many years it was pretty much ignored.”

The festival itself features 30 films centering around Missouri or St. Louis, including films that center on race and social justice in the area.

“This is the largest festival we’ve ever mounted, we have about 450 films in total,” said Froehlich. “We have nearly 100 narrative features. Almost 90 documentary features. There’s something to every taste. This year, in particular, we’ve increased our free programming—67 programs. That makes the festival accessible to absolutely everybody.”

The annual festival begins next Thursday. More information is available here

Related Events

What: Cinema St. Louis Presents 2015 St. Louis International Film Festival
When: November 5 - 15, 2015
More information.

What: St. Louis International Film Festival Presents "The First Secret City"
When: Sunday, Nov. 15 at 12 p.m.
Where: Tivoli Theatre, 6350 Delmar Boulevard St. Louis, MO 63130 
More information.

“Cityscape” is produced by Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer, and Kelly Moffitt. The show is sponsored in part by the Missouri Arts Council, the Regional Arts Commission, and the Arts and Education Council of Greater St. Louis.    

Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.