Cinema St. Louis' leader celebrates 20 years in role

Cinema St. Louis' leader celebrates 20 years in role

GRAND CENTER – When Chris Clark became the artistic director of Cinema St. Louis, he said, he had “no earthly clue how to accomplish the job.” 

Twenty years later, Clark produces not only the St. Louis International Film Festival each year but also several other festivals: a Classic French Film Festival, Q Fest, the local brand of the 48-Hour Film Project and the St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase. Cinema St. Louis is at 3547 Olive St.

Clark got a degree in Mass Media from Webster University. His involvement with Cinema St. Louis – then called the St. Louis International Film Festival – began when he volunteered with the festival, mostly stuffing envelopes. He moved from volunteer to board member and finally to artistic director in 2000. 

In the years he’s spent at Cinema St. Louis, Clark has seen quite a few changes in the film world – none more so than the very word “film” itself. Twenty years ago, the SLIFF received hard copies of each film in the festival. But that’s no longer true, Clark said. 

“It’s not film anymore,” he explained. “It’s all digital. When I started, we received things on video tapes, and everything we showed was on film. A regular feature film of 90 to 100 minutes would be two very heavy film cans weighing about 20 to 30 pounds each. Things progressed, and digital formats became more readily available.”

The shift to digital means almost anyone can make a film – even with just a smartphone, Clark said. 

“[Filmmakers] won’t have to have $20,000 to spend on film stock and then get it developed,” he said, “and, you know, if it’s wrong – the film got developed wrong or you had bad lighting – then it’s ruined and it’s all over and all that is wasted.” 

For the festival, Clark added, the ease of producing good-quality video means a wider variety of voices are represented, which he counts as an improvement. 

Clark also spoke about the delicacy of selecting films that speak to a wide variety of audiences, an art in and of itself. 

“We have to think outside of ourselves and think, ‘What are the universal themes? What are the stories that speak to anyone?’” he said. 

As to why he thinks film continues to be such a popular art form, Clark said film could give audience members an intimate look into another person’s life. 

“There’s just something magical about sitting in a darkened theater as the lights go down,” he added. “The light goes over your head and onto the screen in front of you. It’s just different than a play. Seeing this project, this shiny object projected in front of you; and people can travel the world through film and visit other cultures and never have to leave home if they don’t want to.”

Next up for Cinema St. Louis is the St. Louis International Film Festival, now in its 28th year. The festival runs from Nov. 7-17. For more information, check out https://www.cinemastlouis.org/about-festival.