“I’m a big fan of watching movies in the theater, where they’re meant to be seen.”
House of Cards
Now in its 21st year, the St. Louis International Film Festival has become one of the city’s most highly anticipated annual events, introducing audiences to films they may otherwise never have a chance to see. In addition to having an incredible lineup of films year after year, SLIFF also continues to foster a spirit of cinema appreciation through special events featuring filmmakers, actors, and producers.
One of the most exciting guests of this year’s festival will be St. Louis native Beau Willimon, who will be receiving the Charles Guggenheim Cinema St. Louis Award. “It’s an honor and I’m very flattered,” Willimon says about the award. “You try to make a movie and get it out there, and having your hometown recognize you with an award is a special thing.” The award is given to St. Louisans who have made significant contributions to the art of film (previous winners include Cedric the Entertainer and Jenna Fischer), and Willimon is an exemplary candidate to be sure.
Last year, Willimon was nominated for an Academy Award for the screenplay of The Ides of March, which he co-wrote with George Clooney (who directed the film) and Grant Heslov. Ides was based on the play Farragut North, which Willimon wrote after working on the 2004 presidential campaign of Howard Dean. The film is a brilliant deconstruction of contemporary political races and the dark underbelly of politics that few Americans ever witness.
Currently, Willimon is putting the finishing touches on his latest project, House of Cards, a series he developed with director David Fincher. Based on the U.K. series of the same name, Cards will premiere on February 1 on Netflix, with all 13 episodes of the first season available simultaneously. “This is the first major television series—and you can’t even call it television anymore—to be delivered in this model,” Willimon points out. “Early on, the discussion started about, ‘How are we actually going to put this out there? Are we going to do the standard week by week? Or are we going to bite the bullet and deliver the whole season at once?’ And I think that was the most attractive to us creatively, because it let the viewer consume the episodes in whatever way they want.”
In addition to receiving the Guggenheim Award, Willimon will also be serving as chair of the New Filmmakers Forum. “[Cinema St. Louis] asked if I wanted to participate on the [New Filmmakers Forum] jury, and I said absolutely,” Willimon enthuses. “I then subsequently learned about the award, which was also extremely exciting.” Willimon and several St. Louis critics will be reviewing the works of first-time filmmakers who will be competing for the Emerging Director Award, aka, “The Bobbie,” in honor of the late Bobbie Lautenschlager.
But don’t think Willimon will be hidden in a dark room watching screeners of the films by himself. “I’m a big fan of watching movies in the theater, where they’re meant to be seen,” he says. “So I’m hoping [the organizers] have set the schedule in such a way that we’ll be able to do that. I plan on having my butt in the seat like everyone else watching the films.” This dedication to the moviegoing experience allowed Willimon to get a variety of reactions when Ides played several film festivals last year. While he was among the audiences at the Venice Film Festival and other industry screenings, he admits, “I wished I had seen it with the general public. I was certainly interested in their reaction to it.”
Perhaps most exciting for festivalgoers will be a free screening of The Ides of March at the Tivoli on Sunday, November 18, at which Willimon will be present. When asked what audiences can expect, Willimon admits even he isn’t sure what the program will entail. “But,” he says, laughing, “I’m going to do whatever they ask me to. Introduction, Q&A, whatever.” On the afternoon of the last day of SLIFF, it will certainly be an event not to miss. | Matthew Newlin