Monday, September 15, 2008

Experiential Auction diversifies Cinema St. Louis

Nina Thompson comes early to Poetry Scores’ annual Experiential Auction, she comes often (she has attended the auction in both of its first two years), she bids on many experiences, and she wins a lot.

Last year, among her prizes was the experience of having Cliff Froehlich, honcho of Cinema St. Louis, consult on her filmic tastes and suggest a film she should like but had not yet seen, and then screen this film for Nina and friends at Cinema St. Louis’ offices in Midtown.

Cliff and Nina consulted and agreed to screen “Shoot the Messenger,” a production of BBC Films directed by Ngozi Onwurah and written by Sharon Foster. Foster says the film is about “the propensity for blaming in the black community and the difficulty with taking responsibility.” The film has proven difficult for many black people to watch, because of its candor.

Nina managed to get more than 20 people (most of them black) to trek out and see it.

“The film that I chose, ‘Shoot the Messenger,’ was a perfect platform for reflecting on the relationships that African Americans have to themselves, people within their race and society as a whole,” Nina wrote to Poetry Scores, as we encourage all experience winners and donors to do.

“Cliff offered to lead a discussion after the film, which worked out well because people had very strong reactions and wanted to talk. My father made a comment that he really doesn’t care for going to theaters because those films don’t speak to him. They aren’t written by African Americans, they aren’t about the culture of African Americans and they don’t star a cast of African Americans. So, he really enjoyed the movie and would love to be in the loop when movies like this are available for the public to see.”

Cliff – a veteran journalist and cineaste in St. Louis, who has held leadership positions at The Riverfront Times and Post-Dispatch – might be described as a “white guy who gets it.” He gets the need to diversify our civic institutions. A bunch of black folks discovering independent film through Cinema St. Louis was way cool by him.

“Most of the people who attended wanted to see if they could get copies of the film and were interested in learning more about Cinema St. Louis. I mentioned all of this to Cliff and told him that I thought if people within my community knew more about these film offerings, they would show up more,” Nina reports.

“Cliff then said that he could use some help spreading the word about upcoming film showings, especially to the African-American community, because this was a segment of the population that Cinema St. Louis wanted to market to in a more concerted manner. He also mentioned that they didn't have funding for that endeavor.”

By then, surely Nina would have told Cliff that her company, NICHE, does PR and marketing. “So, we made a deal,” Nina says.

“I am offering in-kind marketing guidance and support, spreading information on specific films to a long list of friends and associates. In return, Cliff will let me have the thrill of watching and reviewing movies.” File under: “win/win.”

Nina says, “Not only will that be great because I love to watch foreign films and films written, produced by and starring Africans and African Americans, but also I can offer some marketing advice because I have actually seen the film. That’s a pretty sweet deal.”

A p.s.. from Nina:

“This is a great motivator for people to support the Experiential Auction by donating experiences. Sometimes the yield is pretty good. This time Cinema St. Louis is getting free PR and marketing support, and last year Mike Whalen (Rams masseuse) ended up with me paying for about four additional full-body massages after the one he donated that I bought at the auction. It really does work.”


Photo is of Nina Thompson at Experiential Auction 2007 at The Royale, with proprietor Steven Fitzpatrick Smith.

The 2008 Experiential Auction will be held 5-8 p.m. this Sunday, Sept. 21 at Atomic Cowboy. Cliff's cinema experience is on auction again. Advance online bidding has pushed it up to $25 from the $10 starting point for all bids. Bid in advance by dropping a comment on the auction post or emailing

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