St. Louis Rises: Interview with Director Andrew Litten
9th May 2019 by Will Stewart
This film voices a very interesting story from the inside, which I imagine resonates with what has been happening in other cities around the world. “When people are angry sometimes they only way they know express themselves is to destroy stuff”. Touching, insightful, and sad.
We tracked down the director of St. Louis Rises, Andrew Litten, to ask him a few questions. If you’d like to see your film on MadeGood.tv, then please feel free to make a submission.
MadeGood – Please give me some information about yourself as a filmmaker, and how you got into making films. Is St. Louis Rises a typical example of the sort of work you do?
Andrew – I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, with a video camera and skateboard attached at the hip. I would take trips into the city every weekend to film my friends skating, and that time in my life largely affected my interest in film. Skate videos such as Hot Chocolate and Mind Field had innovative, well shot skits in between skating that I would play over and over.
It wasn’t until I turned 18 or 19 that I started to have a deeper interest in film. I was living in downtown Atlanta, working on any job that involved a video camera. There was a renaissance happening in the Atlanta Rap Scene, and as a result of that I got embedded in the music video world. Music videos were being shot every single day, so it was a “film school” for myself and everyone involved. It became an obsession. After working in that world for a couple years, I decided to make the move to LA. I’ve been here for four years now.
St. Louis Rises was created at a very pivotal time in my life. In 2016, I was editing full-time and directing by night. I had an opportunity to direct a commercial in St. Louis, but at the same time was yearning for creating something real. The content producer I was working with, Gavin Guidry, and cinematographer, Kristian Zuniga, were down to hang back for a few extra days and create something of our own. We dug deep, did everything on our own, and now STL Rises is the foundation for the work I have done since.
MadeGood – Unfortunately, this is a very important film that you’ve made, and I think you’ve done a really good job in presenting a powerful message. What made you want to make a film about it in the first place, do you have a personal connection to St. Louis, or racism and segregation otherwise?
Andrew – We shot STL Rises in the Summer of 2016. It was a very tragic and difficult time. There was a surge of police brutalities in the media, so a lot of anger and sadness was in the air. It was also the two year anniversary of Mike Brown’s death, so STL as a whole was trying to come to terms with what two years meant to them.
As we were street casting for our commercial, we would speak with our subjects about all aspects of STL. It became very apparent that the residents had a different side of the story to what media had portrayed during the unrest in Ferguson. We talked with one person about it, and then were referred to another person down the street, so on and so forth. I remember we ended up talking with 4 people in one day who all had a similar opinion and recounting of events from the time around Mike Brown’s passing, and decided that the residents story needed to be told. The short doc is merely a vessel for the residents to tell their stories, and I think that unfiltered respect is what made the doc so relatable.
MadeGood – The film includes a mix of personal stories, poetry, dance, and more. How did you assemble the people who feature in your film?
Andrew – The cast was assembled completely by word of mouth being on the ground. The first person we spoke with was Jon Alexander, the photographer in the doc. At the time, he was actually working with the agency we did the commercial through. We talked with him, and he recommended we speak with Gentlemen of Vision- an organization in STL that teaches young men the importance of leadership through step. Their choreographed moves in the first act became a huge part of showing the city’s anger in a more positive light.
Most of the doc just happened that way. Marcellus Buckley, otherwise known as “The Ferguson Poet,” says the opening words in the doc. We met him while paying our respects at the site of Mike Brown’s passing. Dwayne Ingram, one of our most powerful interviews in the doc, we met through a mutual friend. It was all an organic unraveling of incredible people who wanted to share their stories.
MadeGood – This film is now more than a year old. Do you think the situation in St. Louis has changed since then, and are things different in the wake of what happened in Ferguson in 2014?
Andrew – I think it’s a constant, always changing, ongoing conversation. The community is giving it all they got to uncover a new everyday reality. There’s small victories, large victories and setbacks- but all are valuable in learning how to keep pushing forward. The community of St. Louis is beyond resilient and they’ll continue to break down walls.
MadeGood – What are you working on next?
Andrew – I just wrapped up a short documentary titled 1800 Seconds, which chronicles the making of Pusha T’s executive produced album of the same name with 10 unsigned artists. Aside from that, I’m constantly finding ways to knock out passion projects like STL Rises and further my own creative pursuit. I have a few projects dropping later this year!
MadeGood – Nice one Andrew! Can’t wait to see 1800 seconds (which can bee seen here), and the rest of your projects this year.