(bright music) - [Jim] He was a cute, feisty kid with a bad heart and a short life.
But these hearts are made in his name and in support of his parents' decision to help other families facing what they went through.
- We really dig in to find out what each individual family needs to thrive, and that's what we focus on.
- [Jim] They came to see a short film and to hear from filmmaker St. Louisan, Kevin Coleman-Cohen, who shot his film here in his hometown.
- I didn't go out to Los Angeles to become a big name, though that wouldn't be bad as well, because I want that, but I just wanna tell stories, honestly, I just wanna tell stories.
- [Jim] And the important lesson future novelist, Theodore Dreiser learned as a newspaper man in St. Louis.
It wasn't, "Don't count your chickens before they hatch," it was, "Don't publish reviews of plays "that haven't opened."
It's all next on "Living St.
(upbeat jazz music) (upbeat jazz music continues) (upbeat jazz music continues) - I'm Ruth Ezell, and we have stories tonight about art being created around St. Louis, each of different media and for different causes, but both aim to raise awareness of notable issues.
Brooke Butler starts us off by getting to the heart of the matter.
(playful music) - [Brooke] When you drive down the streets of Webster Groves you probably notice this, rows of trees prominently featuring a decorative heart.
And if you're like me, you wonder why.
- Of course, when I see them, it's creating awareness for this congenital heart defect community.
It's creating awareness for Mighty Oakes Heart Foundation.
- Welcoming a new child into the world is hectic in itself, but nearly 40,000 infants in the US each year are born with congenital heart disease, creating a myriad of other stressful decisions for families like the Ortyls in Webster Groves experienced.
But despite their challenges, they've made it their mission to spread hope among the chaos for other families.
- Mighty Oakes Heart Foundation is a nonprofit.
We're headquartered here in St. Louis, but we help families who have children with congenital heart defects, really all over the US.
So often parents have to decide, am I gonna stay here at the bedside with my kid while they're in critical condition, or do I have to go back to work?
- [Brooke] The way the foundation helps is by paying some of the major financial burdens that come with caring for a sick child.
- We'll go in and pay people's mortgages, their rent, utility bills, car payments, insurance, travel expenses.
We really dig in to find out what each individual family needs to thrive and that's what we focus on.
We pay those bills so that parents can make the decision, I'm gonna stay here with my kid, I'm gonna advocate for them, I'm gonna shower them with love, give them every reason to fight and get out of this hospital and go on with their lives.
- [Brooke] Of course, Becky knows the ins and outs of what these families are facing from personal experience.
Tell us about Oakes.
Yes, oh, there we go, Mighty Oakes!
Oakes was born in 2011.
He was our second child, first son.
And the big thing about Oakes in our family was he introduced us to congenital heart defects and this whole world of kids who are born sick.
(Oakes coos) (laughs) Are you gonna giggle?
- [Brooke] Oakes was ultimately diagnosed with pulmonary vein stenosis, a rare condition with blockages in blood vessels that bring blood from the lungs back to the heart.
He underwent several surgeries and eventually received a lung transplant.
- [Visitor] I'm the mighty Oakesie!
(laughs) - [Brooke] And while the furthest thing from a parent's mind when told their child needs lifesaving surgery is the cost.
The financial strain is a huge source of stress.
The Ortyls were fortunate enough to have great insurance, but their friends and family decided to have a fundraiser anyway and raised nearly $100,000.
- And I'm thinking, I have all this money, and we don't need it.
I was really letting my gut and heart lead me to run to the ATM in the basement of Children's, withdraw $100, wrap it up in a little piece of paper, give it to a nurse and say, "Take this to the mom down the hall.
"She needs it more than I do."
Really quickly, that emergency fund that was raised for us, we met with an attorney friend, we set up a 501(c)(3), We started going through the legal process to establish a nonprofit.
So Oakes is in the hospital, and we are setting up this nonprofit.
It was the right thing to do.
In hindsight, I can't believe we had the bandwidth to really get organized, but we did, (gentle music) and he got a lung transplant.
And truly, in hindsight, that bought us about nine months, nine months that we treasured.
When I talk about Oakes, I think of our foundation.
I think about his diagnosis, but, as a mom, (sighs) he was feisty, (choking up) he was so strong.
He was a big flirt.
As a baby, it's hard to see personalities sometimes, and when your kid is sick, and they're sedated or in their medically-induced coma, it's hard to identify, but he made us laugh.
He made his nurses smile.
He got to know his older sister who was two when he was born.
And talk about light up, he just adored her.
And they had, and I think still have, a really special bond.
- [Brooke] In February of that year, Becky needed a creative outlet, so she decided to make a heart out of spare lumber as a Valentines to Oakes.
She placed it on her porch, and it caught the attention of the whole neighborhood.
(gentle piano music) - That was the original heart.
And then, when Oakes passed away a couple months later, (crying) those neighbors, they tied red ribbons on all the trees and telephone poles going from our house to our church.
No one needed to say anything.
I just, I felt the support.
I felt so much love.
It meant so much that Oakes was honored and remembered, and I told one of my neighbors, I said, "I'm gonna be so sad "when those ribbons fade and come down."
And she said, "We need to make a bunch of your red hearts."
- [Brooke] The Red Hearts are not only a fitting tribute to Oakes and the many others like him, they're one of the sources of fundraising for the organization.
The Ortyls would gather friends and families to make dozens of hearts for the public to purchase, and soon, other groups started offering their services.
One of those sources are the students in the shop class at Webster Groves High School.
- So the Heart Project is something that we have had a couple of different wood shop teachers working on for around 10 years or so.
This is something that actually works very well for both parties.
If these kids develop a skill, and they can use it to help other people as they go forward through life, then we win, and that's what we want.
We want to develop citizens that are going to support others in our society and our community.
They're gonna take care of one another.
They're gonna be good neighbors and good parents.
That's what we want.
- [Brooke] Does it give a little bit more meaning in the work?
- Yeah, it's really cool to see that around Webster, I see 'em all over the place.
I actually have one at my house.
- [Brooke] I like that it has some imperfections.
It's not a perfect heart.
That's on purpose?
We don't sand them to be completely smooth or perfect, 'cause it just doesn't work like that.
- [Brooke] Just like a human heart right?
- [Brooke] Yeah!
(gentle music) - I think for different people the hearts mean something different, and it could have a real personal meaning to one person and represent maybe a parent who has passed away for someone or a milestone in their family's life.
But it's been a really special project that has been with us from the beginning.
The hearts are going strong, and it's amazing.
(bright music) - In the arts, a lot of people follow their passion without ever becoming rich and famous, because they just have to write or paint or act or make films.
Jim Kirchherr introduces us to a local filmmaker with one foot in Hollywood and one firmly planted in St. Louis.
- [Jim] It was a special night this past March at the 24:1 movie theater in Pagedale.
There were regular movies being shown, but one theater was reserved for a short film directed by St. Louisan, Kevin Coleman-Cohen.
"Pretty Boy" was shot in St. Louis with local actors about a street kid in St. Louis.
- It was one of the things that attract me to films is just telling stories about young people.
People that support me and what I'm trying to do understand that St. Louis is in the film.
It is a character in the film, the environment.
- [Actor] You're a pretty boy!
- [Jim] If St. Louis is a character, it might not be a likable one.
(train horn blows) This is the trailer for the film, "Pretty Boy."
It's about a street kid pulled into the world of sex work.
- I can't do that, man.
- [Companion] It's easy money, man.
- [Jim] A World Coleman-Cohen discovered while working with homeless teenagers in St. Louis.
- A lot of the journey of "Pretty Boy" comes from when I started working at Youth in Need many years ago.
This is how I found that underground world of young men engaging in sex work to survive on the streets.
- [Jim] It surprised you when you discovered it.
- It did, it did, you know the stereotype, when you see young men on the street corners late at night in certain parts of the city, you think drugs.
You think some criminal activity, you don't think sex.
So, it happens in plain sight.
- [Jim] One of the areas he got to know was the old railroad tunnel that came in north of downtown and ran under Tucker Boulevard.
These are shots from 1998 when it was still used to get newsprint to the "Post-Dispatch."
Years later, Coleman-Cohen founded a very different place.
- And that's where all the young people were hanging out.
When I discovered this underground world of young males engaging in sex work, it just blew my mind.
Since then, I have learned that it's a national crisis, young people engaging in sex work, many of them are trafficked.
- [Jim] Coleman-Cohen is a graduate of the prestigious American Film Institute Academy in Los Angeles.
But before that, he grew up in the city, went to Parkway West in the deseg program, and then started taking classes at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park.
Kathy Dunlap was one of his teachers, and she was invited to the screening.
- Well, he was a wonderful student, as you can imagine, but we had some good students there.
- Community college was my stepping ground to get to the next level.
I wasn't ready to go to Howard University before I went to AFI and Forest Park, St. Louis Community College at Forest Park, prepped me for that.
It's an amazing place.
People don't realize that... - [Jim] Coleman-Cohen, himself, has taught filmmaking at universities in addition to making his own films.
"Pretty Boy" is only 17 minutes long for now.
He would like to raise the money to turn this into a full-length feature.
So here's the challenge, it's a great issue, something we should know about.
Is it a movie we wanna see?
- It's uncomfortable at times.
It's a movie that you must see or are we not going to talk about it?
My job as an artist, what I see my job is, is just bringing attention to it and starting the dialogue.
- What advice do you have for filmmakers or actors in St. Louis?
- [Jim] If he were in this for fame and fortune, he probably would've quit long ago.
- Recognizing that I am from St. Louis.
I didn't go out to Los Angeles to become a big name, though that wouldn't be bad as well, because I want that, but I just wanna tell stories, honestly, I just wanna tell stories and help bring attention to whatever story that I'm trying to tell as an artist.
This is a long shot, but you have to put yourself out there.
- [Jim] And while Coleman-Cohen knows Hollywood, you really couldn't call this a homecoming, because he's never really left.
You've lived in LA.
You've lived in Atlanta.
You've lived in DC.
Why are you still a St. Louisan?
Why do you still think of yourself as that?
- The St. Paul sandwiches.
(laughs) There's no other place, and I've been to China.
They don't have that there or orange chicken.
St. Louis has the best Chinese food.
It has the best people.
I can afford to live here.
I can't afford Los Angeles.
And the thing about St. Louis, it's an untapped community when it comes to film.
I want to capture the city, the texture.
The environment will be a character in the films that I make, and St. Louis is just open and ready for it.
(people talking) - There are many artists like Kevin Coleman-Cohen who have distinct stories to tell, and luckily for them, St. Louis has a great film community.
Joining us now is Chris Clark with Cinema St. Louis, artistic director.
Thanks for joining us.
- Hi, Brooke, thank you.
- And maybe this is because I went to film school, and I'm friends with a lot of these guys, (laughs) but it seems like there's a lot of people in St. Louis making films and creating places for people to watch films.
- Yes, and Cinema St. Louis has been fortunate to be part of that scene, since the last 23 years we've produced the St. Louis Filmmaker Showcase, which is not the only avenue for people to show films, but it's something we could put together, and annually, we show between 60 to 90 films by local filmmakers, including expatriates who've escaped our shores here in Mississippi and work in other places like New York, LA, Philadelphia, Chicago.
- Yeah and so, this film by Kevin Coleman-Cohen, it's a true topic, it's a true issue happening here, but it's not a documentary, it's a narrative film, and I imagine you see a lot of artists making those creative decisions.
How do you determine what films to show?
- We're looking for films that have a confidence in storytelling.
It doesn't matter if they have all the expensive toys in the world and drones flying around.
Have you told a story that may not, like Kevin said, that his story is kind of tough and hard to sell, but it's an important story to be told.
But is it all flash or is there guts behind it?
Is there some kind of passionate storytelling or direction, you make people laugh, make people think, or is it the same stuff we've seen a thousand times?
Is it more zombies and gangsters, which I've seen a gazillion times.
What is different and unique about this?
And I don't care about how they made it or what the tech level really is, but what is special about this film?
- Yeah, everyone with a phone is a filmmaker right now.
Yeah, but that technology, you gotta have those basic skills.
And also along the same lines of technology, after the pandemic, everyone's used to streaming films at their home now, so have you seen that impact theaters around St. Louis?
- Surprisingly, the theater or the movie theater industry has bounced back better than was predicted by the muckety mucks way up high in studio land.
People are just tired of being at home.
Every single thing doesn't work as well as you'd hope, and there's still some crossover.
There's still people that, "Well, I'll see it eventually, "so why should I leave my house?"
But there's plenty of other people who just want to go out for the community of sharing a story with people who are also interested, whether it's a Marvel movie or something like Kevin's or a documentary or whatever it is, people like to go out and smell popcorn and be around people again.
- And Cinema St. Louis has a new place where you can do that.
Tell us about the High Point.
- I am happy to!
In January of this year, we took possession and the keys of the iconic and historic High Point Theater, and I still can't believe that I go there every day and can let myself in.
So we're owner/operators of it.
We're showing our own events, first-run films, repertory screenings.
We did a book launch already.
We're gonna do some weddings, kind of whatever we want, including the St. Louis Film Maker Showcase in which Kevin Coleman is a past participant.
It's been about 10 or 15 years ago, but I knew him when he was in town initially working or going to St. Louis Community College, and we've stayed in touch over time, and I've been hearing about "Pretty Boy" for a really long time, and it's been submitted to this year's showcase, and I have not made final decisions yet but confidence is high that we'll be sharing this story with the public.
- Yeah, so there you go.
There's one thing to look forward to.
What else are you looking forward to this year with festivals?
- Having a permanent home is just a nice base on which to do it, but the local filmmakers event is something that we've shepherded for all this time, but we've seen a vast shift in available technology.
Some of the early years, we were literally showing films on film, which everyone cannot afford.
And then a variety of heavy and clunky tech, like HD Cam and Beta SP and things that people didn't even know existed, but are all already long gone.
But now the past couple years, with iPads and phones and things, anybody, anybody on any skill level or monetary backing, if you can tell a story, you can make a film, doesn't mean everyone should, but the playing field's leveled, and I think that's fantastic, because more people can share their stories.
It's not just the White Boys Club who had money or went to film school that could do it.
Now it's youth and women and people of all color, age, everybody who's passionate about storytelling can do it.
- Yes, great, thank you so much for joining us, Chris Clark.
- [Chris] This has been fun!
- Next, Theodore Dreiser is today recognized as an important American novelist, the author of "Sister Carrie," and "An American Tragedy."
But before that, he was a struggling newspaper man in St. Louis, and "This Week in History," he was really struggling.
(upbeat music) (typewriter keys clicking) (bright period music) - [Jim] On Monday, May 1st, 1893, the big news in the "Globe Democrat" that morning was about the bad weather, damaging storms.
"Rain Came Down Like a Deluge," the headline said.
"A Cloud Burst Washes Out Miles of Frisco Track."
In that same edition were Theodore Dreiser's reviews of the openings of two plays the night before, "La Belle Russe" at Hagan's Opera House in which he said the popular actress Miss Jeffreys Lewis appeared.
And at Pope's theater, Dreiser told readers, "The curtain went up on a full house, "for 'Uncle Tom's cabin.'"
Problem was he was wrong on all counts.
The curtain did not go up at Pope's, and the house was empty.
The famous actress wasn't on stage at Hagan's, neither was anybody else.
Both theatrical troops were stuck on trains that couldn't make it into St. Louis because of the washed out tracks.
(water flowing) The plays had not opened, but the "Globe Democrat" reviewed them just the same.
So here's what happened.
Dreiser wrote up the reviews in advance, because he thought he had a pretty good idea of what he was going to see.
But before he could go to the theaters on that Sunday night his city editor sent him out on what Dreiser said was kind of a wild goose chase.
The report of a streetcar robbery didn't turn out to be anything.
But by the time he got back downtown, it was late.
The theaters were closed.
The reviews went to press and Dreiser went to bed.
(bright piano music) Rival papers, and this was a competitive market, had a field day ridiculing the "Globe," and what one paper called, "its psychic approach to coverage."
The "Post" that afternoon, headlined a column, "Imaginative Journalism."
Some accounts say Dreiser was fired.
Dreiser says once he realized what he'd done, he resigned before he could be fired.
Keep in mind though, that in the days before moving pictures, there was a lot of live theater and a lot of it was cranked out for mass consumption, and frankly, it was predictable stuff.
Now, Dreiser had seen Jeffreys Lewis perform before and wrote or predicted that in this play, her work was "unquestionably artistic and brilliant," and that "The audience seemed "to appreciate her efforts thoroughly."
He often knew the actors in the plays and the audiences' tastes.
He had plenty of advanced publicity.
He also had a tight deadline back at the "Globe Democrat" building.
He needed to get those reviews in that night for the morning edition.
So he was, as other critics were doing, (bright music) cutting some corners.
In Dreiser's day, one of the most recycled ideas was "Uncle Tom's Cabin."
It was a groundbreaking book in 1852, but by 1893, it had been staged so many times in so many different ways, they were just called Tom Shows.
And Dreiser accurately referred to it without seeing it as a "time-worn, barnstorming production."
But it had a gimmick designed to sell tickets.
Cast in the role of Uncle Tom, or maybe miscast, was the well-known boxer, Peter Jackson, who was known as the Black Prince, and between acts, he would give a boxing exhibition.
So Dreiser felt he was on solid ground writing in advance that Peter Jackson "doesn't really act, "but his pugilistic ability is certainly remarkable "and very entertaining to observe."
And when the play actually did open, the "Post-Dispatch" review said pretty much the same thing, and it was a packed house.
So if the play had opened on Sunday night, Dreiser would've dodged a bullet.
Instead, he was out of a job but not really disgraced.
He was almost immediately hired by the rival, "St. Louis Republic," one of the papers that had poked fun at his made-up reviews.
When he left St. Louis in 1894, Theodore Dreiser said he left his youth behind him.
He ended up in New York.
"Sister Carrie" came out in 1900, but the publisher had second thoughts about its immoral subject matter and wouldn't publicize it.
It would be years before Dreiser achieved recognition and success, but he never hid what he had done in St. Louis.
In his autobiography entitled, "Newspaper Days," he wrote about how he reviewed plays that hadn't opened "This Week in History" in 1893.
(soft music) - When it comes to the British Royal family, the monarchy, there are a lot of opinions.
The programmers at PBS and here at Nine PBS are not always in agreement on devoting airtime to the coronation of somebody else's king.
It's just a sort of thing Ernmardia Crowder has to explain to our viewers.
(upbeat music) - Hear ye, hear ye, the crowning of the new King of England is upon us.
(Ernmardia makes horn sounds) And because of the special relationship between PBS and the BBC, we're able to offer you exclusive coverage of the coronation of King Charles on Saturday, May 6th.
This is the crown jewel of British content.
Get it, 'cause of royalty?
But you may be asking yourself, "Why do we care?
"We live here in the US, "and didn't we break free from those guys anyway?"
Well, we care because it's big news, big, huge!
I almost broke out in my Spice Girl's accent.
(crew member laughs) You've told us time and time again that you trust Nine PBS to provide you information on current and global events.
We've offered coverage of presidential inaugurations, hearings, royal weddings, and funerals.
Did you really think we were gonna miss a coronation day, and the first one in 70 years?
Come on, absolutely not.
This is a front-row seat to history.
Let's do this.
(laughing) For these kind of moments in history, Nine PBS actually has the choice of airing on our main Channel, 9.1 or over on our world channel, 9.3.
Both you're very familiar with, but what we have heard from you is that you prefer uninterrupted full access, front-row-center, preferably on the main channel, which is what makes BBC coverage like this so exciting.
Also, let's be real, we're all really invested in the lives of the royal family, the ups, the downs, the Harry and Meghan of it all.
So let us know what you think of the coverage.
Will you be watching?
I know on May 6th you can find me on my couch with my coziest pair of slippers and a hot cup of English breakfast tea.
Ooh, and I might switch to one of those fascinator hats for the primetime coverage, because I, like a lot of you, get very into these things.
(upbeat music continues) - And that's "Living St.
Let us know your thoughts and ideas by visiting NinePBS.org/LSL.
Thanks for watching, I'm Ruth Ezell.
(bright music) (bright music continues) (bright music continues) (bright music continues) - [Announcer] "Living St. Louis" is funded in part by the Betsy and Thomas Patterson Foundation and the members of Nine PBS.