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Elegy to Connie (SLIFF)

There’s an upcoming free screening of a new artist-created film about the tragic events in Kirkwood, Cookie Thorton’s shooting, etc., which is part of SLIFF: St. Louis International Film Festival.

Sarah Paulsen is a significant St. Louis artist. She created this film using stop motion animation of her drawings, paintings and collages. Sarah grew up in Kirkwood and her family was close friend with Connie Karr, one of the Council members who was killed that night. She created the film dedicated to Connie’s memory. The story is told in a personal, touching way; it’s not a documentary per se, although it’s all based on actual events.



SLIFF: St. Louis International Film Festival

Saturday, November 15, 2014 @ 6:30pm
St. Louis University
Center for Global Citizenship
St. Louis, Missouri 63103

SLIFF website: http://www.cinemastlouis.org/about-festival


Here’s part of the back story as described by Sarah Paulsen (excerpted from her “Process Blog”):

In February 2008, Charles Lee “Cookie” Thornton, a lifelong African American resident of the suburb of Kirkwood, murdered Kirkwood’s mayor (who died several months later), a police sergeant, a mayoral candidate and two other citizens at a city council meeting, an act that must rate among the most horrendous political assassinations in American history. Thornton was killed by police. He was clearly deranged, but what drove him crazy was his sense of betrayal at the hands of white Kirkwood. Thornton had grown up in the all-African American Meachum Park area of Kirkwood, was a rabid supporter of Kirkwood’s 1991 annexation of Meachum Park, and was, if anything, for a time, an emblem of crossing St. Louis’s racial divide.

Many of Thornton’s demons were imaginary. Yet his unhappiness, his disappointment that the racial divide within the suburbs was impossible to transcend is felt by many African Americans. So, Thornton, in his brother’s words, “went to war.” And so has, it now seems, a portion of African American St. Louis, triggered by a particular outrage, but largely an expression of rage against a particular set of enduring arrangements. Perhaps the problem with race relations is that the more things change, the more they remain the same.

Film Website: http://elegytoconnie.weebly.com/

Following is an excerpt from an article on the film published on WeAreMovieGeeks.com:

ELEGY TO CONNIE – The St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase Review
By Tom Stockman | July 11, 2014

Charles Lee “Cookie” Thornton lived in the predominately black Meachum Park section of Kirkwood. On February 7, 2008 he wrote a note that promised, “The truth will win out in the end”, then drove to Kirkwood City Hall with a gun. Outside, he shot and killed Kirkwood Police Sgt. Bill Biggs and took his gun. Inside the council chamber, he killed Officer Tom Ballman, four city officials, and critically wounded the mayor, who would die of his injuries a few months later. One of those murdered was Councilwoman and mayoral candidate Connie Karr and the new documentary ELEGY TO CONNIE is a tribute to her. The touching and unusual film employs nothing but stop-motion animation to address the events leading up to and following the Kirkwood City Council shooting. The story is told in narration by a group of Kirkwood women – Nancy Luetzow, Gina Jaksetic, Harriet Patton, Joyce Gregory, Anne Bedwinek and Lucy Ryan, who are bound together by their friendship with Connie Karr. Made in collaboration with these women, ELEGY TO CONNIE addresses the complicated issues surrounding the shooting and celebrates Connie’s legacy as a leader.


As a resident of Kirkwood since 1964 (except for a 7 year stint in Dogtown), I had a keen interest in seeing this film about the Kirkwood City Hall massacre. It’s a bleak topic and ELEGY TO CONNIE is one odd film. It’s made by an animator, Sarah Paulsen, who uses many forms of animation to turn this story into a kind of massive arts and crafts project. Paulsen animates drawings, pieces of fabric, Claymation, charcoal, water color, architectural drawings, magazine cut-outs, even a Spirograph. She could have just interviewed these people and made a conventional doc, but that’s clearly not her style. The result is a dizzying kaleidoscope of images that never stop moving. They illustrate accompanying audio testimony from Connie Karr’s friends that is relatively mundane, yet it’s that contrast that helps make the whole film work in a weird and completely unique way. It’s impressive how much physical work must have to have gone into the project. Paulsen is playful with her animation yet literal down to the details; when Connie Karr is described as a ‘workhouse’, there’s animation of a horse. When it’s said she sticks up for the ‘underdog’, the Underdog cartoon character makes a brief appearance. It’s all so flashy and colorful that you sometimes forget you’re watching a lead-up to a mass killing. Will Taylor’s score is lively though sometimes mixed in too loudly (at least when I watched it).


Connie Karr’s friends all paint her as a tireless do-gooder whose ideas on changing Kirkwood government were rejected by the close-minded boys club of her fellow council members. It’s all biased and one-sided (maybe her ideas were not good ones), but the film is called ELEGY TO CONNIE and doesn’t pretend to be anything but a glowing tribute to the accomplishments of this woman. One point that’s alluded to often is that, of all the people in the Kirkwood City Hall building that fateful night, Connie Karr was the one that was most allied with Cookie Thornton, at least in her concern for the residents of Meachum Park.I don’t know what demons were haunting Thornton, but his war with the City of Kirkwood was in his head, and I was glad ELEGY TO CONNIE recognized his mental illness without applying too much victimhood to him (which is what I feared when I read that Ms Paulsen makes films tackling ‘social justice’). Thornton’s problems with Kirkwood leaders stemmed from perceived racism, unfulfilled city contracts for his demolition business, and $20,000 worth of parking tickets (which the city agreed to waive if he would stop beclowning himself at town meetings). Credit Ms Paulsen for not trying to find reason in something as illogical and horrific as what Thornton did, which was to murder seven good people in cold blood. ELEGY TO CONNIE is not only a tribute to one of Thornton’s victims by her friends but a fascinating, singular experience.


Here’s a short video clip from KWMU with Sarah demonstrating her approach to stop motion animation:

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