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Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, July 2, 2022


St. Thomian filmmaker Lilibet Foster is up for an Oscar — as producer of a film screened last Friday at the Reichhold Center for the Arts as part of its premiere International Film and Video Festival.
Speaking in Strings, an intimate look at the life and artistry of brilliant but eccentric classical violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, was announced Tuesday as a nominee for Best Documentary Feature for this year’s Academy Awards.
It will compete with four other feature-length documentary films for the Oscar to be awarded in that category at the 72nd annual awards ceremony of the National Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles on March 26. The others are The Buena Vista Social Club, Genghis Blues, On the Ropes and One Day in September.
Speaking in Strings, which played to enthusiastic applause at the Reichhold on Friday, portrays Salerno-Sonnenberg as an unorthodox, funny and fearless artist who has both enraptured and enraged critics and music lovers throughout the world. Scenes filmed live at concerts and recitals are interspersed with comments by her mother, coaches, marketers and friends, and with her own reflections on the music within her, the father she never knew, the cat she tenderly nurses and her hair that never has a good day.
Foster, 34, the daughter of retired real estate business owners John and Claire Foster, has been working as an independent film producer and director in New York for 12 years. She founded Asphalt Films, a New York production company, with partner Danielle Gardner.
Her brother, also named John and also a St. Thomas resident, said he found a message she left on his telephone Tuesday telling him Speaking of Strings had made the cut and concluding "Way to go!" Not long after, he said, "Mom called and said ‘Did you get the message?’"
The film was one of two produced by Foster that were shown at the Reichhold Friday night. The other was Soul in the Hole, directed and co-produced by Gardner, which followed the exploits of a gifted point guard on a Brooklyn street basketball squad, his teammates and their coach.
After the basketball film was screened but before the violinist work was shown, Foster fielded questions from the audience on the Reichhold stage. She noted that it had taken several years to film Soul in the Hole and that she and Gardner have continued to track significant developments in the lives of the young ballplayers and their coach and to provide support through a foundation they created.
In the company of her parents and brother, she greeted old and new friends after the screenings and noted that the Oscar nominations would be coming out on Tuesday.
"Having the film shown here and having her home for the occasion just before the nomination was announced made the news that much more special," her mother said Tuesday evening.
Born on St. Thomas, Foster attended the island’s Montessori School before going to England for her secondary schooling. She didn’t decide on film as a career choice until after she graduated from Duke University, according to her brother.
Her producing and directing credits include other critically acclaimed films and documentary specials for network television, including A&E’s "Prime Time Oprah Winfrey Special: Nine" and Lifetime Cable’s "What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You." She has produced and directed numerous television commercials and campaigns and is currently developing a reality-based TV series as well as fiction films about a female boxer and a real-life novelist who lived in New York’s Bowery area in the early 1980s.
She left work in Los Angeles to fly to St. Thomas for just a few days, then left Monday to go to New York en route back to L.A.
Her brother, John, saw Speaking in Strings for the first time at the Reichhold. "I thought it was very compelling — a lot of compassion, a lot of conviction," he said. Recalling that his sister "had some affinity" for taking pictures with a camera as a youth, he said her main strength even then was that "she was very good at organizing things — which is what you do as a producer or director."
By far, the best-known of the nominated documentary feature films is The Buena Vista Social Club. Directed by internationally acclaimed German filmmaker Wim Wenders, whose credits include being named Best Director at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival, the film documents the making in 1966 of the hit CD album of the same name. It brought together a group of aging Cuban musicians who all had been famous at one time but had since slipped into obscurity, even in Cuba.
While all the other nominees must be considered underdogs against the hugely popular Buena Vista Social Club, Oscars have eluded the favorites time and time again. Many of the nearly 200 Virgin Islands film fans who viewed Speaking in Strings at the Reichhold probably wouldn’t be disappointed at all if it proved to be an upset winner.
The Academy Awards ceremony is to be televised on the ABC network beginning at 9 p.m. local time on March 26.

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