It’s not your mother’s Oak Cliff.
Of course with so many current Dallasites being from some other place, the odds are pretty good that your mother wasn’t originally from Oak Cliff. Mine was. In those days, Aunt Stelle’s Sno-Cones were the pinnacle of area culture. Today, Aunt Stelle’s is still serving up the syrupy frozen delights, and the OC is booming with commercial re-development, residential renovation, and an ever-expanding number of cultural options. A significant part of this is The Oak Cliff Film Festival … now in its third year!
Three years is an extremely “young” film festival (Cannes Film Festival began in 1946), however, if the age were not advertised, most attendees would never know. Full credit to the four co-founders: Barak Epstein, Eric Steele, Adam Donaghey and Jason Reimer … they also run the historic Texas Theatre (historic because it’s old and because of Lee Harvey Oswald). Recognition also goes out to Mary Katherine McElroy, the Festival Coordinator (and a whirlwind of energy). Normally, my film festival recap would not mention the people who run it, but this isn’t a “normal” film festival. It’s run by people who love all aspects and all types of film – they are obsessed with movies, not money.
Rather than reviewing specific films shown, let’s look at my 8 critical elements of Film Festivals, and how OCFF stacks up:
- SELECTION OF FILMS: This is the make-or-break category for festivals. The approach of OCFF is the deeper the cut, the better. The more independent, the better. A respect of film history is evident, as is the driving force of showing films that haven’t really had a shot yet. The historical element was on display with the repertory (and 35mm print) screening of Dog Day Afternoon (followed by The Dog documentary on the real life bank robber John Wojtowicz); The Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense; Director Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom and the 1975 documentary Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer. While history plays its part, the real value of this festival comes courtesy of the widely disparate selection of shorts, documentaries and narratives from extraordinarily passionate filmmakers.
- VENUES: My schedule limited my viewing to the Texas Theatre, the art-deco Kessler Theatre (normally a live music venue), and the new Bishop Arts Theatre Center. The first two have been restored and are a visual treat to explore, while BATC is more modern and very comfortable – though it’s “no food or drink” policy is borderline torturous for a festival. Saturday night’s screening on the Jefferson Tower rooftop offers some insight into the creativity of the OCFF group. All events and parties were held at area locales known for their unique flavor, including the historic Turner House.
- THE CROWDS: There is nothing more disheartening at a festival than standing in a long line and still not being admitted to a screening of interest. The number of venues and the overlapping schedule prevented this from being an issue at OCFF, though my understanding is the rooftop screening was at full capacity. The Texas Theatre lobby did get pretty tight at times as the sound/picture checks took place, but the inconveniences were brief. Another thing that helped, was that most of the attendees were there for films, not just to be seen at the scene (I’m talking to you L.A.)
- TRANSPORTATION: Unfortunately, the three main screening venues required driving for access, and there was no van or bus service provided. This was a minor issue as street parking was readily available most of the time. For out-of-towners, this could be a minor challenge.
- SPECIAL GUESTS: Given the type of films on the schedule, this category is crucial for the success of OCFF, and oh how they delivered! These deep cut film projects beg for Q&A and production backstory. A very high percentage of the screenings allowed for personal interaction with the passionate filmmakers. This is a treat for the viewer and a nice reward and opportunity for the filmmakers. Thom Anderson, the director of the 1975 Muybridge documentary spent quite a bit of time onstage, as did director AJ Edwards for his Sundance film The Better Angels. Especially interesting was PF Kluge, who wrote the original “Life Magazine” article that inspired Dog Day Afternoon. However the most fun was hearing from the first time filmmakers and learning of their inspiration and struggles. No matter where their careers lead, they will always have shown their finished project to a live audience.
- FESTIVAL VOLUNTEERS: There was no shortage of volunteers and they were friendly and available to assist. There did seem to be some issues tracking the badges as doors opened for screenings, but that was very minor.
- LOCAL FLAVOR: While the perfect set up would allow for walking distance between all screening venues and sponsor restaurants and cafes, the driving distance was only a few minutes between a very wide choice of local spots … these aren’t chain restaurants, but rather the independent spirit of the Bishop Arts District, which corresponds nicely to the OCFF. This entire festival is about flavor … especially local flavor.
- PERKS FOR FESTIVAL ATTENDEES: Swag was non-existent, but there were creative and unique events and parties, and even an online video contest to win a bicycle. The marketing plan for OCFF is to make sure all attendees want to tell their friends about the films, the venues, the music and the parties. It’s not a festival for the masses, but this group is exceptional at what they do.
Personally, I absolutely love the odd combination of history and cutting edge offered up by the Oak Cliff Film Festival. Learning more about familiar films (Dog Day Afternoon), while having our senses challenged by new material (Yakona), is about as good as it gets for movie lovers.
As you might expect, I spent a great deal of my time with documentaries – both the shorts and feature lengths. The two stand-outs both won Grand Jury Awards: A Man without Words (doc short by Zack Godshall) and Yakona (a beautifully photographed doc feature by Paul Collins and Anlo Sepulveda). My personal connection to both of these films led to warm and colorful conversations with the filmmakers.
Director Michel Gondry’s latest visual feast Mood Indigo featured other-worldly art design and set design, and the choice of The Better Angels as the festival’s closing film was spot on. The Terrence Malick influence on director AJ Edwards is unmistakable and the artsy look at Abe Lincoln’s childhood in Indiana left me wanting more. Because of all this … I can’t wait for OCFF number 4!
If you are in the Dallas area, check out The Texas Theatre:
Learn more about The Oak Cliff Film Festival: