June 7, 2017

The 6th annual Oak Cliff Film Festival kicks off Thursday evening (June 8, 2017) at the historic Texas Theatre on Jefferson Blvd in Dallas. The festival has grown each year and is now nationally recognized for its unique and vibrant melding of film, music, workshops, and parties, along with live interactions and insight from writers, directors, producers and actors. And if that’s not enough to entice you, the festival takes advantage of various local venues … each with its own personality and flavor.

Full details and ticket information is available at http://oakclifffilmfestival.com/ and here’s a quick look at some of the most intriguing events:

Thursday June 8: Director Janicza Bravo will be joined by her writer/actor Brett Gelman to present the opening night feature LEMON, an absurdist comedy starring Michael Cera. The evening’s second feature film is one of Anton Yelchin’s final screen appearances in the Dallas premiere of director Gabe Klinger’s PROTO.

Friday June 9: The Texas premiere of GOLDEN EXITS from filmmaker Alex Ross Perry. The cast includes: Emily Browning, Jason Schwartzman, Mary-Louise Parker, and Adam Horovitz. Immediately following the evening’s second film A LIFE IN WAVES will be a Texas Theatre musical special event ‘behind the screen’.

Saturday June 10: A full 13 hours of events start at 11:00 am and involves 8 different venues, making this the most interesting and difficult to plan day of the festival. The schedule includes workshops, happy hours, short films, live music, and feature films such as back-to-back screenings from iconic director Alejandro Jodorowsky and his son Adan.

Sunday June 11: The Alamo Drafthouse Cedars has a screening of director John Carroll Lynch’s film LUCKY with legendary character actor (90 year old) Harry Dean Stanton. There is also a block of documentary short films, as well as the Texas premiere of director Jeff Baena’s THE LITTLE HOURS – another absurdist comedy, though this one features Aubrey Plaza and Alison Brie as nuns. The festival’s final spotlight feature is A GHOST STORY from acclaimed director David Lowery (AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS) featuring Rooney Mara and the reigning Academy Award winning Best Actor Casey Affleck.

This only covers a few of the movies and events that are options over the four days, and it’s also a reminder of how exciting and innovative a film festival can be. An added bonus is the local flavor of a Dallas neighborhood that has much to discover.


NUTS! (2016, doc)

July 10, 2016

Oak Cliff Film Festival 2016

nuts Greetings again from the darkness. Not many true life rags-to-riches stories combine snake oil, goat testicles, Wolfman Jack, early radio advancements, celebrities, a campaign for Governor and the Journal of the American Medical Association. Director Penny Lane (Our Nixon, 2013) provides some real nuggets in her telling of the life and career of Dr John Romulus Brinkley. Her inventive approach is unique both narratively and visually … and even a bit sneaky.

If Brinkley is an unknown figure to you, it might be surprising to know that he built an empire and became famous and multi-millionaire during one of the harshest depression eras in American history (the 1920’s and 30’s). Brinkley had the cajones to transform little Milford Kansas from a sleepy town of 300 to a bustling city of 5000. So what drove this growth? Brinkley built his fortune by implanting goat testicles into men for the purpose of curing impotence … a procedure he claimed to have performed more than 10,000 times.

Based on the authorized biography “The Life of a Man” by Clement Wood, director Lane’s film allows us to get to know and feel comfortable with Brinkley. We begin to appreciate and admire his entrepreneurial efforts and success, and even side with him against his challengers. The final act reminds us why we are/should be skeptical beings and that our viewpoint affects our beliefs.

Where we might normally cry “bollocks”, the blending of news clips, home movies, photographs and hand-drawn animation have us fully on board. It would be difficult to argue against the label of genius when describing Brinkley, though the specific category is up for debate. Recognizing the power of the young radio industry, Brinkley started KFKB, when U.S. radio was still in development. He used radio to market his goat procedure, and is even credited with introducing country & western music, and the first sex talk show (a predecessor to Dr Ruth) to the air waves.

JAMA editor Morris Fishbein was a long time nemesis to Brinkley. Fishbein’s years-long crusade was fought to label Brinkley as a “quack”, a charlatan and a fraud. Brinkley was forced to re-group after a losing campaign for Governor and some challenges to his radio station. He ended up in Del Rio, Texas with his beautiful house, a new hospital, and powerful one million watt radio station (XERA) becoming his family jewels. The station was located on the Mexico side of the border to avoid U.S. regulation and he was now able to broadcast not just across the U.S., but to numerous countries.

Brinkley’s particular genius might better translate to modern times. We need look no further than the current Presidential candidates, and the success of religious televangelists and Reality TV icons. These are the folks that tell us what to read, what to believe and how to act … and they each have their followers and believers.

Brinkley lost the Libel suit he brought against Fishbein, and his empire crumbled quickly. He was dead 3 years later. Milford Kansas no longer exists and goats have a newfound success (requiring significantly less sacrifice) as viral videos on social media. When XERA became XERF, Wolfman Jack worked there as a DJ becoming the radio voice for a new wave of music called rock and roll. The film names names (celebrities of the era) and reminds us that what’s claimed is not always true and accurate. Mostly, however, the film is a fascinating character study and history lesson, and as a movie to watch … it’s a ball.

watch the trailer:



June 10, 2016

June 16 – June 19, 2016

OCFF16 For anyone who still believes Dallas is all concrete and glass, take note that it’s almost time for the 5th annual Oak Cliff Film Festival. Founded by local folks who are committed to the independent creative spirit of film, music and art; the festival is based in the historic Texas Theatre, and showcases multiple venues along Jefferson Boulevard and in the Bishop Arts Districts.

The diversity and rare opportunities afforded by this festival is difficult to explain, but intoxicating to experience. The unusual film programming includes documentaries, student films, shorts, reparatory films, a narrative competition, and even workshops for students. Additionally, those behind the festival are quite serious about the parties – live music and DJ’s are often tied into the themes of the screenings from that evening.

Including the Texas Theatre, this year’s events are spread out over ten different venues: Kessler Theatre, Bishop Arts Theatre Center, Oak Cliff Cultural Center, Turner House, Spinster Records, The Majestic Theatre, 29 Pieces, Basement Gallery, and the ultra cool Wild Detectives (bookstore/coffee shop/bar/patio). The incredible range of films goes from Brian DePalma’s 1974 Phantom of the Paradise to the new documentary Author: The JT Leroy Story. On a personal note, I’m especially excited for the Opening Night screening of the restored film version of Last Night at the Alamo (1983). This is being presented by SXSW co-founder Louis Black, who was a T.A. in a film class I took at the University of Texas so many years ago.

If you are a lover of independent film and community events, this is the festival for you. While Cannes, Toronto and Sundance can be a bit overwhelming and intimidating, the Oak Cliff Film Festival is welcoming to all and easy to navigate. Plus … it’s the FIFTH year and that’s a reason to celebrate!

Scheduling, Festival Passes, and individual tickets can be found at: http://oakclifffilmfestival.com/



June 19, 2015

OCFF15 And they said it wouldn’t last. OK, I don’t think anyone actually said that about The Oak Cliff Film Festival, and we are quite thrilled to report that this fourth year may be the best yet.

One of the (many) things that make this festival unique is the new “theme” each year brings. The 2015 OCFF celebrated the “No Wave Movement” of the late 1970’s/early 1980’s … the perfect tie-in to today’s independent filmmakers who find a way to create their films in spite of Hollywood’s “Blockbusters rule” philosophy. Short films, digital handheld cameras, and now even iPhones are acceptable formats and valuable tools for realizing a filmmaker’s vision.

It’s probably more accurate to describe this as a Film and Party Festival, as the organizers take as much pride in their party-throwing acumen as they do in their film programming … and for good reason. The festival featured no fewer than 8 parties and events – everything from a live performance by The Sonics to a group bike ride through the city.  Panels and workshops were held for filmmakers and those who hope to be, and an actual film was produced during the weekend. These events turn the festival into a participatory event for those who wish to fully engage.

As for movie watching, I caught 8 features and a couple blocks of shorts. The festival’s programming featured 9 narrative features, 4 feature length documentaries, 4 repertory films (homage to the theme), and 36 short films (student, narrative, documentary). Unfortunately, my schedule forced me to miss the festival closing film, but I can report that my favorite narrative film of the festival was Tangerine, a film director Sean Baker shot entirely on iPhones on the streets of Hollywood and Los Angeles.  My favorite documentary was Made in Japan, the story of Tomi Fujiyama (the first female Japanese Country and Western musician to perform on The Grand Ole Opry).  A couple of actresses stood out: Mickey O’Hagan (Tangerine) and Helen Rogers (Body), and I look forward to following as their careers develop.

One last point of difference for this festival must be mentioned. The number and diversity of venues is quite something to behold. At least 9 Oak Cliff venues play a significant role in the festival. The key screening locations include the historic Texas Theatre, The Bishop Arts Center, and the Kessler Theater (normally a music venue), and each bring their own unique viewing experience. Additionally, it’s the smaller venues that really add the local flavor to the festival proceedings.

The festival is highly recommended for lovers of independent film and the creative process, while the large number and highly diverse group of event sponsors exemplify the widespread support and interest in this terrific cultural event. Year 4 is a wrap … can’t wait to see what these folks come up with for next year’s Oak Cliff Film Festival.




MADE IN JAPAN (2015, doc)

June 14, 2015

made in japan Greetings again from the darkness. My favorite documentary at this year’s Oak Cliff Film Festival introduced me to the world’s first female Japanese Country and Western music star: Tomi Fujiyama. She made a historic appearance at the 39th anniversary of the Grand Ole Opry in 1964 and director Josh Bishop follows her efforts at realizing a dream of a return performance.

The first thing we notice about Tomi is her effervescent personality and zest for life. Her smile lights up any room she enters, and her observations are often laugh-out-loud funny. The next thing we notice is that she is incredibly talented as a guitar player and singer. She is no circus act, but instead a world class musical talent … not just in 1964 when she followed Johnny Cash onto the Opry stage, but even today as she belts out “The Tennessee Waltz”.

Filmmaker Bishop does nice work in allowing us to learn Tomi’s history, beginning with the destruction of her family home in Japan during WWII, and her later trip to the United States with her father. Her early career was spent performing for the U.S. military – this during a time when female performers in Japan were rare, and those that toured the world were nearly non-existent.

The filmmaking process began in 2005 and the early scenes blend seamlessly with more recent footage. It’s pretty interesting to watch as Tomi and her husband re-trace her early time in Las Vegas, New York City and Nashville. It’s especially touching and entertaining as she meets up with 91 year old Oscar, who was part of the “Lonzo & Oscar” duo who pushed to get Tomi some of her early gigs. Watching them play together is watching two people who truly love what they do – two people born to make music. And that’s the overriding feeling of the entire movie. Tomi dreams of standing on the Opry stage again, but she never misses a chance to perform … anywhere, anytime.

The historical aspects of this story are impressive – multicultural and multigenerational facets play a role, and the enthusiasm shown by Tomi make her so much fun to pull for. Mr. Bishop noted in the post-screening Q&A that the final cut of the film will be different from this version, thanks to recent developments involving SXSW, Jimmy Kimmel, and yes, the Grand Ole Opry. It’s a story of history, music, perseverance and attitude; and it’s a story more of us should know.

watch the trailer:




June 14, 2015

stinking heaven Greetings again from the darkness. This narrative entry at the Oak Cliff Film Festival takes place in a sober living commune located in Passaic, New Jersey around 1990. It’s a live-in self-help environment that seems to do everything but help, and probably not far removed from the “protective” environments offered by Jim Jones, Charles Manson and David Koresh.

The rules of the house, as administered by married couple Jim (Keith Poulson) and Lucy (Deragh Campbell) make complete sense on the index card, but seem to have little effect on the residents. Kicking off with a marriage ceremony between two members of the group, followed by a family style dinner … the story follows the same path of the origin of the word “Honeymoon” as told by the groom. We see the peak of happiness and then follow the slow descent in bleakness.

Part of the “therapy” involves filming cruel reenactments of life’s low point for each of the recovering addicts. Remember, these aren’t just flawed individuals, but rather deeply damaged emotionally. They are each weak and insecure, and these emotions make for a tension-packed living environment … hardly one that promotes any type of healing.

Director Nathan Silver’s ensemble cast is very strong, especially Tallie Medel and Hannah Gross … both offering hope for future projects. Having never been an addict, I can’t imagine how tough it must be to get clean and stay clean; however, my instincts tell me that group living in a home that makes their own fermented tea in the bathtub may not be the best solution.




June 14, 2015

god bless Greetings again from the darkness. Given its success at other film festivals, I was anxious to catch up with this one it at my hometown Oak Cliff Film Festival. What I can report is that my reaction to the film is not in line with that of others. While I recognize the purity and genuine emotions of the characters, and appreciate the cinema verite’ style, I could never shake the feeling that I was simply watching someone babysit.

The first movie from co-directors Robert Machoian and Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck begins with young Eli diligently practicing his trampoline flips. His tenacity is admirable, as is his commitment to the goal. We next see his mom speeding off down the street, and we come to realize she has deserted Eli and his 4 siblings – 3 younger brothers and an older sister.

What follows is “a day in the life” of five kids who clearly have received less-than-stellar parenting throughout their lives, and have adapted by 13 year old Harper taking on the role of surrogate mother as the boys do what boys do … playing, fighting, eating, washing the dogs, exploring the area and arguing over Superman vs Spider-man.

Each of the boys has their own distinct personality, but it’s Harper whom we most feel for. She is caring, loving, funny and strong in an unwelcome role to which she has resigned herself. Any chance at being a normal teenager was lost years ago, though a somewhat heavy-handed scene in the park ensures no viewer misses this point.

The five actors share the same last name (Graham) and I read somewhere (though unconfirmed) that they are co-director Machoian’s real family. There is no denying that we feel for kids and understand that their future is as bleak as their present. The film does bring notice to the relentless challenges of parenting, and how desertion of said responsibility is inexcusable. The film ends with a very touching scene – one that only makes us hope that somehow these kids experience better days in the future.

watch the trailer: