This weekend, filmmakers, actors, producers, directors and, of course, film buffs, will fill up theaters in Oxford for the 14th annual Oxford Film Festival.
Headed by executive director Melanie Addington, the film festival has seen immense growth this year. Addington said more filmmakers are attending than ever. One-hundred twenty of 151 films will be represented by 305 filmmakers in attendance. They’ve also sold more tickets and VIP passes —about 300 more than last year, as of last week. VIP passes allow access to all aspects of the festival, including nightly afterparties and the awards ceremony.
A large array of films and filmmaking methods are part of this year’s line-up. Thanks to Addington’s decision to add three new categories, an even larger buffet of diverse films will light up Oxford’s silver screens. Films under the umbrellas of LGBTQ+, new media and music documentary can now join showings with other cohesive works. Addington said she added the LGBTQ+ category after the passage of the Mississippi religious freedom bill, or HB 1523, last summer. After Addington and her board spoke out against the bill, they received more backlash than expected. That prompted her to add the category, and subsequently, more LGBTQ voices.
“We made a decision — because of how many people responded so poorly to what we thought was very positive, saying that we should be more open and diverse — that we needed to be more adamant about sharing more stories like this,” Addington said. “(The category) absolutely was because of that.”
New media encompasses episodic content and virtual reality. Virtual reality has expanded as a category at a number of festivals, including the Oxford Film Fest. The rise of web series like Issa Rae’s “The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl,” which eventually spawned into an HBO show that premiered last year called “Insecure,” is a hot topic, and it’ll be represented at the festival, too. Canadian action series “Petrol” will premiere an episode for the first time in the United States, and “The Other Kids,” an intimate look into the struggles of small-town teens, will premiere regionally in the category. Ten virtual reality films will be available to view for free at the Powerhouse Thursday-Sunday. The festival is also pairing with Misbits, a new art and media space in Oxford, for workshops available both for children and adults.
Oxford is steeped in culture, and it’s certainly not lacking when it comes to music. And, as it turns out, the film festival has never been lacking in music, either.
“Obviously Hill Country Blues and the history of music in our state, with Elvis and all the blues musicians, we’ve always gotten great music documentary submissions. And it was always like, ‘Oh, we can only play, like, one.’ Every movie can’t be a music documentary, but it can be if I create an entire category,” Addington said, smiling. “So we’re really excited.”
The music documentaries feature notable artists like north Mississippi blues artist Fred McDowell and the “Arkansas Wild Man,” or Sonny Burgess of Sonny Burgess and the Legendary Pacers, who will be playing Proud Larry’s on Friday night as part of the festival. There are also a number of music videos for local artists like Tate Moore, The Great Dying and Ole Miss student Alex Presley. Addington pointed out that most films in the music category have ties to Oxford in some way.
While Oxford Film Festival access requires a pass or tickets for certain showings, there are also free options for people who want to enjoy the festival but are on a budget, starting Tuesday at The Lyric with a showing of “William Eggleston in the Real World.” Wednesday and Thursday’s community shorts showings are also free. A number of other showings, including the experimental and documentary shorts, are free, as well as all adult workshops and panels. Saturday, students can enjoy a showing of “Chasing Amy” at the Ford Center, where 300 tickets will be given away.
The festival also has student discounts on tickets and passes.
Oxford Film Festival also gave back to the community in a unique way: a community film. Directed by Ole Miss theater professor Rory Ledbetter, the community film highlights the unsung heroes of Oxford.
“We went out, actually, for drinks for a friend’s birthday,” Addington said. “He had a funny trick he could do, and we were like, ‘Huh. That’s funny,’ and then our other friend, Max, who, it’s about “fireMax,” was like, ‘Well, I can breath fire.’
“And we were like, ‘Wait.'”
So they trained 40 potential crew members and got a large cast together made up of volunteers and community members. The film will premiere Wednesday during the community shorts block at the Powerhouse. Also showing in this block are films the festival was able to fund through grants.
The festival itself, in its growth and endless entertainment options, is only part of what Oxford Film Festival gives back to the community. It is an integral part of the Ox-film society, which helps provide Lafayette County filmmakers with equipment. Panels, workshops and the community film are ways students and community members can get hands-on and learn about the craft.
Addington said it’s all about getting people engaged and instilling an appreciation for the art, as well as providing a diverse experience.
“(The lineup) ranges so much because we want to reflect more than just, ‘Here’s the Mississippi experience,’ which we do focus on and have Mississippi films, but we want people to be able to experience the world in one weekend at our screens.”
For more information about the Oxford Film Festival or to buy tickets or passes, visit oxfordfilmfest.com.