It was the largest festival to date, with a total of 139 film showings, 88 premieres and 110 competition films. An extremely passionate crowd of cinema aficionados from far and wide poured into Oxford to see productions and soak in local Mississippi culture. Owners of Oxford homes hosted after-parties at the end of each night, giving attendees a chance to connect and revel in conversation. The event as a whole proved to be one of Oxford’s most lively social and cultural events of the year.
The festival offered a more dimensional experience and made use of some of Oxford’s newest and most fascinating venues: the Oxford Commons movie theatre, Oxford Conference Center, Shelter on Van Buren, Powerhouse Community Arts Center, and The Round Table Thursday through Sunday. Red-shirted volunteers were plentiful and always handy for answering questions and leading people in the right direction.
The festivities began with Thursday night’s red carpet event at the Lyric in partnership with Thacker Mountain Radio. Cary Hudson played “Fiddler’s Green,” which was made into a music video featured in the festival. Memphis funk artist Hope Clayburn captivated and involved audience members with a song called “The Snake.” The cellist/dancer duo from the short film “Bookin’” received a standing ovation for their performance. The 25-minute long community film “Once a Month,” directed by Alice Walker, followed immediately after.
Friday was the first full day of showings, and films ran at venues across town all day until 11:30 p.m. The night ended with a speakeasy-themed party at the “Big White House” on South Lamar. Filmmakers, actors, fans and media crowded in to mingle. Effie Burt provided soulful entertainment in a room dimly lit with pink lights while guests lounged on tufted blue couches.
Saturday was another action-packed day and ended with the awards ceremony at the Lyric. The venue was transformed with colorful banners, balloons and lights. The night’s surprise host, a delightfully risqué Divine, playfully bantered with the audience while the juries presented the awards.
Sunday, the last day of the festival, participants were provided with blocks to view all the winning films, attend panels and catch a few last showings.
Between the panels, parties and influx of people, at the core of it, Oxford Film Fest is about the films.
This year, the festival presented a range of films, from narrative features to experimental films, documentaries, short films and even music videos. There was no film medium that was excluded. Like a menu with all your favorite entrées and only room in the stomach for one, choosing a few out of 139 different films was a delightful problem to face.
Walking into a film or block of films, the viewer often subjected himself to a range of styles and emotions. For example, the animation block became unexpectedly dark in the wake of films like “Borrowed Time,” about one man’s battle with death and guilt, but picked back up with “They Crawl Amongst Us!” a hilarious set of “interviews” about life with stop-motion New York City animals.
Among the range of films came those that brought light to issues not only around the world but also in the state of Mississippi. The experimental film winner “cyberGenisis” conveyed the growing reliance humans have on technology with beautiful images and footage seen through the lenses of webcams and iPhone screens. “The Black Definition” compiled interviews with African-American men at the University of Mississippi, and asked them to speak on what it means to be black not only to themselves, but to society.
The closing film, “Babysitter,” played Sunday at the Powerhouse Community Arts Center. Now, filmmakers, film lovers and the countless festival volunteers and organizers can take a deep breath, travel home and, possibly, begin formulating ideas for next year’s festival.
Here are some of our picks from the festival:
“Spaghettiman”- A slacker living in LA, through a freak chain of events, gets the superpower of viciously producing and slinging spaghetti. At first he wishes to use his power for monetary gain, but through a comedic journey, learns he must use his power for good – and no charge.
“Zero” – A short film about a father and son who must learn to accept the death of one they love, all while gravity begins to give out and the material world starts to float into space before their eyes.
“Roots” – A film by Blue Magnolia, a company that focuses on small town stories in Mississippi that bring attention to growth and beauty in the state. “Roots” features the Strawberry Plains Audubon Center in Holly Springs. Four of their documentaries were featured in the festival, and they are available online at bluemagnoliafilms.squarespace.com.
“Stagrassle Paranormal” (Mississippi Narrative short) – An unlikely team in the small-town Southern town of Stagrassle band together to hunt for paranormal activity. Even having an overdone storyline can’t dull the shine of the dynamic and hilarious timing between characters.
“They Crawl Among Us!” (animated short) – The clichés of New York City residents told through the city’s vermin’s mouths. Rats, vermin, and other annoying creatures delightfully (and honestly) speak on hot topics such as race relations, sex and eating habits in the Big Apple.