Before Oxford was home to the Southern-Gothic author William Faulkner and the beloved Ole Miss Rebels, the land belonged to the Chickasaw nation – more specifically, a woman by the name of Hoka, a Chickasaw princess. In her honor, the City of Oxford named the now-retired local Hoka Theatre after her and Oxford Film Festival’s highest honor bears her name. This year, the Hoka Award got a makeover.
In 1976, the humble Hoka Theatre was opened. It was a converted cotton warehouse that seated approximately 150 people. Despite its rough-around-the-edges aesthetic, the venue was a sanctuary for the eclectic, the artistic and the cinematic appreciater. A documentary about the theatre is available on Vimeo, and its title, “Sorry, We’re Open,” serves as a testament to its folksy, down-to-earth manner and embrace.
When the theatre’s doors closed in 1996, the memory of Princess Hoka through her namesake seemed lost.
That is until 2004 when Bill Beckwith, a former art professor at the University of Mississippi, was hired to design and create the statuettes for the Oxford Film Festival awards. What a better payment of homage to Oxford’s origins and cinema, then to draw inspiration from the the figure of Hoka and her theatre?
After 14 years of awarding the much sought-after wooden Chickasaw princess figures, Melanie Addington, the executive director of the Oxford Film Festival, decided it was time for an update.
“We wanted to continue with the look of the Hoka, but the materials to make them were getting extremely expensive,” Addington said. “So we began seeking alternative options, including a new artist and new design.”
Addington’s search led her down University Avenue and back into the entrance of Ole Miss. Instead of finding the solution in the art department of Meek Hall, where the design originally began, she found herself in the Center for Manufacturing Excellence, where she met with mechanical engineering students and Ryan Miller, the programs manager and assistant director of the CME.
Ryan Miller and Tyler Briggs, the CME’s admissions counselor, presented Addington’s proposal to all of the program’s students this past August. After being approached with the idea, Lauren Kiel, a junior double mechanical engineering and business major, volunteered to help manage the project.
“With 3D printing, it gave us the capability to keep the shape of the original award,” said Kiel, which ended up being exactly what Addington wanted.
“We had talked to some local artists and while all the ideas were great, we really just loved what Bill Beckwith did originally and wanted to stick a little closer to our roots,” Addington said. “The idea that we could 3D print but keep the original look was very exciting for us.”
The CME has been capable of 3D printing for the last five years, and with technological advances, sophomore mechanical engineering major Blake Horner was able to test different models by simply scanning the original award for the printer. After some test runs, the authentically wooden figure of Hoka became plastic and more “trophy-esque.”
“We presented Melanie with three color options,” Kiel said. “Gold, bronze and copper. We ended up picking gold because it kept the details of the original art. It preserved that carved look.”
The Hoka’s makeover was revealed Wednesday night on the Oxford Film Festival’s Instagram page. It indeed looks strikingly similar to the original, with numerous geometric cuts and textured grooves, but she has a slightly more regal air with its new gilded finish – fitting for a princess.
The new and improved Hoka Award will be presented to juried filmmakers this year as part of the Oxford Film Festival awards ceremony.