On Thursday night, the 14th annual Oxford Film Festival officially began, and this year it did so with rousing success at The Lyric.
The evening kicked off with a Thacker Mountain Radio event featuring rockabilly legend Sonny Burgess and his band, The Pacers. Their upbeat, swinging tunes and wide smiles lent to the room a warm, lively air that made you want to grab a drink and a partner and dance along.
Upon entering the room, one was immediately put at ease by the warm and welcoming nature of the crowd. The large space was dimly lit, and the thrum of good conversation flowed through the air as effortlessly as did the drinks from the bar. Everyone knew someone, and if not, then they were quick to welcome newcomers into their circles with open arms; people were joined together by the shared joy of the arts, music and the commonality of film. The crowd ranged from young to old, somber to exuberant. A beautiful woman with fiery hair sat atop one of the bars and held court among her many surrounding admirers, while a burly, tattooed man skipped up and down the stairs like a child whilst he believed himself to be unseen. Everyone in attendance was happy to be present and present to be happy.
At a flicker of the lights, the room settled and it was announced that the featured film, “Strange Weather,” was to begin shortly. The director, Katherine Dieckmann, introduced herself and the movie before the festival was officially declared to have begun as the opening shots began to roll onto the screen.
The film was a poignant, all-American drama starring Academy Award winner Holly Hunter as Darcy Baylor, a mother struggling to find herself and move forward after her son’s death seven years prior.
“Grief is a very circuitous process,” Dieckmann said. “And her loss of son to suicide made the narrative all the more complex.”
The majority of the screen time is taken up by strong women, a rare and much appreciated sight, hashing out their issues and discovering that life must go on after loss. Aesthetically, the film was gritty and beautiful. The scene-work was well planning and stunningly strong. The characters themselves, despite the occasionally cliche, seemed lived-in and endearingly realistic. Though the dialogue was forceful and stilted at times, the rueful sincerity of the film made it a great hit with the audience. To take a moment away from the screen and look at the faces among the crowd was to see hundreds of concerned faces, all entrapped in the drama playing out across the screen, hoping that the well-intended protagonist finds her peace before the hour and a half clock of the movie ticks away. In the end, the house lights were turned up once again, and the audience roared with appreciative applause.
In all, the grand opening of this year’s film festival was eminently successful. The warmth of the community was exemplified, and individuals from across the country were brought together for a night of film and celebration. If this event was any indication of how the next several days of the festival are to be, then Oxford is certainly in for a grand time.