Independent film might have a chance to survive thanks to organizations like the Oxford Film Festival and its growing “pop-up” drive-in theater.
The new series “OFF to the Drive-In” began in the summer in an attempt to maintain the in-person events presented by the festival. Melanie Addington, the executive director of the festival, felt that for the sake of the community, the experience of independent film had to continue on in person.
“Part of our goal is really bridge building and creating a sense of community. Film is sort of the model to build the conversation around,” Addington said. “We have fun comedy films, but then we have social justice films that really educate and give something new to talk about. There’s really so many things you can walk away from at some festival and experience that not having that really takes a hit on the community.”
When Gov. Tate Reeves passed an ordinance banning gatherings larger than 250 people in March, the festival was forced to postpone its schedule until April, where it resumed digitally.
Addington and Associate Director Matt Wymer started researching alternatives to the online format, taking notice of festivals in Atlanta, Birmingham and Washington, D.C. that were beginning to host outdoor screenings. The board was hesitant when Addington and Wymer pitched their “pop-up” drive in concept, but the idea has since proved itself to be a hit.
“It was a lot more hard work, probably a heck of a lot more than the past 17 years,” Addington said. “But it was really rewarding in that we are still trying to serve all three of those communities in the best way we could.”
By the end of August, the festival made back the money it spent on equipment for the drive-in and since then has turned a steady profit. Some movies do better than others, but they have received a positive response overall.
“We’re really looking at how to evolve into doing more year round, really focusing on what we’re providing all the time for Oxford,” Addington said, “We want to build up our educational stuff, like kid workshops and filmmaking workshops, we rent some equipment. We just really make sure that people know what we do outside of the film festival.”
Addington and her team are already planning for the next film festival to be held as a drive-in, lawn screening or virtual format. Addington wants to maintain the unique experience of moviegoing with an audience, whether it’s indoors or outdoors.
This Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the drive-in will be holding a screening of “The Devil to Pay,” a film by Ruckus and Lane Skye.
Together they have written around 20 screenplays for other movies and directed several short films. Two of their shorts have played at Oxford Film Fest in the past, but this is their first feature length film.
Releasing a feature has always been their goal, and it is often through independent film festivals like OFF that smaller budget filmmakers are able to get their work in front of audiences..
“I think (film festivals are) hugely important, especially early in your career,” Lane said. “It gives you an opportunity to screen your work publicly with an audience, which is extremely helpful as an artist to be able to hear people react to your work.”
They began filming “The Devil to Pay” four years ago on Halloween. Each step in the process took around a year, which includes editing, playing at film festivals and eventually finding a distributor.
The film was shot in a town two hours north of Atlanta called Hiawassee. Rukus described it as a “scrappy friends and family” operation where the community embraced production and supported the Skyes by providing locations and extras for the movie.
Ruckus said that filmmaking is a clear passion for them, so the reward of audiences experiencing their film is that much sweeter when they get to do so in person.
“It’s really cool that people discover your film online, or on YouTube or Vimeo or something, but it’s just not the same as seen in a theater with an audience,” Ruckus said. “That’s what’s so cool about film.”