The Oxford Film Festival marks its 12th year of bringing fresh new films to Mississippi. This year marks the end of an era. "It's the last year for us four volunteer directors," says Development Director Melanie Addington, who, along with Executive Director Molly Fergusson, Operations Director Michelle Emanuel, and Hospitality Director Diala Chaney, has been integral in starting and growing the festival. An advisory committee will be searching for new leadership for the festival, with a decision expected to be announced soon. "I'll be involved in some way, whether it's making a film or volunteering as an usher," Addington says. "But it's time to hand it off for fresh, new ideas."
Appropriately, this year's opening night feature is The Sound and the Fury, an adaptation of the acclaimed 1929 novel by Oxford's favorite son William Faulkner. James Franco both directs and stars as Benjy Compson in this tale of fallen Southern aristocracy and gothic tragedy. Actor Tim Blake Nelson, who plays Jason Compson III, will be on hand for the Thursday screening. Addington says one of the highlights of the film is the performance by Brady Permenter, a 10-year-old Misssissippian who plays Young Quentin Compson. "He's amazing. This is going to be the start of a long career for him."
The festival's most anticipated film is a short from Memphis director Melissa Anderson Sweazy, The Department of Signs and Magical Interventions. A screenwriter who worked in Hollywood for several years before returning to Memphis, Sweazy says the film has been a long time in the making: "It was inspired by a dream I had, many years ago, that prominently featured a dragonfly. In waking life, things that happened in the dream started happening. I stared seeing a dragonfly. It got me wondering ... this dragonfly seemed to be an answer to a question I had. I asked for a sign from above to make sure I was on the right track, then started seeing an actual dragonfly. And then I thought, 'What if there actually was a place that was responsible for these signs, either confirming them and allowing your request or denying your request. What if I followed somebody who worked in this bureaucracy, and what if they were really bad at their job?'"
The 19-minute film stars Memphians Sean McBride as a recently deceased skateboarder who is tasked by a celestial bureaucracy, staffed by Bart Shannon, Eileen Townsend, Lindsey Roberts, and Darius Wallace, to keep tabs on the dreams of a young woman played by Brandi Gist. Sweazy's screenplay won several screenwriting awards including the Grand Prize at the Vail Film Festival in 2012. "Part of the prize was a staged reading of the screenplay, and then afterwards people said to me, 'You really should direct this!' But I didn't have the first clue how to do it," says Sweazy. "And that's why I did my first short [2013's John's Farm], to learn on that one to get enough experience to tackle Department of Signs."
Another award-winning film with local ties is OzLand by Mississippi filmmaker Michael Williams. The post-apocalyptic story about a pair of refugees wandering a parched world who latch onto The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to help interpret their world, recently won Best Feature and Best Cinematography at the Magnolia Film Festival. "It's really beautiful," says Addington. "I think we programmed one of Michael's films when he was a student, and we've been programming him pretty consistently over the years. We're glad he finally came out with a feature. He's really talented."
Robert Allen Parker's short music documentary, Jim Dickinson: The Man Behind the Console, coming off a successful screening at last year's Indie Memphis, uses vintage clips to profile the legendary Memphis music figure whose production genius made some of the city's indelible sounds. Addison says that's just one of several films in the festival by and about Mississippians.
The 2015 Oxford Film Festival runs from Thursday, February 26th to Sunday, March 1st at the Malco Oxford Commons, with the traditional Lyric Theatre awards ceremony on Saturday, February 28th at 9 pm.