As they prepared for their 11th year of bringing the latest and greatest independent films to Mississippi, the Oxford Film Festival staff had a record number of films to choose from. "We got 300 more submissions than we thought we would," says Melanie Addington, the festival's development director since 2006. "There are so many good films out there, it makes it hard to choose. But we've only got three days to fit all these great films in."
This year's festival will kick off on Thursday, February 6th, at The Lyric with a live broadcast of the Thacker Mountain Radio show followed by the premiere of the made-in-Oxford film Killer Kudzu. "For each of the past four years, the festival has been producing our own film," Addington says. Killer Kudzu represents a number of firsts. For one, it was the first of the community movies that was the result of a screenplay competition instead of a collaborative writing process.
"We had so many great entries that it was hard to choose. We have so many good writers in our area," Addington says. "We picked one from Felicity Flesher, a young student studying film. It's really fun. It's totally B-movie schlocky horror."
Director Meaghin Burke is also the first female director to helm an Oxford Community Movie.
On Friday, the festival kicks into high gear at the Malco Oxford Commons theater with some Memphis-made films including Indie Memphis winner Being Awesome, directed by Allen C. Gardner. The bittersweet comedy will screen at 4 p.m. with Corduroy Wednesday's zombie apocalypse comedy short Songs In the Key Of Death. At 8 p.m., another Indie Memphis winner, Robert Allen Parker's documentary Meanwhile in Memphis: The Sound of a Revolution, will bring the sights and sounds of the last three decades of Memphis music to the festival screen. Also of note Friday are the documentary Bible Quiz, director Nicole Teeny's chronicle of a group of kids competing in a national bible knowledge championship, and the mesmerizing narrative feature, Bob Birdnow's Remarkable Tale of Human Survival and the Transcendence Of Self. Actor Barry Nash, whose amazing performance as the titular Birdnow anchors the virtually one-man film, will be in attendance.
Among the notable films on Saturday is a pair of documentaries. Bending Steel is an acclaimed tale of a man who is obsessed with resurrecting the Coney Island strongman tradition and overcomes both his own emotional isolation and the physical hardships of performing feats of inhuman strength. Screening with Bending Steel is A Man Without Words. This short by New Orleans filmmaker Zack Godshall tells the inspiring story of sign-language teacher Susan Schaller's efforts to teach a 27-year-old deaf man to communicate. "I cried like a baby when I saw it," says Addington.
"I'm excited about some of our panels we have this year," says Addington. "Hummie Mann, a Hollywood composer, and Scott Bomar from Memphis are going to show a scene they scored and break down how they did it. It's going to be a very interactive." "Breaking Down the Score" is scheduled for Saturday at 1 p.m. Other panels include a discussion of animation with Spongebob Squarepants and Adventure Time storyboard artist Kent Osborne.
Saturday night ends with the Oxford Film Festival's now-legendary award ceremony at The Lyric, where winning narrative, documentary, and short films will receive the festival's Hoka Award. Director and veteran actor Jason Ritter will be presented with a special Hoka for Achievement in Film.
"We're really trying to better our game," Addington says. "We always want it to be better than last year so people get more excited."
Oxford Film Festival
Thursday, February 6th, to Sunday, February 9th
Various locations in Oxford, MS