Oxford Film Festival begins with Community Film Night

Published 10:30 am Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Oxford Film Festival began last night with screenings of community made short films.

The evening began with OFF Board President Dr. Ralph Vance giving a short welcome speech. During the speech, Vance spoke of the importance of participating in the film festival.

“Each year, it gets bigger, and more importantly it gets better,” Vance said. “You have made this the best film festival in the state, if not one of the best in the South. And if I stand here a little longer, it’ll be the best in the world.”

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All of the short films and readings were performed, written and produced by members of the Lafayette-Oxford-University community, and covered a variety of genres.

Programming for the evening included stage readings of the screenplay competition winners, runner-up “Not Everything Was Burning,” by John Bateman, and first place winner “Twirling at Ole Miss,” by John Matthew Tyson. The screenplays were read by members of Theatre Oxford, and both plays were set in Civil Rights-Era Mississippi.

Melanie Addington, director of the film festival, says the fact that the winning screenplays complement each other in setting and context is a coincidence.

“The committee who decided the winners didn’t mean to pair them so well, but they both are beautiful takes on challenging topics during the Civil Rights Movement,” Addington said.

“Not Everything was Burning” was centered around three graduate students and a professor who traveled to Greenwood to teach English courses in the early 1960s. While there, the professor is greeted by the “Mississippi Grand Wizard,” Byron De La Beckwith, the man who murdered Medgar Evers. De La Beckwith leaves the four feeling uneasy, causing them to leave the diner where they were eating lunch.

“Twirling at Ole Miss,” based on the short story by Terry Southern, focuses on the Dixie National Baton Twirling Institute and a writer sent to cover the baton-twirling school for Esquire magazine. The story is set one day after William Faulkner’s funeral, and a few weeks before James Meredith would become the first African-American student on the Ole Miss campus. The story is told through the writer’s perspective, something that highlights the volatility of pre-Civil-Rights era Mississippi.

The on-screen portion of the night began with the short film “Fifteen,” an update of the film “Ten” by Joe York, which premiered at the festival five years ago. “Fifteen,” directed by Julia Mitchell, one of the original children in “Ten,” is an interview-style update on the lives of the now-15-year-olds from the original film.

Next on the lineup was “Closed,” a short film by Samuel Cox. Shot at Cups on Jackson Avenue, the filmmaker experimented with horror and suspense.

“Birthing Video,” an abstract color-swirled musical piece, is one of two films from recent Ole Miss graduate Christina Huff. The four-minute film featured clips of swirling colors shown over a backdrop of ambient music.

“This is my fourth experimental film that involves color theory, and behind each and every project I discover something new that is related to my own emotions and thought processes,” Huff said. “I think it’s important to explore our anxieties and frustrations as well as our excitement and happiness in some sort of tangible form.”

Huff’s other film was “Thacker Mountain Radio Hour: 20th Anniversary.” Huff says she wanted to highlight the show’s influence by having those who were involved in making Thacker Mountain Radio the program it is today. The film featured people including host Jim Dees, former director Kathryn York and novelist Tom Franklin, who described the show as a religious experience.

“Thacker is almost a kind of church,” Franklin said.

Other offerings included the animated short “Dayfall,” by Tony King, and “Pizza Magazine,” by Daniel Perea. “Pizza Magazine” chronicles the journey of Steve Green, founder of PMQ magazine, an international publication that is based out of Oxford and dedicated to the pizza business.

The final films, “#Fifteen,” directed by Melanie Addington, and “Dear Mr. Bryant,” by Jenni Smith and Robbie Fisher, tackled social issues.

“#Fifteen,” which featured a cast of Oxford residents, follows a famous girl who is tired of living in a world where people only connect with each other through social media. She is faced with two options: live life through a digital screen or disappear entirely.

“Dear Mr. Bryant” features leaders from a variety of religions and denominations in the state, who speak out against HB 1523, the “religious freedom” law. The film includes people from the Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths who all share their belief that the law is discriminatory against certain demographics, specifically the LGBTQA community.

The films will be shown again on Sunday, Feb. 11. The Oxford Film Festival officially begins today, with programming at various locations throughout Oxford. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit http://oxfordfilmfest.com.