Lights, Camera, Oxford
Oxford Film Festival showcases the talents of local and international filmmakers
Story by Casey Hilder
Arts | February 2014
A killer kudzu plant, an awkward fatherly interloper and the trials and tribulations of an overworked restaurant owner are just of few of the subjects that will be showcased at this year’s 11th annual Oxford Film Festival.
A quick glance at the program reveals a bevy of local and international films for audiences to enjoy over one cinema-packed weekend. This year’s festival packs something for just about every viewer, from four-minute experimental short features made with an eerie stop-motion filming style to feature-length comedies.
“We try to support Mississippi and local filmmakers, but we’ve got filmmakers from all over the country and even the world,” says Melanie Addington, development director of the festival. “We’ve seen a surge of great Spanish films lately for whatever reason.”
This year, Addington directs the feature “Pi Squared.” In this seven-minute short, she chronicles the frustration of Kudzu Kings frontman and Square Pizza owner Tate Moore. “So he has all kinds of memorabilia from Kudzu Kings and various things he’s picked up in his travels hanging from the walls at Square Pizza,” Addington says. “These things would often come up missing, so he eventually set up security cameras and began posting the thieves on Facebook. Down here, there’s always somebody who knows somebody – one time it was a frat boy whose frat forced him to come back down here. I pitched the idea to the magazine I work for not as an article but as a short film.” Among other festival highlight are “Father-like Son” a romantic comedy directed by Mac Alsfeld that features the acting talents of Ramona Tyler and Andrew Megison. Alsfeld plays Clark, a cynical 24-year-old slacker whose life is rocked when his recently widowed mother remarries a man his own age. Also on deck is “Finding Your Roots,” a documentary by Geoffrey Brent that explores the origins of local catfish music aficionado and former Squirrel Nut Zippers frontman, Jimbo Mathus. Mathus will also debut two music videos at the festival, fresh from his recent album The Dark Night of the Soul.
While the event provides an ample opportunity for directors and actors to screen and market their films, no film festival would be complete without the requisite movie award statuette, dubbed “The Spirit of the Hoka” in honor of Oxford’s Hoka Theatre. This small sculpture is molded to the shape of Chickasaw tribeswoman Princess Hoka and designed by legendary Oxford sculptor Bill Beckwith. This honor will be awarded to winners in several categories including animated short, documentary feature and short, experimental short, Mississippi documentary and narrative feature.
A relatively new annual tradition is the community film, a crowdsourced feature written, directed and performed by Oxford locals for an authentic Southern tale. This year’s community film is “Killer Kudzu,” a B-movie-inspired take on Mississippi’s most pervasive plant. “The base idea for the film was borne from hanging around Mississippi and seeing these crazy monster vines taking over roads, telephone poles, even houses,” says Felicity Flesher, writer of this year’s community film. “I thought it would be cool to play Dr. Frankenstein and give these sprawling plants a horrific new life on screen.”
And putting together a community film is no small undertaking. With just under a year to produce after a screenplay is accepted, the tight deadlines and cast wrangling provide the next best thing to Hollywood. “A community film like ‘Killer Kudzu’ is a huge feat to accomplish, to corral all the actors, crew members, volunteers, etc., everyone is genuinely excited to be a part,” says Flesher. “I think the Oxford Film Festival community film both demonstrates and propagates this wonderful culture that exists here of ‘Hey, whatcha making? Oh, that sounds cool. Can I help?’"
As a native Southerner, inspiration came at Flesher from all angles during production of “Killer Kudzu.” “For the Southern side of things, I drew from my own experiences, but also from one of my favorite filmmakers, Oscar-winner Ray McKinnon (The Accountant, Randy and the Mob), who subverts Southern stereotypes to create a new kind of Southern movie.”
The Oxford Film Festival will run February 6 – 9. Ticket prices vary between day, weekend and single film passes. Discounts are available for Ole Miss students.