Events | Febuary 2017
For five days in February, The Oxford film festival takes over one of Mississippi’s most cultured towns as it showcases more than 150 films and shorts, along with music videos, new media and virtual reality projects. Films led by Hollywood stars like Holly Hunter and Janeane Garaofalo will be shown next to highly-anticipated local productions like Kudzu Zombies. Of the films showing, 24 will be world premiers, five will be U.S. premiers and 35 films will be making a regional debut.
“We have a very strong slate of films this year, from our competition films to special screenings,” said executive director Melanie Addington. “If you like horror and sci-fi, we have it. If you like drama or comedy, we have it. If you like documentaries about social justice or quirky characters, we have it.”
The festival’s rich lineup kicks off Wednesday with Strange Weather, a Mississippi-filmed drama starring Hunter, and closes Sunday with Folk Hero & Funny Guy, a Jeff Grace-directed film that premiered to rave reviews in late 2016 at the Tribecca Film Festival.
Sandwiched between these are a busy slate of new film screenings, awards presentations, seminars and some special anniversary film screenings that will showcase the expansion of cinematic storytelling in the Magnolia state.
“Film is growing in the state, and with the help of the State Legislature’s support of the film incentives, it will continue to grow,” Addington said. “We have seen growth throughout the South in the industry and I am glad to see Mississippi be part of it. We have such a versatile state to film in, and eager crews and casts. It makes sense that the industry has recognized that and begun to come here.”
While not all films at the Oxford Film Festival were shot in Mississippi or made by Mississippians, the festival has provided a place for filmmakers, artists and storytellers to be seen and showcased.
Michael Williams, a seasoned Mississippi storyteller shot his latest film, The Atoning, in his native town of West Point, and next month, the film will make its world premiere at the festival. A horror film about a family that finds “more than just ghosts” in their house, The Atoning, is his fifth directed film shown in Oxford.
“Filming in West Point is convenient because I live there and I grew up there,” Williams said. “Everyone is always willing to help.”
The Atoning’s main setting, a haunted house, was provided right out of community goodwill. Joanie Sykes, of West Point, offered an old house of hers to be used as a setting, became a producer on the film, and eventually was helping provide food for the cast and crew.
“West Point is a pretty cultured town, so people get really excited about a film being made there,” Williams said. “The excitement and the support that comes from it helps keeps our costs down and lets us make a better movie for less money.”
Christina Huff is a newer Mississippi storyteller. A senior at Ole Miss, she’s been involved in the festival for several years, but this year has a short film that she directed, SWABS, featured. The film is an experimental piece that mimics the feelings of the cosmos. Huff and her team used acrylic paints, milk and canola oil to create the effect of space while exploring what might be a larger greatness in the universe.
The film is a tribute to her cousin, Sean, who died unexpectedly in late 2015.
“I created it as a tribute to him and as a way to cope with his death as a whole,” Huff said. “It was incredibly therapeutic for me, and it acted as closure since I wasn’t able to go to his funeral due to school. It was my own private, personal way of saying goodbye.”
William Faulkner, arguably Mississippi’s most famous storyteller, said he would choose the experience of pain over the experience of nothing, and would likely applaud Huff’s turning her pain into an exploration of everything.
Williams said Mississippi films include the spirit of these greats, and the history of Mississippi’s artistic expression should make the modern film industry surge no surprise.
“Mississippi is used to having storytellers,” Williams said, “Poets and writers and blues musicians and people who tell stories in a creative way. And with film, it’s just a new visual medium where we can get our stories out there and show Mississippians about how we can tell our stories.”
Also featured among the new films are anniversary showings of Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy and cult classic Small Town Gay Bar.
“I get so pumped every year about it, I feel like a little kid waiting for Christmas, you know?” Huff said about the upcoming festival. “I get to meet new people, make connections, and showcase my work with other artists. I’m so proud of everyone who gets to be involved, whether it’s an artists’ work or a sponsor or people volunteering. The people work so hard to bring a weekend to life.”
The Oxford Film Festival will take place from February 15-20. Event tickets and a full schedule of events are available at oxfordfilmfest.com
Silver Screens of The South
Oxford Film Festival’s 14th year brings more films and events than ever before.
Story by Doug Gillon
Oxford Film Fest Highlighted Reel:
Kudzu Zombies (2 showings)
Dir: Mark Newton
A crop-duster pilot and his friends try to survive after a kudzu control chemical turns the residents of Charleston, MS into flesh-eating Zombies.
Dir: Michael Williams
While they are haunted by ghostly apparitions, two parents try to protect their young son from a dark secret that could destroy their family.
Dir: Christina Huff
An experimental, animated exploration of the universe.
Dir: Katherine Dieckmann
Starring: Holly Hunter
A poignant, lyrical drama about a mother, who, in an effort to deal with the grief over the death of her son, travels the back roads of the deep south to settle a score.
Dir: Tom Gould, John Serpe
Starring: Janeane Garofalo
A cast of misfits grow and connect in unforeseen ways in this comedic drama about cheating, life and cooking.