OXFORD, MSOnce again, the town of Oxford, Mississippi
has proven itself to be a gracious and accommodating host to film
lovers, actors, and the business of filmmaking. The 2007 Oxford
Film Festival brought in record crowds in its fourth year; festival
organizers estimated that attendance topped 1,000 over the course
of the four-day event. The festival offered a lively mix of features,
experimental, documentary, animation, shorts, and children's films,
along with panel discussions on casting, talent, and the nuts and
bolts of filmmaking.
"This year's festival exceeded our wildest
dreams and expectations," said co-director Michelle Emanuel.
"We were very proud of our lineup and wanted people in Oxford
to come out to see it, but to sell out of our day passes every day
and have to start handwriting passes was truly gratifying. It was
a wonderful feeling to watch everyone enjoy the films that we fell
in love with six to eight months ago."
(Photo by Stephen Hopper)
The site of this year's Oxford Film Festival was the
renovated Malco Oxford Studio Cinema in the Oxford Mall. This brand-new
eight-screen theatre donated three of its screens to continuous
showings of festival choices throughout the four-day event. As a
result of the added screens, festival organizers were able to show
more films than they had in previous festivals, resulting in more
choices for all who attended.
"I was pleased that our new time and place suited
the community and that we got such an amazing audience for the films,"
said co-director Molly Fergusson. "Filmmakers that attend the
festival continue to be impressed by Oxford and the people that
live here. I anticipate that the festival will continue to grow
and want to thank the community members for the wonderful support
that they showed us last weekend!"
The Features category was particularly strong
this year with local connections.
Filmmaker Joey Lauren Adams
(Photo by Stephen Hopper)
Come Early Morning was written, directed,
and produced by Oxford resident Joey Lauren Adams, (Dazed
and Confused, Chasing Amy) and stars Ashley Judd as a woman
at the crossroads. Against all odds, she strikes out against all
the things in her life that she has settled for so far. The film,
which also stars Diane Ladd, was selected for the Sundance Film
Festival in 2006 and has created a huge buzz in movie circles for
its tough and honest portrayal of a life that unexpectedly changes
Morgan Freeman once again reminded festivalgoers why
he is considered one of Hollywood's finest actors. He gave another
shining performance in 10 Items or Less, a small production
revolving around an afternoon Freeman's character spends with a
Latin grocery store clerk while he is researching a possible acting
part as a grocery store manager. Freeman even threw in bits of comedy,
and his co-star Paz Vega, who wowed audiences in Spanglish, is just
the right counterpoint for Freeman. Together they explore the world
and learn from each other in ways they could not have accomplished
Chalk was another hit for the festival.
A quasi-documentary shot in a real school and using real students
and teachers as extras in the style of the hit TV show The
Office, Chalk follows three teachers and one
new administrator through the aches and pains of the school year.
This film provided some of the funniest moments of the festival,
such as a slang spelling bee, where teachers are given current slang
words such as "shawty" to spell, and a hilarious battle
for teacher of the year between a shrewd and totally incompetent
history teacher and his universally loved opponent from the math
Wristcutters, voted Best Feature of
the festival, follows a new suicide into his afterlife, as he is
banished into a kind of suicide purgatory. Directed by Goren Dukic,
the film was shot on Super 16 color infrared film specially produced
by Kodak, which lends an even more surreal quality to the proceedings.
Dark as it may sound, Wristcutters was beautiful from
start to finish.
Crowd-pleaser Darius Goes West continued
its journey through the festival circuit. This inspirational documentary
tells the story of Darius Weems, a 17-year-old from Athens, Georgia
who is confined to a wheelchair by Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy,
a terminal form of the muscular disease. Darius had never left his
hometown until 11 students from the University of Georgia and other
Athens schools decided to take him on a cross-country RV trip to
Los Angeles. The goal: to convince MTV's hit show Pimp My
Ride to "pimp" or customize, his motorized wheelchair.
The ensuing trip west is an unforgettable journey of friendship
and brotherhood. This first movie by director Logan Smalley won
the Best Documentary Award and the Audience Favorite Award.
Other audience documentary favorites included Thad
Lee's The Town in Late Afternoon, The Clinton
12, PezHeads, and Richard Johnston:
Hill Country Troubador.
Short and experimental films always play a big part
in the Oxford Film Festival line-up, and this year provided viewers
with a wide variety of stories. Binta Y La Gran Idea,
nominated this year for an Academy Award, tells a compelling story
about Binta, a 7-year-old girl in Senegal. Press On
features five coastal Mississippi newspapers and their response
to Hurricane Katrina, while Mother, which won the
Best Short Award, followed a strange babysitter in Beverly Hills.
Close to home was Kubuku Rides (This Is It) based
on the classic Larry Brown short story. Out of a field of 14 excellent
short films, What the Water Saw, a 3-minute film structured
to mimic the ocean's moods, won the experimental category award.
Animation and music videos are always festival favorites,
and Mirage, the winner of the animation category,
is the story of a bio-mechanic robot who has to fill his glass chest
with water in order to sustain his life and who meets a fish during
his journey, which also needs water.
The Oxford Film Festival also continued its commitment
to family-friendly entertainment with the children's block of films,
including The Rhythm of Youth, about an 11-year-old
rock and roll drummer, and the KidsFirst.org compilation, which
showed 18 kid-appropriate films in an hour and a half block on Saturday
101 Panel. (L- R) moderator/festival co-director
Micah Ginn, producer Tom Huckabee, writer/director Joey Lauren
producer Jeff Scheftel
(Photo by Stephen Hopper)
Festival panels give movie buffs an opportunity to
talk to the directors and producers, and this year all the panels
were well attended. In the Filmmaking 101 panel, filmmakers
and fans alike took advantage of a round table discussion with Joey
Lauren Adams, writer and director of Come Early Morning,
writer/director/producer Jeff Scheftel, and producer Tom Huckabee.
Micah Ginn, known locally for his talent behind the
camera (Undefeated: The Chucky Mullins Story) moderated
"It was great to see so many people come out
and take advantage of this informal talk with veteran filmmakers.
I want to thank our great panelists -- I know those who came got
a really great look at the filmmaking process. As the festival grows
I hope we can provide lots of opportunities like this," said
Ginn, one of the three festival co-directors, along with Michelle
Emanuel and Molly Fergusson.
It appears that the year-long process of choosing
films and coordinating festival events is beginning to pay big dividends
for Oxford and its residents. Oxford has left its mark on the American
cultural scene in regard to literature; now film is beginning to
share the stage. In four short years the Oxford Film Festival has
become one of the hottest new film festivals in the Southeast, a
"must-attend" event for up and coming filmmakers, actors,
and those who just love movies, period.