One would think that a film festival in a tiny Mississippi college town would be nothing more than a few low-quality yet aspiring student films. In it’s eighth season, the Oxford Film Festival is so much more.
In addition to student and local films the festival also includes feature documentaries, shorts, and narrative works from renowned independent filmmakers, an experimental block, and a block of animated films.
Rubbing elbows, at an after-party I was fortunate enough to offer my lighter to one of the producers of a film called Prairie Love. In small talk, she told me that the film had recently made its debut at the Sundance Film Festival. Astounded, I wondered what in the world a Sundance film was doing in little ol’ Oxford, Mississippi’s festival. A dark comedy, with a Coen brothers flare, Prairie Love took home the festival’s Narrative Feature Award.
Speaking of after-parties, the Oxford Film festival knows how to throw one! Opening ceremonies at Oxford’s Lyric Theater featured entertainment by Blue Mountain and the festivities the next evening were graced with the music of Fat Possum Records hill country blues legend T-Model Ford. Mississippi’s own Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company supplied beverages for festival participants.
Now, on to the films!
Robyn Hitchcock in Memphis
The first film I witnessed at this year’s film festival began with English songwriter, musician of psychedelic prowess Robyn Hitchcock belting an Elvis standard inside a Memphis trolley. The film had several goofy moments but I simply dismissed them as skewed European humor. Following Hitchcock through the creative process of songwriting, recording, and performing live, the film visited familiar Memphis locations such as the Levitt Shell and Ardent studios. In his Ardent session, Hitchcock was accompanied by Big Star’s Jody Stephens on drums, harmony vocals, and conversations of growing old. Watching a foreign figure enjoy a romp around my home court of Memphis sparked a realization that all we take for granted may be all that is sacred to others; especially something as miniscule and everyday as the downtown trolley system. The most noteworthy comment of Robyn Hitchcock in Memphis was a folklore-documented parable, Are men more like buses, free-roaming, limitless and independent? Or are they like trolleys, restricted to remain on their predestined tracks? Hitchcock added, if man controls the destiny of a bus in any direction using the steering wheel, isn’t it man that also determines the destiny of a trolley by being the one to initially lay down the tracks?
No, this isn’t a film about distance running; 25k represents the new face of grind-house feature films. Purposely botched editing and extreme light saturation through the camera lens only add effect to the seemingly low-budget thriller. Quentin Tarantino style gunfights and crude southern humor guide our unlikely hero bounty hunters through hijinks to recover a mystery treasure at the end of a map scribbled in mud on the side of their pick-up truck. Houston Nutt Jr., son of Ole Miss football couch Houston Nutt, makes his acting debut as lead in the film.
At first this romantic short was too gushy for its own good. The sweet comments and affectionate little caresses made me roll my eyes and gag a little. But then I realized honest love doesn’t have a filter, people in love really are as disgustingly cute as the co-stars of Queen’s Day.
The visuals in set and wardrobe design stirred curiosity as they directed viewers’ eyes to focus on actors, painting a sterile motif of white walls, white sheets, and white pajamas. On another fashion note, props to writer and actor Jeffrey W. Ruggles for being remarkably stylish by wearing an identical sweater to mine the day of the screening.
This film started with a lengthy monologue by a prison inmate, confessing his crimes in graphic detail. When the opening credits and title screen rolled for a moment I was deceived into thinking the film was over. The opening scene was impacting enough, well shot, great delivery.
What came after first perked up my ears then made my stomach drop. A portly, almost humorously repulsive seller bragged of his wares to a nervously somber buyer. Curiosity gave way to disturbance when the audience realized that these items for sale were memorabilia from such historic and demented figures as John Wayne Gacy and Jeffrey Dahmer, serial killer collectables. This chilling, twisted tale won the festival award for Mississippi narrative.
Night of the Punks
An all too real spoof of punk rock counter culture, Night of the Punks makes fun of hipster stereotypes then allows zombie-esque demons to shed blood and entrails while getting their mosh on to a brutal soundtrack. Tricked into being an annual sacrifice to Satan, a naïve young punk band fights back, ultimately defeating the brood with their guitarist’s flange pedal.
“Demons hate jazz fusion music!”
“My drums are gone, Tommy’s dead, and it looks like we’re at a Gwar Concert!”
(Possibly more film revues from the festival in later postings)