Dallas — The Oak Cliff Film Festival may only be four years old, but it has already carved out a distinct identity as a showcase for avant-garde and independent films from local, national, and international filmmakers.
That's no small feat in a region populated by roughly a dozen other film fests, including some that have been around for decades. Its success stems mostly from two points: unique and quirky programming, and involvement in the Oak Cliff community.
"Every year we have a kind of vague theory about what we want to do," says co-founder and creative director Jason Reimer. "This year we decided to focus not so much on going as huge as possible, but on how to fit into the field with so many fests out there."
"We opted for stuff that fits with what we often show at the [Texas] Theatre and occasionally a bigger film," he says.
For this year's festival, scheduled for scheduled for June 11-14, that means a larger-than-usual selection of music-related films and events (which will include a rare Dallas performance by the prototypical garage band The Sonics), and a focus on the No Wave underground filmmaking scene of the mid-'70s and early '80s. Both are natural fits for the Texas Theatre and the festival.
"We decided to look for where indie filmmaking took hold and played a part in the bigger culture," says Reimer. "This is the most basic to what we know, where you work with what's around you. These days, everyone can now shoot a movie on their smartphone." (Indeed, one of the film's on this year's schedule, Tangerine, was shot in widescreen format on an iPhone.)
Founded by Aviation Cinemas in 2012 (who took over operations at the Texas Theatre in December 2010). A large part of its identity and unique feel stems from its deep local ties. Every year, it stages programming on Jefferson Blvd., in the Bishops Arts District, and at other South Dallas locations. The Texas Theatre is its hub; the Kessler Theater, the Bishop Arts Theatre Center, and Jefferson Tower are regular venues; and the Dallas Zoo, Oil and Cotton, and Oak Cliff Cultural Center are also often used.
"We're always trying to push local events," says co-founder and technical director Barak Epstein. "We try to be tied into as many local places as we can, so that people can bike around from venue to venue if they want. We try to draw attention to places like the Bishop Arts Theatre, which doesn't get a lot of attention."
This year's festival will occur at a time when the Jefferson Blvd. area, where the Texas Theatre is located, is drawing a great deal of attention thanks to a controversial development proposal that many fear will gentrify the area and squeeze out a number of long-time residents and local business owners. Reimer and Epstein remain cautiously optimistic about the situation.
"The simple answer is we're concerned and trying to be as involved on a grassroots level as we can," says Reimer. "If people go off in different camps and don't discuss it, then nothing's going to be accomplished."
Epstein adds: "We should have had that film this year. Someone should make that documentary for next year."
» TheaterJones is co-hosting the Filmmaker Happy Hour, 5-7 p.m. on Friday, June 12 at the Turner House in the Winnetka Heights neighbhor of Oak Cliff, at 401 N. Rosemont Ave. Come by for some cocktails, croquet, snacks and ticket giveaways.
This year's Oak Cliff Film Festival boasts nearly two dozen feature length programs and five blocks of short films, with an overarching theme of DIY and No-Wave aesthetics, plus an emphasis on music-related documentaries. To get your started, below is a selection of films that caught our eye. Badges are $175, and single ticket admission for most films is $10. (More information and a complete festival schedule are available here.)
For Fans of the Experimental: Tangerine
8pm Thursday, Texas Theatre
The festival's opening night feature is this overnight Odyssey set in L.A. on Christmas Eve, in which a hooker gets to the bottom of a rumor about her pimp boyfriend. An ambitious work shot in widescreen with an iPhone by Sean Baker.
For Fans of the Experimental and Music: Station to Station
7pm Friday, Texas Theatre
Sixty-one short films featuring Beck, Thurston Moore, Patti Smith, Cat Power, Kenneth Anger, and Jackson Browne filmed during a 24-day, coast-to-coast train ride. A visually arresting collage of images and candid interviews.
For Fans of the Strange: Arrebato (1979)
9:30pm Friday, The Wild Detectives
Spanish filmmaker Ivan Zulueta's surrealist drama about a jaded horror director's descent into a level of filming that can only be described as obsessive, and whose camera seems to develop a life of its own.
For Fans of British Thrillers: Catch Me Daddy
12:30pm, Saturday, Texas Theatre
A young woman runs away from home with her drifter boyfriend, and the two hide out in the badlands of West Yorkshire. things take a dreadful turn when her brother arrives with a gang of bounty hunters. A stunning debut by the Brothers Wolfe.
For Fans of Rock and Roll Outlaws: Danny Says
2:45pm Saturday, Texas Theatre
Brendan Toller's warts-and-all documentary on the influential Danny Fields, a Harvard law School dropout, music publicist, and fixture of Andy Warhol's Factory who forever shaped rock and roll while working for The Doors, Cream, Lou Reed, Nico, Judy Collins, The Stooges, The MC5, and The Ramones.
For Fans of the Avant Garde: Theory of Obscurity: A Film About the Residents
3:30pm Saturday, The Kessler
The renegade performance art/rock band known as The Residents are notoriously secretive -- so much so that their identities have remained unknown for the past four decades. It's no small surprise that Don Hardy Jr. was able to gain unprecedented behind-the-scenes access to the band as they prepare for their 40th anniversary tour.
For Fans of Cult Classics: Beaver Trilogy Part IV
7:45pm Saturday, Bishop Arts Theatre
A chance meeting in a parking lot in 1979 between filmmaker Trent Harris and a young man from Beaver, Utah inspired the creation of an underground film featuring pre-fame Sean Penn and Crispin Glover. And that's the least interesting part of the story.
For Fans of Cable Access and the '90s: 20 Years of Madness
1pm, Saturday, The Kessler
An endearing and soulful look back at 30 Minutes of Madness, an obscure Detroit Public Access TV show produced by a group of high school students in 1995, with a style and tone years ahead of its time. Twenty years later, director and former member Jeremy Royce get the group back together to film one more episode, reflect on how the show impacted their lives, and reconcile their teenage dreams with their middle-age realities.
For Fans of High-Concept Science Fiction: Hard to Be a God
Noon Sunday, Texas Theatre
A group of scientists arrives on the planet Arkanar, whose inhabitants are in a medieval phase of development. he visitors are there to shape the population's development for the better, and under no circumstances are they allowed to kill or use violence. One of them finds himself in an impossible position when a group of intellectuals is threatened.
For Fans of Country Music and Dreamers: Made in Japan
3:30pm Sunday, The Kessler
Meet Tomi Fujiyama, the first female Japanese country music star. After touring the USO circuit in Asia and headlining shows in Las Vegas, her career peaked in 1964 with a performance at the Grand Ole Opry that earned her a standing ovation. This doc poignantly follows her on a journey to play the Opry one more time, 40 years later.