Dallas — There was a time, not long ago, when the film fest season was mostly in the fall and spring in these parts. But now we can add summer to that mix. As it heats up, it is a good time to go inside and watch films. In May we’ve already had the South Asian Film Festival and the first part of the Dallas Medianale (the video art and performance part of Dallas VideoFest is up at the MAC, which is no longer on McKinney Ave. but in the Cedars on Ervay Street.) On July 17 and 18, the second part of the Medianale will show single-channel experimental films and feature live film performances, and these will be free. In August we will have our annual Cat Video Festival and a reworking of our 24-Hour Video Race, but more on that later.
And this week, we have the Oak Cliff Film Festival, opening Thursday. In a way, the Texas Theatre programming throughout the year is like an ongoing film festival, but they have done a great job at expanding out of the Texas Theatre and into the neighborhood. It is a bit like the Deep Ellum Film Festival was, a festival that comes from a neighborhood rather than a cultural identity, but Deep Ellum did not have movie theaters and North Oak cliff has the Texas Theater, the Bishop Arts Theater Center (which works well for film) and the Kessler Theater, which is great for film screenings.
One of the great things about OCFF is that there are many filmmakers who come to show their films and hang out, both for features and for shorts.
The programming has been a solid mix of indie features and docs with a dash of experimental films. The short experimental film collection comes under the title Cinema 16, a film series in New York that is run by Amos Vogel. There is also a tribute screening to two experimental filmmakers who have passed away, Jonas Mekas and Carolee Schneermann. I would have wanted to include a work by Barbara Hammer, who also passed away, but I think the passed after the program had been set.
There are several films that I would have programmed for VideoFest — hey, that happens to all programmers — so let me mention them first. The Infiltrators is a hybrid-doc/narrative film by Alex Rivera and Christina Ibarra. This film tells the story of a group that goes into the detention centers to get info on the people in there, to get them out. The documentary parts are everything outside the detention centers, but to understand what is really happening they could not shoot inside so they wrote and directed those sequences. This is a powerful film.
Pahokee is another fave for me. This is an observational documentary of this small town in Florida (yes you can see a real gator). This is the first feature for Ivette Lucan and Patrick Bresnan, who have been making great short docs that have played in all the prestigious festivals, some in this region. This film spends more time embedded in the community telling profound and everyday stories of a year of high school, including football, family, and school dramas. There is a moment with a shooting, and the film just observes it and moves on.
Another really good doc is Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project, a film by Matt Wolf. It chronicles an African-American woman who made home recordings of everything on TV, 24 hours a day for more than 30 years, starting in 1979. She did this to preserve the history of how stories are told — how does the media represent the stories and the people in those stories? She was both an activist and a former librarian so those two backgrounds combine to make sure the news of the day would be of value in the future. After her death this collection was sent to the Internet Archive.
One more doc worth seeing is We Are the Radical Monarchs (view trailer above), which I first encountered as a short called Radical Brownies, which was part of the Guardian’s video series. This tells the story of an alternative to official girl scouting, by following the Radical Monarchs in Oakland, which is a group for tweens (8-13) girls. Instead of focusing on cookies, they get badges for social justice. The film follows them for three years.
A film that I love is Knives and Skins by Jennifer Reeder. VideoFest has been showing her short films for years. She is an experimental filmmaker who has successfully crossed over into narrative, in a way that many do not do well. She directed a film last year, Signature Move, but that was not her script. This is totally her universe, but larger.
Jules of Light and Dark is the first feature from Daniel Laabs, who is a former student of mine and worked for the VideoFest for years, so perhaps I am not the one to be objective about this film. This is the Dallas premiere, but it has been showing around the country. Check it out.
Another suggestion is Light from Light is a new film from Paul Harrill, a filmmaker we have championed in the past. I have not seen this, but I would expect greatness from him.
There will also be a workshop on shooting on film that I will be presenting, and a workshop about the Austin film society grant.
Have a great summer and check out some movies.
» Film Notes with Bart Weiss now runs on the first Monday of the month.
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