The third annual Oak Cliff Film Festival kicks-off this evening, and like last year, the opening night film is a secret screening. What we know is that it is a Sailor Bear production, which means it involves Dallas-based filmmakers David Lowery, Toby Halbrooks, and James M. Johnston. And as Chris Vognar has already shown, it doesn’t take too much clicking around IMDB to figure out what it might be.
The secret screening is a nice touch and indicative of how the well-connected Aviation Cinema crew, which puts on the OCFF, is able to pull strings and get films that a little upstart festival otherwise couldn’t. It also shows how, in many ways, the Oak Cliff Film Festival gets the film festival experience better than most of the other festivals in town. Compact, innovative, and often surprising, the OCFF maximizes on its location, and loads the schedule with interesting movies, events, and parties.
This year the festival is also spotlighting a cinema pioneer, Eadweard Muybridge. Muybridge is a photographer who developed a photography techniques to study motion. He is the subject of a documentary from 1975, Thom Anderson’s Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer, which will screen at the fest on Sunday, and he is the inspiration for the inclusion of Lumiere, an Austin-based group that will be taking 19th century portraits of festival attendees throughout the weekend. The Muybridge tribute also informs the programming. Movies like Manakamana and Yakona are both explorations of the potential of the photographic medium. The double feature of Dog Day Afternoon and The Dog, a documentary about the real-life inspiration for Al Pacino’s character in the classic film, could be seen as a way of exploring the social and identity issues around the nature of the photographic image and its dissemination in popular media.
Other highlights include the Cinema 16 program, which focuses on ambitious shorts, and the Mono No Aware Direct Filmmaking Workshop with Steve Cossman. There will be a rooftop screening Wild Canaries on Jefferson Tower, as well as plenty of parties, DJs, and panel discussions.
We were able to check out some of the movies at this year’s fest. Here’s a quick guide to some of the films that will be showing throughout the weekend.
The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga (Friday, June 20 7:30 p.m. Bishop Arts Theater Center)
A meandering essay about culture, history, innocence and experience, The Vanquishing of the Witch Baby Yaga uses the fringes of a crumbling East Europe (the film was shot in Russia, Ukraine, and Poland) to stage a cerebral, existential inquiry into the nature of life and the life of the mind. It intercuts an animated retelling of a Russian fairy tale – Baby Yaga – to set up segments that explore the nature of death, time, family, shelter, and the essential elements of human life. – Peter Simek
Buzzard (Friday, June 20 9:30 p.m. Bishop Arts Theater Center)
The central character in this dark comedy about a man’s descent into madness is so compelling that you can forgive him for being so creepy and disturbing. Marty (Joshua Burge) is a fledgling con artist battling an intense bout of paranoia that forces him into his co-worker’s basement, and ultimately on to the streets of Detroit to rebel against anybody who stands in his way, accompanied by plenty of heavy-metal music. While the overall impact is somewhat muddled, Burge and director Joel Potrykus join forces on a memorable portrayal of a man whose adventures are punctuated by scenes that are alternately shocking and sad. – Todd Jorgenson
The Dog (Friday, June 20 10 p.m. Texas Theatre)
You don’t have to be a fan of the 1970s thriller Dog Day Afternoon to appreciate this documentary portrait of the character who inspired the film. Yet this makes for an fascinating companion piece as it chronicles the life of John Wojtowicz, the bank robber whose wild homosexual exploits during the 1970s spiraled out of control. The film assembles an impressive mix of interviews and archival material, including some original footage of Wojtowicz himself that was captured more than a decade ago. The cumulative impact is more of a curiosity than anything else, and the subject certainly isn’t very sympathetic. Still, this wacky true-life story is intriguing. – Todd Jorgenson
Manakamana (Saturday, June 21 12:45 p.m. Texas Theatre)
The entirety of Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez’s Manakamana is the product of a simple filmmaking idea: place a camera in a cable and film two hours of passengers making their way up and down the side of a mountain on the way to a pilgrimage site in Nepal. Beginning with an old man and a boy, and passing through friends, families, goats, and Americans, the film functions as a series of portraits that are surprisingly absorbing and psychologically revealing. Manakamana gives you so little by way of narrative or explicit content, but over time you become sensitive to the way people reveal themselves through the unconscious body language, small gestures and speech. The uncut footage functions as an argument for Godard’s maxim that film is truth at 24 frames-per-second – Peter Simek
Limo Ride (Saturday, June 21 3:30 p.m. Kessler Theater)
I’m sure late some drunken evening you’ve heard a buddy spin a barroom yarn so ridiculous someone shouted out, “You should make a movie about this.” That seems about how Limo Ride made it to the screen. Through interviews with eight or so hell-raising friends from Mobile, AL, the movie pieces together a New Year’s Day at some unspecified point in the past that went from drunken debauchery to hellish intensity over the course of a wheels-off bar hoping joy ride. On so many levels, Limo Ride shouldn’t work. Barroom stories are never as fascinating to people who don’t know the individuals involved; recreating a narrative by cutting together disjointed reminiscences of each episode by nearly a dozen different people should make for a disjointed film. But Limo Ride proves a hilarious romp, part adventure tale, part buddy movie. It just may be the best drinking story ever told. – Peter Simek
Young Bodies Heal Quickly (Sunday, June 22 3:30 p.m. The Kessler)
We never learn much about the young brothers at the heart of this peculiar road movie – not their names, not their backgrounds, and certainly not their motivation for outbursts of nihilistic violence that make them fugitives after one incident goes too far, resulting in a woman’s death. The ensuing journey is marked by encounters with eccentrics both inside and outside their own family. Although there are some powerful images and evocative atmospheric touches along the way, there’s almost no moral context or emotional payoff in the deliberately paced script by rookie director Andrew Betzer, making this an intriguing but ultimately frustrating experiment in low-budget minimalism. – Todd Jorgenson
Mood Indigo (Sunday, June 22 4:45 p.m. Texas Theatre)
Style overwhelms substance in this Parisian romance from director Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) about a bohemian bachelor (Romain Duris) who meets a free-spirited girl (Audrey Tautou) at a friend’s party, only to learn later that she has a bizarre ailment. The film doesn’t use that revelation as an excuse to jerk tears, but rather to explore a surreal world of dreamlike whimsy. Perhaps it deserves credit for trying something different. However, while the two leads achieve a pleasant chemistry, all of the visual flourishes seem more like gimmicks after a while as this impressive technical achievement turns into sensory overload. – Todd Jorgenson