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REVIEW: What Really Happened at Oak Cliff Film Festival 2014


I'm a fan of film. I could name you several films off the top of my head, the type of genres, and argue your face off about what they should or should not have done in the movie. However, I've never made a film. I've never written a screenplay. Nor, have I ever directed anybody, hustled for funds, actors, locations, or equipment. I'm about as outside of the Hollywood system as it gets. Being an outsider will not open any doors or make friends, but it does give you some insight or wisdom that interested parties could take into consideration.

A film festival that opens in its first year has the odds set against them. You gotta love an underdog that's willing to fight a good fight. When the strong word of mouth reviews come in, and later the media outlets start to chime, you think,  "Hey, there might be something that's worthwhile over there." Then year two comes around. The pressure's off the creators' shoulders and there's some room to breathe. They know what to do now and, what not to do. The minor inconveniences and hassles can be dealt with easily.  Year two is also a make it or break year, and its success will ultimately determine whether or not it there will be a future film festival. So the organizers become more inventive, creative, and even more ambitious, to garner more attention for people to come. Nine times out of ten, the gambit pays off.

And now we come to the third year.

The thing about film festivals is that they're only as good and as entertaining as their previous one. Oak Cliff Film Festival stepped up to the plate in 2014.

It has been years since I last visited Oak Cliff, and for a Dallas resident to state that, it says something. The Saturday following the opening of the fest, I came to Kessler Theater on Davis Street to buy a ticket to the first feature-length film, "Limo Ride". If you're a fan of "The Hangover" series, you'll like this movie. A modest amount of people who bought a ticket to see it came. I reviewed the OCFF film schedule. The movies they had to showcase were many, but they're far and in-between the other locations also showing films. Jefferson Tower for example only had one film to show, for one night only, while Texas Theater, the Headquarters for OCFF was showing movies throughout the entire festival. Other locations offered workshops and panels that were limited and held in the late morning/early afternoon hours, while all the other locations were only showing films during the late afternoon/early evenings. Many of these showings and activities coincided with each other, putting people such as myself in an awkward position deciding which film to see, at which time, and at which location.

Other festivals offer encore times of the films being shown, just in case you missed it. Spending $175 dollars for a VIP badge is a lot of money, and in this post-recession America, it's important that you get your money's worth. Money hasn't been an issue hampering the festival. It's one thing to spend it on obtaining the locations to screen the films and to advertise to attract people, but it's another for those marketing strategies to pay off and to insure that the people who do show up are getting a memorable experience.

What is Gentrification?

I later toured Texas Theater on Jefferson Blvd. Curators of OCFF, Brendan and Shauna were waiting patiently outside for any latecomers that wished to participate in the Oak Cliff Bike Ride. The sun was out and there was cloudy overcast that made for perfect biking weather. The objective was to have a great time, but also to generate attention on social media of what's happening now at OCFF. The Impossible Project that sponsored the event wanted all the participants to take Polaroid Bike Ridepics around town to post on their instagram page. The grand prize was a brand new bike. Groups of two went off into the streets, all smiles and helmet gear on. As I stood there taking notes, I took a look around the surrounding areas . If anyone still alive was living here in this part of town back in the early 60's, he/she wouldn't recognize what their neighborhood has become now - a mirror image of two Americas.

Gentrification is defined under Merriam-Webster as: "The process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas." Before gentrification, Oak Cliff was an urban area that was home to most of the minority community that lives in Dallas. Today Oak Cliff is one of several communities across America that has benefited from renovated houses, upscale businesses, retail stores, and brand-new restaurants that attract working, younger, (Caucasian) people who will eventually become the new residents. The current residents on the other hand, will be gingerly forced to relocate due to a rise of rent and property values. For anyone who comes to Oak Cliff for the first time, it can lead to a bit of a culture shock, and your personal feelings and beliefs toward class and race may test your level of comfort.

Across Jefferson BLVDthe street from Texas Theater, there is a long strip of retail stores, businesses, and restaurants that cater to the Latin community, that also live in Oak Cliff. Of all the people who came to participate in the bike ride, and those that came to watch the films being showcased, and attend the parties/functions being held,  OCFF actually marketed to indie film goers, film students, and the X and Y generation of Dallas. These are the residents that take frequent trips to the stores, restaurants, and events being held near or at the OCFF. This is a community where everybody, seems to know everybody. That's not to say that the "other" community across the street wasn't invited to attend a film festival that was in their neighborhood, but it did give an impression that any of their involvement or any contributions made to the OCFF was necessary.

 A Second Opinion

The Sunday morning of that weekend, I took the DART bus to downtown Dallas. Rain happened to be on the menu, which, for some people, can be a deal-breaker. Some aren't willing to go out in weather like this, but the show must go one, and so does this blogger in particular. It was the final day of OCFF and people who were willing to brave the bad weather that came.  I arrived at Oil and Cotton, one of the OCFF's screening venues on W. 7th Street to attend a workshop class. I met and spoke with Steve Cossman, the instructor of "Mono No Aware". It's was the name of the two-day workshop being held, it's also the name of the workshop that Cossman has in Brooklyn, NY. Defined as "The pathos of things." Cossman, brings this unique style of experimental film art to film festivals such as OCFF to people who are interested in expanding their horizon.

The workshop consisted of a core group of people who wanted to get their hands dirty, and gain some experience in this film style. There was no film to shoot, nor a subject to capture, or even a story to create out of thin air. Everything that was MonoNoAwareneeded was right there in the classroom behind the storeroom area of Oil and Cotton. If  you ever watched old-school cartoons growing up, you would know that there's a lot of time spent drawing images  on a frame. Cossman, who is a fan of Len Lye, Kenneth Anger, and Harry Smith, uses a method in which you can tape, scratch, paint, or all of the above on the emulsion side of a 16mm film and design it into your film. In layman's terms, with practice, consistency, and patience, anyone who interested in Mono No Aware can become a film genius without ever having to shoot a frame of film.

As we were listening to the music of Don Cherry, everyone who was there was hard at work to impress Cossman. But he's the kind of guy you don't really have to impress. His subtle, easy-going style of teaching is very honest without being blunt, which can give anyone under his supervision the luxury to go into unknown territory. It was also fantastic that were as many female participants as they were males who attended the workshop.

When the workshop came to a close, the classroom turned into a private movie theater, and we all got the opportunity to see the fruits of our labor come to life.

See the complete results of Steve Cossman's workshop.

If there was a real benefit of coming to OCFF, it would be to a workshop like this where you can reap the benefits of a unique film style and learn some hand-on experience from film experts.

Outsider's Perspective

The OCFF did a decent job of promoting the event and incorporating social media to attract people. However, their marketing strategy did leave half of the Oak Cliff community out in the cold. OCFF advertises that it's the kind of indie film festival that's "community-centered". But that depends on what type of community they're talking about. It would be naive to say that we can live in a day and age in which opposite sides can reach across the aisle to work together on a common goal, but the situation that's going on in Oak Cliff isn't going to be resolved or addressed because of gentrification's complicated history and messy politics any time soon.ocff_site

The real heroes of the film festival, has and always has been the volunteers. You couldn't find a more dedicated bunch of individuals who are willing to work throughout the festival for no money. I've chatted with some volunteers who are willing to go the extra mile to resolve any problem or fix any unexpected leak. There was the occasional "bearded poser" who was just there for the sake of saying he was there, and then there's the person who's willing to brave a rain shower because no one else would.

I really wish they had film encores. There were some films I should have watched, but the hours they were shown and the proximity between locations made it a pain. Also, came a little late to the party to earn a media pass, so you gotta make do with the budget that you have. Hell, I didn't even get a chance to view the free showing they had at Jefferson Tower. The place was so packed with people, but then again, I wasn't too ecstatic about walking through a building under construction to go to a rooftop, when unsure of the maximum occupancy.

I enjoyed the workshop experience without doing the workshop experience. The 2-day workshop isn't cheep, $100. But if you're willing to pay for some expert advise and some insight on a film genre, than it's worth the cost of admission.  In the previous year, the film workshop clocked in at 8 hours and it was a one-day course, which wasn't a big issue for Cossman. It doesn't hurt to include other workshops and incorporate more instructors like Cossman who could attend OCFF to fill in the voids for the late morning/early afternoons.

All in all, the experience of coming to OCFF are mixed. As a fan a film, it's worth coming down to check out what's out there in the independent film circuit. If you don't feel comfortable enough stepping out of your comfort zone, skip the trip and invest in a Netflix account.

 Film Art