When you think Oxford, Miss., two F words usually come to mind: football and Faulkner. Whether you spend your Saturdays yelling “Hotty Toddy” or reading As I Lay Dying, this vibrant small town has something for fans of sports and the arts alike. Oxford offers an exciting and growing blend of literary and artistic talent as the former home to Barry Hannah and John Grisham and the current home to Ace Atkins, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, and Chris Offutt, who wrote episodes for the first season of “True Blood.”
Another set of F words that should come to mind when you think Oxford is film festival. For over a decade, the Oxford Film Festival has supported and celebrated the art of independent cinema. The 13th Oxford Film Festival, Feb. 17-21, will bring together filmmakers and film lovers from as far as Los Angeles and New York and as close as Oxford and Tupelo for five days of screenings, panels and social events.
The festival screens short and feature-length films in both showcase and competition settings. Film categories include:
- Animated short
- Documentary feature and short
- Experimental short
- Mississippi narrative and documentary
- Mississippi Music Video
- Narrative feature and short
The winning films will be announced at the awards ceremony. New this year is the Best Editing award, which will receive a Hoka statuette. Also new to the awards lineup is the Alice Guy-Blaché filmmaker award to a female director, which comes with a Hoka statuette and a $1,000 prize from the Louis M. Rabinowitz Foundation. All films in the lineup are eligible for the coveted Ron Tibbett Audience Award, named for the founding director of the Magnolia Film Festival in Starkville, the first independent film festival in Mississippi.
“For our Lucky 13, we are excited to have expanded to numerous venues and have 139 films with a lot of celebrities coming to Oxford,” said executive director Melanie Addington. In past years, those celebrities have included James Franco, who attended the screening of his adaptation of Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury.
Fans of the show “Parenthood” will be excited to see Max Burkholder, who will be attending the showing of “Babysitter,” the first feature film by writer/director Morgan Krantz. Burkholder plays the role of Ray Longwood, a moody teenager and pawn in his parents’ complicated divorce.
Joey Lawrence, star of both the series Blossom as well as Melissa and Joey (and Gimme a Break), will attend the screening of “Saved by Grace,” in which he plays the role of a retired police officer who tragically lost his family. On Friday, Feb. 19 at 8 p.m., Lawrence, along with John Wildman, will conduct a conversation panel. This event is $12, or free with a day pass, weekend badge or VIP pass.
The Thacker Mountain Radio Hour partners with the festival to kick off the weekend on Thursday, Feb. 18 from 6-7 p.m. at The Lyric Theatre on the Square in downtown Oxford.
The Oxford Film Festival not only entertains its participants with the chance to watch independent films, but it also provides opportunities to meet the filmmakers and learn from professionals in the industry. A variety of free panels will be held during the festival, including topics such as “Casting characters,” “Producing films in Mississippi,” “How to be a child actor: Does your kid have what it takes?” and “Creative Mississippi: Documenting Small Town Stories.”
These panels are aimed at addressing questions and issues in the filmmaking community. On Sunday, the panel “Dissecting Hollywood’s Diversity Problem” will tackle the issue of Hollywood’s diversity or, rather, the lack of it. From The Hollywood Reporter awards-season roundtable cover featuring exclusively white actresses to the dismal statistics about decision-makers in the industry, Hollywood’s lack of diversity is perhaps its most urgent issue. This all-diverse panel will include Tanya Wright, another name for “True Blood” fans as she played the role of Deputy Kenya Jones. Wright also plays the role of Crystal Burset, the wife of transgender inmate Sophia Burset on “Orange is the New Black.”
Later that day, attendees will have the opportunity to hear from the people behind “Gravity Falls,” and Emmy-award winner “Adventure Time,” and Oscar and Emmy winner “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” during the animation panel. Panel participants include Kent Osborne, who won an Emmy for “Adventure Time” and has received multiple Emmy nominations for work on “Spongebob Squarepants” and “Phineas and Ferb.” Jack Pendarvis, an Oxford resident, story editor and voice of Root Beer Guy on “Adventure Time,” will also be on this panel.
“There is something magical about the communal spirit of a shared theatrical experience that you can’t get watching Netflix at home,” said Addington. “This is why we have the film festival, because we want people to have a bit of that magic in their lives.”
To see the full lineup of films and panels or to purchase event passes, visit oxfordfilmfest.com.