A Comprehensive Guide to this Weekend's Oak Cliff Film Festival

Dallas film fans will pack into Texas Theatre again this weekend for the sixth Oak Cliff Film Festival.
Dallas film fans will pack into Texas Theatre again this weekend for the sixth Oak Cliff Film Festival.
courtesy Oak Cliff Film Festival

The Oak Cliff Film Fest returns this week to share its treasures across Dallas’ favorite spaces. And while previous iterations have celebrated cinematic pioneers, obsessive documentarians and subversively innovative collaborators, this year’s inspiration is drawn from the New Hollywood era of 1970s filmmaking, a time when directors wrested creative control from studio financiers in order to swing the cameras in bold, at times gritty, and impossibly imaginative new directions.

Embodying this point of exploration is the 2016 OCFF’s pulpy figurehead, Brian De Palma, whose work will be honored through a pretty great-looking documentary (De Palma, at 5:45 p.m. Sunday at Texas Theatre), as well as a screening of his psyched-out thriller/musical cult mash-up, Phantom of the Paradise, which shows Friday night at the Majestic, where much of the film’s interiors were shot. (Film at 8 p.m., followed by a Q&A with Robert Wilonsky and the Phantom’s muse, lead actress Jessica Harper, aka “Pheo…Nix”).

In other repertory news, Louis Black (co-founder of Austin Chronicle and SXSW) is coming up from Austin (we hope by Megabus) with a tin under his arm. He’ll be opening the festival at 8 p.m. Thursday with a newly restored version of Eagle Pennell’s maverick take on guys talking in bars, Last Night at the Alamo (1983).

Local boy done good David Lowery brings you back to the '80s (and the future) in the heart of Bishop Arts with a free, 30th-anniversary screening of Flight of the Navigator, along with a special peek at the trailer for his new Disney adventure film, Pete’s Dragon. Badge holders will have priority access, but this event is designed to foster community involvement, so go pick out a nice tree, gather a ladder and claim a branch for you and a dozen of your closest neighbors at this 8:45 p.m. Saturday screening.

In the context of New Hollywood, Terrence Malik’s slow-burn love story Badlands provides interesting contrast to De Palma’s sexy, technical flash. It has rich Southern vibes, impeccably crafted characters and it's shot to seduce. Where De Palma is reappropriation and pop art, Malik is a master of landscape, fine-tuned to the slightest detail.

And here in Badlands, he gives it all: a big, saturated sky; a house on fire, both literally and figuratively; and a young couple bit by a damning love, sentenced to choke on its own slow-seeping poison. This one still terrifies, so wear pearls to clutch to the Texas Theatre at 7 p.m. Friday.

In the narrative categories, there’s a lot to look forward to. From perspective shapers to beautiful losers, here’s an overview of the highlights.

The Fits is a rare film that documents the experience of a pre-adolescent girl.EXPAND
The Fits is a rare film that documents the experience of a pre-adolescent girl.
courtesy Oak Cliff Film Festival
The Fits
1:30 p.m. Saturday
The Kessler Theater
1230 W. Davis St.

Written by three women, including first-time feature director Anna Rose Holmer, The Fits is a dance-based story that takes the perspective of Toni, an 11-year-old inner-city girl. Its star (Royalty Hightower) is at a point in life we rarely see captured on film: the transitional, pre-adolescent span when girls are aware their world is changing, but don’t know quite how they’re meant to fit within it.

Partially funded by the Venice Film Fest’s Biennale College, The Fits follows Toni as she wanders away from the boxing gym and over to the drill team (played by real-life Cincinnati drill team, the Q-Kidz). Then, things get mysterious as the team’s popular members develop ostracizing seizures known as “the fits.” 

Chris Vognar of The Dallas Morning News sang the film's praise and Jezebel featured a great interview with Holmer on working collaboratively with the girls, and on how nicely competitive drill team parallels boxing. The screening is co-presented by the Dallas International Film Festival and the Dallas Black Film Festival.
Mickey may be so fine, but you'll feel sorry for her in CheerleaderEXPAND
Mickey may be so fine, but you'll feel sorry for her in Cheerleader
courtesy Oak Cliff Film Festival

Cheerleader 
4 p.m. Sunday
Bishop Arts Theatre Center
215 S. Tyler St.

A slightly older coming-of-age tale is Irving Franco’s visually awesome Cheerleader, which dips back to '80s privilege in the rich, white suburbs. Poor Mickey. We watch the popular protagonist, with her unfiltered dialog and crap taste in men, go undervalued again and again. 

Is she shallow? Brilliant? A manipulative byproduct of a pre-pill mom? It’s tough to tell how deep the waters run. This light-hearted, dark comedy is a great little escape — hunker down with popcorn on Sunday and pick the director’s brain after the screening.

A couple of this year's films — The 4th and Hunky Dory — question the need for formal story structure altogether. 

"Young filmmakers are trying to pull apart all of these McKee things," explains OCFF co-founder Jason Reimer, as he ticks off standard screenwriting principles. "You have to have conflict in every scene. There must be conflict among every character..."

And while The 4th challenges those tropes with a meandering LA slacker comedy that's part Larry David, part hipster, Hunky Dory does it through an emotional and engrossing family drama.

The 4th's premise is simple: One guy tries to throw a barbecue, and boy is it a struggle.
The 4th's premise is simple: One guy tries to throw a barbecue, and boy is it a struggle.
courtesy Oak Cliff Film Festival
The 4th
3:30 p.m. Saturday
The Kessler Theater
1230 W. Davis St.

“It’s literally this guy just trying to have a barbecue,” says OCFF co-founder Adam Donaghey. “If you’ve ever spent any time in Los Angeles, New York or any kind of big city like that, it’s hard to do anything — especially when you don’t have any money and you’re trying to get through your life.” 

Aimless, broke, addicted to his iPhone — and sorry ladies, not single — leading man Jamie isn’t really a “details guy.” He’s got one thing to do: Get the lighter fluid for the barbecue. And it’s a challenge, man.

This first feature-length film by writer/director/actor Andre Hyland is unexpectedly engrossing. You can’t help but relish his struggle as he junebugs around, bouncing off one shouldn’t-be-a-problem-but-is, and into another. “It’s hipsters being tongue-in-cheek about hipsters,” shrugs Donaghey. 
Hunky Dory is a story about a drag queen, yes, but on another level it's just a story about growing up.
Hunky Dory is a story about a drag queen, yes, but on another level it's just a story about growing up.
courtesy Oak Cliff Film Festival

Hunky Dory
7:15 p.m. Saturday
Bishop Arts Theatre Center
215 S. Tyler St.

To summarize director Michael Curtis Johnson’s Hunky Dory as a collection of its parts — a dive bar drag queen dad, drug hustling, unexpected full-time custody of a young boy — makes the film sound salacious and fast-paced. But this sweeping, dreamy drama is more about stepping up to responsibility and putting someone else’s needs first. So, growing up, basically. 

Writer, producer and lead actor Thomas Pais plays Sidney, who’s doing drag because his music career didn’t pan out. But don’t think of glamorous, middle-American, housewife-tweeting, celebrity-worshiping drag. This is a daytime makeup onstage, wig-less, bargain-basement gay bar type of scene. A stage is a stage is a stage. 

The film has many beautiful moments: Watching Sidney settle into the idea that what he is could be enough, both for him and his son, is peacefully lovely. Whenever Sidney has some time to himself — to dance, dream or chase something he wants — the theme music from Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series plays. It's a reminder that while we all aspire to be the biggest and brightest thing in the galaxy, it's a truly lucky few who get to orbit as humble, binary stars. Thomas Pais will attend the screening. 

Documentary selections are strong in OCFF's lineup, and some interesting parallels take shape as you survey its landscape. From the meta, tough-to-classify films Author: The JT Leroy Story and Kate Plays Christine, to a pair focusing on creative environments, Sex and Broadcasting and Goodnight Brooklyn: The Story of Death By Audio, you'll find fascinating tales that make nice couplings.

A con man speaks in The JT Leroy Story.
A con man speaks in The JT Leroy Story.
courtesy Oak Cliff Film Festival
Author: The JT Leroy Story
3 p.m. Saturday
The Texas Theatre
231 W. Jefferson Blvd.

The internet gets tagged as faceless void. A swamp of catfish. But there was more anonymity before our lives amounted to a web of collisions, all made public and searchable. Just look at JT Leroy. 

A big name for a while, JT Leroy was a transgendered teen. The son of a “lot lizard” mother. A runaway. A poet. A recluse. A media darling. 

The name carried gravitas partially because of Leroy’s deliciously consumable mythology, but also because of the phenomenal writing he crafted and faxed to celebrated authors. He even received a producing credit on Gus Van Sant’s Palme d’Or winning-film Elephant.

The only problem is that JT Leroy doesn’t exist. Never did. 

This film looks at why and how that came to be, by passing the mic to Laura Albert, the woman who invented and assumed the persona for nearly a decade, which, quite frankly, sounds exhausting.

And considering that con artists don’t make for trustworthy sources, it’s fascinating that director Jeff Feuerzeig (The Devil and Daniel Johnston) chose to allow Albert to speak uninterrupted, with no outside perspectives represented. 

An auditory hoarder, Albert recorded nearly all of her phone calls made as JT Leroy to celebrities, teen counselors and her co-conspirators. They get leveraged here — both as background color and to bolster her tale. 

But how deep does this con go? And is Albert — a clear genius and talented writer — an embodiment of fractured experiences? Would she have had more opportunity in fiction if she were a trendy, thin woman or, better, a man? Or is she an art forger who just wanted to receive appropriate credit for the work she’s done? Maybe one, maybe all. You decide. 
Kate Plays Christine provides insight into the disturbing on-air suicide of '70s newscaster Christine Chubbuck.
Kate Plays Christine provides insight into the disturbing on-air suicide of '70s newscaster Christine Chubbuck.
courtesy Oak Cliff Film Festival
Kate Plays Christine
1:15 p.m. Sunday
Bishop Arts Theatre Center
215 S. Tyler St.

In other twisted, not-quite-docs-or-are-they tales, Robert Greene digs in with his latest challenge to the form. It’s a story known well by both journalists and Floridians, which to be fair, is a pretty effed-up audience overlap. In 1974, Sarasota newscaster Christine Chubbuck took her own life, on air. Cut to call signal.

In Kate Plays Christine, Greene rewinds to explore Chubbuck’s relationships, desires and more through actress Kate Sheil (House of Cards, The Real Girlfriend Experience), who’s preparing to play the role of Christine. 

Tangled morality, media exhibitionism and complicated gender power politics channel between the two women as Kate works to embody her part. Greene scours it all, then feeds it to you, the voyeurs. 

“He is knee-deep in exploring those themes in these documentaries — are they documentaries?” asks OCFF co-founder Barak Epstein about Greene. “He’s admittedly blurring the lines and he talks about it. That’s his whole world.” 

When I spoke with X frontwoman Exene Cervenka in 2013

, she voiced her concern with the world’s increasing lack of authenticity. That as larger corporations consume smaller ones, even the garbage on our streets starts to look the same.

In our own neighborhoods, we see the commodification of creativity every day. And we mourn as its original means of transmission — be it airway, print, venue or digital relay — gets sold off for parts. (Cracks Lone Star. Pours one out for Rubber Gloves.)

OCFF 2016 has two films celebrating pure creative space and the compulsive misfits who exist inside them, kicking out the jams.

Sex and Broadcasting pries open the studio doors of WFMU, the country’s longest-running free-form radio station. Hubbed out of New Jersey, the DJs of this auditory wonderland push their creative limits with the type of isolated liberation that only a closed door, mic and “on air” light can provide.

In some ways, this one is for the fans. Those who grew up glued to the station (either by antennae or online) and cultivated an appreciation for the absurd, theatrical and flat-out good will be gratified to see those cats in action. There’s even a solid dose of old Best Show footage.

New to WFMU’s airwaves? Director Tim K. Smith has you covered with this look at the hallowed ground of a rarified and innovative kingdom, run by its animals. At least for now. Co-presented by KNON, Sex and Broadcasting airs at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at The Kessler (1230 W. Davis St.).

Like Denton's Rubber Gloves, Williamsburg's cherished underground music venue Death by Audio was recently bought up by developers.EXPAND
Like Denton's Rubber Gloves, Williamsburg's cherished underground music venue Death by Audio was recently bought up by developers.
courtesy Oak Cliff Film Festival

Goodnight Brooklyn: The Story of Death by Audio 
 8 p.m. Saturday
The Texas Theatre
231 W. Jefferson Blvd.

If you’re lucky, really lucky, your formative years were spent inside shitty, dark, rank experimental music venues. The type where both the great nights and terrible nights had value because they were focused on breaking away from the formulaic. 

In Williamsburg, Death by Audio served nearly a decade as an all-ages space for underground music and art. Then, deep pockets took over the building. Goodnight Brooklyn looks at its final days, documenting the End of Fun and the lives it shaped.

“It’s a pretty important film, especially now that Rubber Gloves is closing,” Reimer notes.

About eight people are getting flown in for the screening — including director Matthew Conboy, Death by Audio’s founders, their band A Place to Bury Strangers and even the venue’s sound guy. Yeah, that’s a lot for one indie film screening. If they were to scale back, maybe … start with the sound guy?

“His whole world has been doing sound for $50 a night at this shithole,” says Reimer. “I did sound at Rubber Gloves for years for $50 a night, and none of us would ever leave with money, we’d all spend it at the bar — but you loved it. To me, in a weird way, that we care that the sound guy is coming, it says a lot.” 

“Well,” counters Epstein, only half-joking, “he also has to mix the show.”  Then, stick around for the after-party with A Place to Bury Strangers and True Widow. And be a good person: Buy the sound guy a beer.

There's more. From backyard punk parties and short blocks — including the experimental art/film hybrid Cinema 16 collection, curated by Dallas Observer Mastermind Michael Morris — to Sunday's tediously rewarding reflection of faith, Tikkun (co-presented by Three Stars Cinema), there's lots here to challenge your senses.

The Oak Cliff Film Festival runs Thursday through Sunday. For individual tickets and festival badges, $10-$175, along with the complete OCFF schedule and list of participating venues, visit oakclifffilmfestival.com.



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