Growing up in Oak Cliff, Lee Escobedo and Patrick Patterson-Carroll didn’t have many opportunities to learn about cinema. They remember looking for movies at grocery stores and pawnshops. Sometimes they would leave the neighborhood and visit a Half Price Books. But now they are using What is Cinema?, a podcast funded by the city of Dallas, to raise awareness of cinema in Oak Cliff and use it to explore other art and culture in the neighborhood.
These days, Oak Cliff has programming at Texas Theatre that can transform minds. Seeing a film by Pedro Almodóvar or Federico Fellini can make a person re-evaluate cinema. Those kinds of films can awaken interests people don’t know they have. Perhaps they will even discover they want to make films.
Or maybe they just wake up. Great cinema isn’t just great art, it’s a fusion of the arts. An interesting film can be a gateway drug to endless intellectual curiosity. Film has the power to raise expectations for art. There are people who would never admit to what they used to listen to before Woody Allen films made them start listening to jazz.
And cinema as art could definitely encourage someone to check out the art exhibited at the Oak Cliff Cultural Center next door to Texas Theatre, sign their kids up for Go Green Spring Break Camp, participate in art or music workshops, or learn how to dance with a new rhythm. Unlike the Oscars, the Oak Cliff Cultural Center is committed to fostering diverse culture.
It all started with two writers, Escobedo and Patterson-Carroll, hanging out and talking about movies for hours. “We had these long discussions on cinema as an art form versus cinema as movies,” Escobedo says. A quick glance at his enormous film collection reveals Man Bites Dog — the disturbing early '90s fake French documentary about a serial killer — as well as films by Andrei Tarkovsky and Rainer Werner Fassbinder.
“Before the whole #OscarsSoWhite thing came about we were talking about cinema,” says Patterson-Carroll. “But that gave us the extra push because this was about bringing people together.” Their idea was to create a podcast that would draw Oak Cliff residents to the cultural institutions of Texas Theatre and the Oak Cliff Cultural Center and get different types of creative people from the neighborhood to interact.
Texas Theatre was happy to let them use the space to record the podcast. But Rafael Tamayo, manager of the Oak Cliff Cultural Center, liked the idea enough to approve a grant to make the monthly podcast publicly funded. Tamayo later approved a second grant to cover expenses for episode launch parties at the Oak Cliff Cultural Center.
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After all, face-to-face engagement is important. It’s not unusual for grants to get approved but ultimately fizzle because no one knows about them. “It was very important that it was free,” Escobedo says. “I also wanted to make sure that all the bands were taken care of.” Free food and beer also helped bring people in. Some checked out the gallery for the first time and others didn’t even know the Oak Cliff Cultural Center existed. Many had never heard the great local music from Field Guide and Black Taffy.
The launch party for the first episode at the Oak Cliff Cultural Center was paired with a screening of High Fidelity at Texas Theatre last month. A film about a record store owner was a good fit because David Grover from Spinster Records was the guest on their first podcast. “We want to have guests who are Oak Cliff residents working within the arts and community,” Escobedo says. Their guest for the upcoming second episode is artist, curator and critic Lucia Simek, who lives in Oak Cliff and is the communications manager at the Nasher Sculpture Center.
The podcast is about film, but it can also be pointed toward music, art or anything else of cultural interest. As co-hosts, Escobedo and Patterson-Carroll agree and disagree well enough. They like and dislike many of the same films, albeit for different reasons. “I wasn’t concerned about a certain level of academia or a person who is involved with the movie scene,” Escobedo says. “I needed someone I could have an engaging dynamic with.” “I’ve always wanted to do something where I could listen to my own voice,” Patterson-Carroll jokes.
They like the idea of eventually pairing some launch parties with film events at museums and other cultural institutions. They see endless possibility for the podcast, all for the benefit of Oak Cliff. “It’s all about building a network of like-minded people and expanding what cinema means,” Escobedo says. “The title of the podcast is open-ended; it’s a question, not a definitive answer. This is about maintaining a respect for real historical narrative and connecting to cultural institutions.” And it’s all based on a discussion about cinema.