"Last year, we had to cancel and ended up doing a very small, one-night virtual program where we played short films by filmmakers we hosted before in real life and did Q&As that were live and streamed," says Barak Epstein, director and co-founder of the Oak Cliff Film Festival with Jason Raimer. "This year, we're basically going back to what we normally do, which is a four-day film fest in our main venues that we like to use."
The Oak Cliff Film Festival returns to its familiar, in-person format from Friday, June 23, through Sunday, June 27. This year's festival has 23 feature-length films and 34 short films at seven different venues, including some early screenings in the Texas Theatre's new upstairs theater space, first announced last December.
The opening night screening will feature the Sundance award-winning documentary Summer of Soul (...Or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) directed by Roots drummer Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson. The film explores the almost-lost footage of the Harlem Cultural Festival from the (already tumultuous) year of 1969, a series of concerts played out over six weekends in Mount Morris Park by some of the greatest soul legends of all time: Stevie Wonder, BB King, Sly and the Family Stone and Nina Simone. The concerts attracted hundreds of thousands celebrating a revolution of freedom through music and marking a cultural turn for Black history, culture and life in America.
Another notable title on the festival's schedule includes a dramatic journey feature called Swan Song starring Udo Kier, who plays a retired hairdresser traveling to fulfill a woman's dying wish for one last appointment. Kier and director Todd Stephens will be at the Texas Theatre for a post-screening Q&A.
A recent Oscar nominee's newest film will also get a screening at the Oak Cliff Film Festival. Mogul Mowgli stars Academy Award nominee Riz Ahmed as British Pakistani rapper Zed, who tries to reconnect with his parents after a two-year absence when he's diagnosed with an autoimmune disease as he's on the cusp of achieving superstardom. His illness forces him to face his struggles to reconnect his cultural roots and childhood memories, which play out in bizarre hallucinations.
Other intriguing films on the schedule include a surrealist animated feature called Cryptozoo, featuring the voices of Lake Bell and Michael Cera; the dystopian, sci-fi story Strawberry Mansion about a future where dreams are audited and taxed was directed by Albert Birney, who will be at the festival; and the documentary Kid Candidate, which tells the real story of how a spoof candidacy video turned 24-year old Hayden Pedigo into a serious candidate for the Amarillo City Council.
The festival will also offer screenings of old favorites: a free-outdoor showing of David Byrne's True Stories at the Turner House (RSVP required), a 4K restoration of Dennis Hopper's troubling family drama Out of the Blue and a drive-in screening of the silent Western The Return of Draw Egan with a live performance of Ennio Morricone's score by the orchestral rock group Montopolis.
Festival organizers are still taking precautions to ensure audiences' safety through all of its venues. Capacity for every screening will be limited to 50 percent, and all attendees are encouraged to wear masks and be fully vaccinated.
"This year, we're working with Methodist Dallas Medical Center, who's one of our big sponsors this year," Epstein says. "We've consulted with them on the best practices, even in light of all the changes that have been happening like mask-wearing and the rise of the vaccines."
The Oak Cliff Film Festival is one of many annual events starting to come back in what will hopefully be the shadow of the COVID-19 outbreak. Epstein says he hopes it will mark a return to pre-pandemic life for the film industry and other local cultural communities.
"There's lot of stuff happening every weekend in Dallas now, but this is the first in-person film festival that's been able to come back in real life since the shutdown," Epstein says. "Hopefully, we can set a precedent in how to bring it back."