Arts & Culture News

Dallas International Film Festival's 16th-Anniversary Event Will Present Award Contenders and New Talent

Dallas filmmaker Cooper Raiff is the star, director and writer of Cha Cha Real Smooth, one of the best films of the year.
Dallas filmmaker Cooper Raiff is the star, director and writer of Cha Cha Real Smooth, one of the best films of the year. Courtesy of Apple TV+
Now that the summer movie box office has died down, it’s festival season! This means that after several months of superheroes, minions and Top Gun: Maverick rewatches, we’re finally getting our first glimpse of the movies that will be contending at the award shows at the end of the year.

It will be fascinating to see how award ceremonies play out over the next few months. The Academy Awards are still in a crisis over #TheSlap, and the Golden Globes, which were reportedly discontinued over a lack of diversity among voters, are resuming their live broadcast this year in a final attempt to stay relevant.

Festival season can increasingly feel like “inside baseball” for some movie fans who don’t happen to live in New York or Los Angeles. When films are given a limited release in those cities and held from the rest of the country, it creates a disparity in terms of access. However, film fans in Texas have the unique opportunity to attend some of the nation’s most prominent film festivals without having to travel too far. This year, the storied Dallas International Film Festival celebrates its 16th anniversary in October with a robust lineup of awards contenders, local projects and relevant documentaries.

Since its first ceremony, DIFF has contributed over $1 million in filmmaking awards to promote emerging artists and encourage them to work in Texas. With more than 2,000 screenings, DIFF has become a go-to festival for Texas movie buffs looking to start off the fall season on an exciting note. While some local festivals struggle to compete with the highly anticipated events in Venice, Toronto and Telluride, Colorado, DIFF has never failed to bring in exciting guests.

The second-ever DIFF ceremony attracted “Old Hollywood” star Mickey Rooney for a special anniversary screening of Boys Town, the biopic of Father Edward J. Flanagan that highlighted his work to help underprivileged children. Boys Town is the type of glamorized biopic that we see so often nowadays, but at the time of its release in 1938, it felt like the first of its kind. Dallas audiences got the rare privilege of hearing Rooney share his insights on the film before his death in 2014. DIFF was one of his last screening appearances.

The AFI DALLAS Star Award has been awarded to some of Hollywood’s best and brightest stars. Among the recipients are The Hurt Locker director Kathryn Bigelow, Chinatown screenwriter Robert Towne, The Shawshank Redemption director Frank Darabont and Academy Award winner Charlize Theron. In 2015, the festival even paid a rare tribute to John Landis, the maverick comedy director behind such classics as Coming to America, The Blues Brothers and Animal House. The honoree's son, Max Landis, attended for a surprise toast in which he discussed his father’s work.

However, DIFF has never been just about hyping Hollywood; the festival has always had a keen eye for local talent. DIFF has spotlighted some of the Lone Star State’s most prominent filmmakers with the L.M. Kit Carson Maverick Filmmaker Award. Carson is the idiosyncratic writer behind such Texas classics as Paris, Texas and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 2. He died in Dallas in 2014, and the award was posthumously named in his honor.

Like every other film celebration, DIFF went through an unprecedented shift in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic prevented attendees from seeing films in person. But organizers were able to adjust to the constraints by delivering an extra-special, abbreviated event in the fall of 2021.

Under the artistic direction of James Faust, the 2021 festival included such awards contenders as The French Dispatch, Belfast, The Humans and C’mon, C’mon. Last year’s festival also spotlighted local filmmakers with the Dallas-centric projects Caged Birds, Cat Daddies and Hall of State Redux, as well as a plethora of short films from local high schools.

DIFF has had a big year in 2022. Although the main festival will begin in a few weeks, Dallasites got an early treat with DIFF’s Preview Weekend lineup back in April. The shortened festival screened some of the summer’s most acclaimed independent films, including Cha Cha Real Smooth from Dallas filmmaker Cooper Raiff. Raiff, whose previous film Shithouse took home prizes at SXSW, sent in a special message to attendees who saw the film months before its release on Apple TV+.

DIFF has never been just about hyping Hollywood; the festival has always had a keen eye for local talent.

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Although more details will be coming soon on the extended lineup and ticket information, the first slate of contenders has been announced. This year’s event will include exclusive events at landmark locations in the Dallas area, including Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Texas Theatre the South Dallas Cultural Center and 4DWN Skate Park.

Arguably, the most anticipated film of the festival is the semi-autobiographical drama Armageddon Time from director James Gray, whose past work includes Ad Astra, The Immigrant, We Own The Night, The Yards and The Lost City of Z. The new film, which tells the story of Gray's childhood in Queens, New York, during the 1980s, debuted to rave reviews at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Armageddon Time boasts an all-star cast including Sir Anthony Hopkins, Jeremy Strong, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain.

Shawn Bannon, one of North Texas' most successful filmmakers, returns to DIFF for the premiere of his new documentary The Smell of Money. Bannon’s aptitude for exploring relevant political topics always makes his provocative work worth checking out. The Smell of Money is a sickening deconstruction of the “price we pay for pork,” as small-town residents face off against large companies to fight for clean air and water.

Among the titles competing in this year’s narrative competition is The Unknown Country, a Midwestern drama filmed partially near Dallas. The film tells the story of a grieving woman (played by Billions’ Lily Gladstone) who reflects on her heartbreak over the course of a cross-country adventure. The narrative feature competition also includes the sci-fi drama Acidman (starring University of North Texas graduate Thomas Hayden Church) and the charming comedy Roll With It. Also on tap are the “Game On” series celebrating sports films and the Deep Ellum Sounds collection highlighting local musicians.

The 16th Dallas International Film Festival runs Oct. 14–20 at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Cedars, 1005 Botham Jean Blvd.
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Liam Gaughan has been covering film and television since before he had a driver's license, and in addition to the Observer has been published in, Schmoes Know, Taste of Cinema and The Dallas Morning News. He enjoys checking classic films off of his watchlist and working on spec scripts.

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