Aviation Cinemas staked its claim to Dallas' film circuit three years ago with the annual Oak Cliff Film Festival, and from the onset OCFF's programmers did things differently. A blend of old and new, the festival brings together the latest in experimental film from the indie world along with repertory picks, niche workshops, parties and panels, then sticks them all within a walkable/bikeable plot of preserved geography.
Hubbed at historic Texas Theatre and occupying Oak Cliff's many cherished spaces, the four-day film buffet returns this Thursday, June 19, through Sunday, June 22, and its menu is varied. You're welcome to order a la carte and buy single tickets or go all-in with a VIP badge. The latter lets you graze away, consuming all the neurotic vampire comedies, cult hero documentaries and shorts programs that your eyeballs can absorb. It also grants access to private parties like Friday's Cocktails and Croquet at Turner House and entry to the charmingly decorated VIP lounge (sponsored this year by Bulleit Bourbon -- so look out). The former lets you cherry-pick films as they fit into your existing weekend plans while still being a part of the action. There are freebies too, like panels, a Saturday night rooftop film and a Polaroid bike ride through the neighborhood. But no matter how you decide to fund your Oak Cliff Film Fest experience, trust that your journey through will be eccentrically well-curated.
"We're bringing stuff down that's really tough to see otherwise or doesn't exist in any other format," says OCFF and Aviation Films co-founder Barak Epstein.
Texas Theatre has already evolved into a go-to for exactly that, using its weekly runs to pair new indie screenings with treasured source material films. The festival platform gives Aviation Cinemas the opportunity to use their existing model to celebrate and educate across a wider swath of releases. "There's so much that we'd like to put in [the theater schedule] but could be hard to find an audience for," explains Epstein, "so with the festival we have the chance to show films that wouldn't be shown in Dallas."
Combing through this year's content you understand how true that is. Some spotlight films, like Micheal Gondry's poetically surreal Mood Indigo and the latest mystery offering from production company Sailor Bear (David Lowery, James M. Johnston and Toby Halbrooks) will likely fill every seat in the house and eventually secure local screenings or runs. Others, like Manakamana, churn in the unsung examination of film's artistic and existential limits.
A tough sell for mainstream release but perfectly at home here, Manakamana (Saturday, 12:45 p.m., Texas Theatre) is as much an exploration of form following function via 16 mm as it is a look at cultural phenomena. Directors Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez leverage the inherent 11 minute run of a 400-foot spool of 16 mm film, recognizing that's the exact time required for a Nepalese cable car to deliver its occupants to a hillside temple. These pilgrimage trips hem together into a feature in which locals, tourists and even goats click their way up to temple. You look into these riders' diverse lives and interactions through the camera, which tags along as a silent passenger. "It's like watching the inside of someone's skull for 11 minutes," Epstein says.
For filmgoers craving more narrative structure, Oak Cliff Film Festival offers a free Saturday night rooftop screening of Lawrence Michael Levine's latest hipster noir comedy, Wild Canaries. RSVP through PreKindle on the OCFF website to reserve your 9 p.m. spot atop Jefferson Tower, then cozy-up for a light-hearted murder mystery, set in (and on top of) a Brooklyn brownstone.
Fact and dramatization bookend the story of bank robber and unlikely GLTB hero on Friday as OCFF screens the 1975 Oscar-nominated crime flick, Dog Day Afternoon in 35mm, followed by the 2013 documentary The Dog. The two films give varied takes on the 1972 Brooklyn heist Wojtowicz performed to fund his lover's sex-change operation. The Dog (directed and produced by Allison Berg and François Keraudren) sews together news clips and other archival footage with live interviews of Wojtowicz, held prior to his death in 2006.
After seeing The Dog at SXSW earlier this year, the crew of Aviation Cinemas was impressed by its ability to paint both a picture of the early New York gay rights movement and give an intimate voice to a rarely heard from cult icon. To string the stories together further, Oak Cliff Film Festival is flying down P.F. Kluge, the author whose 1972 Life Magazine article initially inspired Dog Day Afternoon.
Those with cinematic ADD are also in luck, as this year's fest offers six blocks of shorts: Narrative I and 2, Documentary, Cinema 16 (mm), Student and Comedy -- all available with regular movie tickets. Overseen and chosen by programmer Daniel Laabs, they present a spectrum of work from known and unknown talents.
"As much as I love a well-executed three-act story, I am always intrigued by filmmakers who ignore that, and choose to find a voice through other means," Laabs says. That brass knuckled lens play is abundant throughout these blocks. Look at Word: Harvested from the UTA Student Film Festival and presented at the Cinema 16 shorts block, is Trevor McCulley's one-shot that explores interior dialog of earthworms as they toil with philosophical crisis (Saturday, 4 p.m., Oil and Cotton). In the Student sector (Sunday, 5:45 p.m., Bishop Arts Theatre) you can take a spin on chat roulette with Camchat and experience the isolation fostered by technological hyperconnectivity. Laabs assures each block has its heroes and dark horse candidates so go ahead and settle in, Shortie.
If you're searching for something more hands-on, go ahead and make a short film with Steve Cossman of Mono No Aware. He returns to teach the art of direct manipulation and animation of 16mm film during an immersive two-day workshop on Saturday and Sunday mornings. By the class' end, you'll have a hand-made short and possibly a new creative outlet. And don't be disuaded by your complete lack of knowledge or talent -- all skill sets are welcome, and your sign-up fee ($100) covers all needed supplies. Spaces are limited, though.
Festival pro-tip: You'll want to buy passes early to see The Better Angels here before it gets larger distribution from Amplify this fall. Directed by A.J. Edwards and co-produced by Terrence Malick, Nicolas Gonda, Jake DeVito and Charley Bell, this narrative feature looks at the early life of Abe Lincoln. Other hot tickets include To Be Takei, a documentary about Internet superstar/activist/former Enterprise helmsman George Takei; Buzzard, a film that will change your opinion on the usefulness of Nintendo Power Gloves, and Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer, Thom Andersen's 1975 examination of the Muybridge's proto-cinema experiments.
No matter how you decide to join the action, you'll find your left-of-center cinema match at oakclifffilmfestival.com. Go there for the complete schedule and to score your $10 single film tickets.