Film and TV

Digging Deep: Frank Campagna Gets His Due in Short Film Playing the Dallas Video Festival

The Dallas Video Festival kicks off today at the Angelika Film Center -- we'll sneak peek a few offerings as it unspools over the coming days. But I did want to mention one highlight, titled Dig Deep, as it's probably the festival offering most likely to connect with locals. After all, this is director Mark Birnbaum's and Manny Mendoza's 8:38-long look at Frank Campagna, proprietor of Kettle Art and keeper of the flame in Deep Ellum even when it appeared to be little more than a dying ember.

It began as a short about the demise of the Good Latimer Tunnel, which was razed to make way for Dallas Area Rapid Transit's Green Line. Mendoza, who'd taken a buyout from The Dallas Morning News as its TV critic, asked Birnbaum to help him make a film about the tunnel and Campagna; Birnbaum said yes, but only if Mendoza first helped him shoot a movie about the demise of the newspaper business. They began Dig Deep three years ago, then shelved it to finish Stop the Presses, and returned to Campagna once the Green Line was up and running -- the tunnel having been trampled by tracks and The Traveling Man sculptures.

"I think the movie's really about yet another transition in Deep Ellum," Birnbaum says. "I'd seen Deep Ellum go through a pretty active time and then degenerate and fall apart and become the dead thing it is now. So I guess the intent was to look at, ya know, yet another rebirth of this area of town that has been the site of so much history and so much great music.

"And Frank has been one of the few constants in Deep Ellum," the filmmaker continues. "He's seen an awful lot of it, and he puts money where his heart is. He opened Kettle Art. He's a booster, but he's just such a nice guy, which is kind funny since he's curmudgeon." Birnbaum laughs. "He cares about folks, whether it's artists or musicians, and he's had such a visual impact on Deep Ellum with the tunnel and the murals on the side of the Gypsy Tea Room. That's what drew Manny to the subject in the first place: This is a guy who paints on walls and does remarkable stuff."

Dig Deep screens Sunday at 8 p.m. as part of The Texas Show.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky