Dispatch from the Oxford Film Festival
by Rachel Raney, REEL SOUTH's executive producer
As a west Tennessee native, I sheepishly admit I’d never ventured to Oxford, Mississippi, so I was excited to be heading to the Oxford Film Festival and finally experience this storied college town. Home to Ole Miss, Oxford is proud of its lively court square, rich literary scene, amazing local bookstores and award-winning Southern restaurants. Over four days in February, Oxford also plays host to the largest film festival in the Magnolia State.
Celebrating its sweet sixteen this year, #OXFF welcomed filmmakers from across the country to screen an impressive slate of narrative, documentary and even experimental films. Mississippi films were abundant, along with films about the LGBTQ community and music documentaries. When not in darkened theaters, filmmakers and guests marveled at the Southern hospitality, i.e. the biscuits.
I was in for a busy four days. I’d be giving out the REEL SOUTH Short Award, serving on a female filmmaking panel, scouting new films and meeting Southern filmmakers. This festival is a hot-bed for independent Southern documentaries. Kudos to festival director Melanie Addington and her team of programmers for putting together a stellar program! Here are some of the highlights for me:
This short film by student filmmakers Mikey D’Amico and Matt Cippollone won our REEL SOUTH Short Award! It chronicles the ongoing vandalism of the signs marking Emmet Till’s brutal murder, and the efforts of locals to replace them year after year.
Who knew that America’s best high school show choir hailed from the tiny town of Clinton, Mississippi? This feature documentary follows choir students and their passionate coaches through grueling rehearsals and a tense competition in California, where the Attaché troupe faces their long-time rivals. Filmmaker Melissa Pace Overholt is an alum of the program and managed to authentically capture the passion of these talented, young people.
Don’t Get Trouble in Your Mind
Over a decade in the making, this music documentary traces the meteoric rise and ultimate demise of groundbreaking Black string band The Carolina Chocolate Drops (and, yes, I was already a fan!). The three young bandmates shared a common mission: to educate folks about important African-American contributions to old-time music and to preserve/pass along the tunes. The film provides fans from all over the world an opportunity to relive The Chocolate Drops high-octane playing as it reveals the challenges band members faced while breaking new ground.
Holy Ghost Fire
Filmmaker Nicholas Laviola was new to West Virginia when he heard about the Holiness Serpent Handlers, but he managed to get invited to one of the group’s Sunday services. While shooting the intimate gathering with his smart phone, things turned terribly tragic. Not only was the film difficult to watch, but during the Q&A, the filmmaker revealed he has not shown it to the congregants before screening it publicly. This sparked important conversations among filmmakers and programmers around what responsibility filmmakers have to their subjects.
Other films to look for at a film festival near you:
Always in Season Jackie Olive's moving film about a modern lynching in North Carolina.
Long Time Coming The untold story of integration on the youth baseball diamond.
Southern PrideTwo Biloxi, Mississippi gay communities wrangle together some gay pride.
When the Beat DropsThe get-outta-your-seat showstopper about the dance style made famous by HBCU marching bands.