The 2018 Oxford Film Festival (February 7-11, 2018) was a beguiling mix of southern history and hospitality, strong films, and positive connections that moviemakers forged with each other.
The mustachioed visage of William Faulkner (Oxford, Mississippi’s most famous son) loomed large this year, as OFF marked its 15th birthday. The Nobel laureate was featured on festival posters and merch, and even appeared in person—sort of. Film critic Eric D. Snider emceed the awards ceremony under the guise of Faulkner, complete with his best southern accent and quips about the celebrated author’s not-so-celebrated alcoholism.
In the lounge between screenings and at after parties, there existed a real sense of community at OFF, which never felt like forced networking. Absent was the “Sundance Glance,” where name tags are quickly scanned to see if someone is “worth” talking to.
OFF was particularly strong in presenting the work of female moviemakers, with more than 60 female directors/co-directors presenting films, and the festival further encouraged gender diversity by giving women working in film a 50-percent-off submission discount. As further proof of Oxford’s diversity efforts, planners brought together a strong collection of LGBTQ features, shorts, and a panel on “Queer Filmmaking.” Oxford’s inclusivity functioned as a stinging retort to some of the state’s less-than-enlightened LGBTQ policies.
While the festival is centered at a hotel complex and film megaplex on the outskirts of town, the town center was a very short shuttle away, and though it took much willpower to skip a nap after a lunch of catfish and cheese grits, I couldn’t pass up a visit to historic downtown. Surrounded by bookstores, bars, and restaurants, Courthouse Square is straight out of central casting.
Taking top narrative feature honors was The Drawer Boy, directed by Arturo Pérez Torres and Aviva Armour-Ostroff. Director Nick Taylor’s The Organizer won best documentary feature, and Itako won best LGBTQ feature for Boys for Sale. My personal favorites of the fest included Forever “B”, an effective documentary by Skye Borgman about the abduction of a young girl by a family friend—twice. The film’s narrative unfolds like a Russian doll, complete with jaw-dropping twists. Another superior effort was director Catherine Eaton The Sounding, a smart narrative set on the Maine coast that explores the intersection of language and self. Eaton, who plays a woman who only communicates through the words of Shakespeare, earned Oxford’s Lisa Blount Memorial Acting Award for her memorable effort.
After-parties at OFF were pleasantly quirky, ranging from a black-lit, karaoke-drenched bowling alley extravaganza, to a more refined night at a downtown hotel, to the final event at a repurposed historic power station. Throughout, there were plenty of gutter balls, cakes, beers, and conversations to go around.
While not the biggest or flashiest festival, Oxford is one of the friendliest and kindest to people who make films. For moviemakers seeking engaged peers in a charming locale, Oxford Film Festival is worth a visit. MM
Oxford Film Festival 2018 ran from February 7-11, 2018. For more information, visit their website here. Featured image: Film critic Eric D. Snider channels William Faulkner at the 2018 Oxford Film Festival. Photograph by Joey Brent.
This article appears in MovieMaker‘s Spring 2018 issue.