Oxford International Festival of Films

In a world where new film festivals sprout up faster than bad Michael Bay films, the Oxford International Festival of Films is distinguishing itself from the pack with one simple but distinct approach: Films with a message. As the city of dreaming spires gears up for this year’s event, which will be held May 2 to 12 at the world-famous Phoenix Picture House, OIFF’s festival director Patricia Terrell spoke with MM about why one need look no further than Oxford, England to find the very best in cinema.

Lily Percy (MM): With so many festivals to choose from, what makes the Oxford International Festival of Films the festival of choice for both festival goers and moviemakers? What makes it stand out?  

Patricia Terrell (PT): Oxford’s festival has attracted many filmmakers—both independent and well-known. I think this is because Oxford respects people who use their minds, something that Hollywood found very important at this year’s Oscars. “Films With a Message” is OIFF’s theme and Mike Medavoy will open the festival with a talk about how film dramatically impacts worldview.

MM: At this year’s festival you will be paying tribute to director Akio Nishizawa. How did you come to select this visionary director and his films as the centerpiece of the festival?  

PT: Akio Nishizawa is a great storyteller and he values education. Combining his talent as a director and providing education in animation technology at 280 schools for 30 years is a remarkable contribution. His films have several layers and represent enduring values—loved by young and wise. He prepared special DVDs just for teaching at OIFF.

MM: This year’s festival will also feature a technology exhibit that will focus on the revolutionary technologies that are changing the way film is both made and seen. With so many movies being shot on DV these days, how is OIFF embracing the various formats shaping the world of cinema?

PT: Warren Lieberfarb, father of the DVD, is the keynote speaker at the Oxford Digital Technology Exhibition because some believe there is a conflict between DVD and film. Downloading short films onto mobile phones creates a whole new market. Students make short films as a type of artistic resume. Who knows? Maybe they’ll be able to pay for part of their education using their project.

MM: How do you come to select the films that will screen at the festival? What factors influence your programming decisions?  

PT: The success of some festivals is based upon screening unique independent films, such as in the early years at Sundance, and others are rated by how many films distributors pick up. OIFF looks for talented independents with potential for bigger dreams.  

MM: The OIFF will also be introducing the Oxford Merchant Ivory Award this year in honor of the late Ismail Merchant. How does Merchant’s prodigious career and vision fit in with the OIFF’s mission?  

PT: OIFF aims for aspiring artists to meet accomplished artists—it is what Oxford does. In the past, Ismail Merchant opened Merchant Ivory films at the Phoenix and now Ivory will open OIFF’s retrospective. The honorarium marks the triumph of a 40-year collaboration by two ingenious filmmakers who captured the essence of romantic Oxford on film.

MM: What are your hopes for this year’s festival? The one thing that you hope festivalgoers will take home with them?  

PT: With the London screenings nearby, I hope some artists will be approached by distributors and that everyone has a good time and wants to return next year!  

MM: Anything else that you would like to add?

PT: OIFF wants aspiring and accomplished filmmakers to get together, so it designed credentials inclusive of lunch, dinner and cocktail parties so that people would have common venues and a place to make friends with common interests in a new city.

To learn more about this year’s Oxford International Festival of Films, visit www.oxfordfestivalfilms.com.