The Good, The Bad and The Weird From The 2015 Oak Cliff Film Festival.
The Dallas-Fort Worth region isn't quite lacking for film festivals — but, hey, that's OK. With the various programming goals and audiences of each, they all tend to boast a completely different vibe from one another.
Still, none are quite as distinct as the Oak Cliff Film Festival is. And that's why it is, for our money, the hands-down the best film festival the area has to offer.
For one, though it's among the youngest festivals around, its programming is top-notch, highlighting both buzzing movies and downright bizarre films that probably wouldn't screen elsewhere alike — and at some of the most unique venues in North Texas, no less. Then there's the festival's smart inclusion of repertory screenings, most of which are shown in 35mm, a fact that should get any movie fan salivating.
This year's festival in particular also shined due to its inherent celebration of the neighborhood for which it's named. Though not conventional by any means, the various non-Texas Theatre venues involved add a lot of variety and charm to the festival's package. With screenings the Bishop Arts Theater, the Kessler Theater and even the rooftop of Jefferson Tower, the Oak Cliff Film Festival affords its attendees the chance to appreciate these neighborhood gems in ways that they otherwise might not.
Another major plus of this year's affair? The way the festival's programmers closely stuck to their chosen “No-Wave” theme this year by adorning the Texas Theatre lobby with “flaming” oil drums and decorating its lounge to look like a run-down NYC apartment, thus paying homage to the movement's birthplace. That ethos extended throughout the festival's entirety, too: Whether it was through kickass concerts or screenings involving a cross-country train ride, a film shot completely on an iPhone or a trio of sisters getting together, most every film in the festival's roster had a clear scrappy and raw vibe to it. Better still, each film was unique in its own way, and you almost couldn't go wrong with any film you decided to watch. The crowds, too, were a healthy mix, boasting young film nerds and older film buffs, all of whom were ready to indulge in the festival's enjoyable offerings.
But what of those film offerings, specifically?
Here, we've compiled a few that stood out to us — for good reasons, bad reasons and, yes, even some totally weird reasons. Check out our thoughts on these films below. But maybe even before you do, start making plans to attend this festival in 2016. This much, we can promise: If you attend the Oak Cliff Film Festival, you won't leave disappointed.
The Midnight Swim. In this film, three sisters return to their childhood lake house to make peace with their mother's death. Their mom died in a diving accident, which seems strange to the girls because the mom was an experienced diver. However, the lake seems to have some unexplained — perhaps even magical — aspects to it, and the mystery surrounding the mom's disappearance begins to unravel the longer these siblings stay at the house. Here, first-time director Sarah Adina Smith has created a film full of mood and atmosphere. Just as we think we're about to get answers, we get more questions about this family and their past. It's spectacularly acted and is shot in a first-person POV style, which makes it feel like a real story rather than a narrative piece. The ending may not satisfy everyone, but the journey of the characters will keep you captivated. — Angela Jones
Station to Station. I am completely fascinated by this movie. Angela didn't care for it, but it was one of the most interesting movies I've seen in a long time. The premise is that director Doug Aitken gathered a group of artists, musicians, architects and all sorts of other creatives to make an anthology of short films. I found it utterly fascinating how all of these different artists were inspired essentially by the same thing — a train — and interpreted it in such hugely differing ways, from a deeply personal manner in the form of a song to a more scientific look involving the laser mapping of the echoes a train emits. For the music fans, the appearances of Thurston Moore, Mavis Staple and Dan Deacon make for fun bonuses, although, mostly, it was the people I'd never previously heard of whose efforts struck me the most. I left this screening with a list of over a dozen individuals whose works I wanted to check out. —Javier Fuentes
Station to Station. I'm going to preface this by saying that I didn't hate anything I saw at the Oak Cliff Film Festival. That said, I did feel as if Station to Station fell short with what it was trying to be. Javier loved this anthology of 62 shorts, and while I agree that parts of the film looked amazing, they never really connected to me as a cohesive whole. Meanwhile, the film's attempts to tie it all together through repeated voice-overs felt a little too on the nose. Spelling everything out for the audience doesn't give us a chance to process each short and make the connections ourselves; if this film would've nixed the voice-overs and just let the visuals tell the story, I probably would've enjoyed it more. — Angela Jones
Unexpected. This one — starring Cobie Smulders (How I Met Your Mother, The Avengers) as a science teacher who becomes unexpectedly pregnant just as ones her favorite students does — wasn't “bad,” per se. It just wasn't hugely compelling. Given that this one took place at in a low-income schoo district I expected a lot familiar territory to be traveled about poverty and opportunities and whatnot, only to instead get a movie with basically no conflict or plot. Some of the major struggles that would come from a pregnancy movie are solved perhaps too quickly: Our lead character's boyfriend proposes right away and wants to help with the child; the pregnant student, whose situation forces her to question her decision to head off to college, not only gets into school but receives scholarships, too. It may differ from the norm, but this film just wasn't much of an exciting watch. — Javier Fuentes
Tangerine. Sin-Dee Rella is a transvestite hooker who has just been released from jail and has found out from her best friend Alexandra that her boyfriend and pimp, Chester, has cheated on her. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, indeed. This film follows the hunt for Chester with Sin-Dee through the streets of Los Angeles on Christmas Eve. It's a fierce film that explores a culture with which many of us are unfamiliar. As an added technical bonus, the film is completely shot on an iPhone, an interesting choice that shows us L.A. from a new perspective. In turn, the audience is right in the midst of the drama with Sin-Dee here, and gets to experience some very uncomfortable and raw scenes throughout the film. Best of all, the story's solid: Beyond just uncommon, this one both entertains and charms in the end. — Angela Jones
Entertainment. This film follows an unnamed comedian — but, basically, it's Greg Turkington and his Neil Hamburger persona as he tours the Southwest, performing for people that seem to either not notice him or outright hate him. The movie is a constant barrage of ominous synth bass lines, beautiful desert shots and awkwardly depressing moments involving the main character. There's no real plot per se; instead, this film perfectly crafts a mood of isolation and depression and yet still somehow manages to elicit laughs. While not for everyone, it's full of weird and surrealist sequences to make it worth the watch. — Javier Fuentes