For the first time in almost 19 years, I am not involved with Oxford Film Festival in any way other than as a fan and I am so happy to share that the team of Jim Brunzell and Program Director Justina Walford have made a huge splash in their first year’s lineup. If you missed that scoop, I moved to Wichita in May 2021 to run Tallgrass Film Association (a beloved long-time festival run by Lela Meadow Conner for many years). Brunzell is serving as interim Executive Director at Oxford this year while the board leads a search. Anyways, so take my suggestions of what to see with the expert advice on knowing Oxford that it is.
But enough about boring staff stuff. Now let me talk about Hammer to Nail’s long-time editor Michael Tully and his film Lover, Beloved screening at Oxford with special guest, music artist Suzanne Vega. I never worked for Tully but he was an alum of Oxford from my time there (Silver Jew) and excited to see him visit Oxford with his latest. In Tully’s Lover, Beloved, Suzanne Vega reinterpret the words of outspoken author Carson McCullers in an experimental blend of film, theater, and music. Tully does his best work when working with musical artists so this will be a real treat for guests.
Said Brunzell, “It is really a thrill and honor to welcome iconic artist Suzanne Vega to the Oxford Film Festival with her imaginative and soulful, Lover, Beloved. Having grown up in the 80s, Luka and Tom’s Diner were on heavy rotation for me, and now we get to see her perform as Carson McCullers will be an unexpected headtrip audiences won’t know what hit them. Program Director Justina Walford has put together a helluva collection of cool, engaging, informative and passionate films in this year’s lineup, I could not be prouder of our first lineup. I hope the Oxford audience are willing to take some chances with this year’s adventurous lineup and prepare themselves to be back in theaters.”
With one of my favorite films currently on the festival circuit closing the festival, A Love Song will have special guest Dale Dickey receiving the Breakthrough Acting Award and director Max Walker-Silverman will receive the Rising Star Award. The film features Dickey and Wes Studi as a couple, childhood sweethearts several years ago, who are now both widowed. They meet up at a campsite and reconnect, sharing stories, memories, and emotions during a night by a lake in the mountains.
Opening the festival is a little love for neighbor city Memphis with Hugo Sobelman’s documentary Soul Kids. The film focuses on Memphis’ Stax Music Academy For two decades, the academy has continued the legacy of the legendary Stax Records, a soul label that was a refuge during the Civil Rights movement in the 60s. By learning and understanding soul music in after-school programs, the next generation of teenagers build a solid foundation on Black Americans’ legacy and create hope for their future.
The film lineup will showcase 118 films, representing 18 countries, including 38 features (16 narrative and 22 documentaries), 67 short films (narrative, documentary, LGBTQIA+, ambition and experimental, student, and Mississippi-based productions), and 13 music videos. Alongside the films this year there will be a secret screening (Which I can not reveal but can guarantee you should see) and a tribute to the late Bill Luckett, a supporter of the festival and partner to Morgan Freeman at Ground Zero Blues Club. But Bill was an actor also and former Mayor of Clarksdale. I look forward to hearing about the tribute video put together to honor him.
The festival is a mix of popular narrative features on the circuit such as Cat Daddies by Mye Hoang (and is my top favorite film of 2021-2022 and the title says it all), Honk by alum Cheryl Allison about her love story with a goose (in an innocent way), 181/2 by Oxford alum Dan Mirvish about the Nixon tapes (a very fun comedy), and several more narrative features you can check out on their website.
Among the documentary selections are; Lisa Hurwitz’s The Automat, which premiered at the 2021 Telluride Film Festival, tells the 100-year story of the iconic restaurant chain Horn & Hardart, the inspiration for Starbucks, where generations of Americans ate and drank coffee together at communal tables – from the perspective of former customers like Mel Brooks, Starbucks founder Howard Schultz, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Secretary of State Colin Powell; T.J. Parsell’s Invisible: Gay Women in Southern Music explores the unsung story of the queer women behind some of country music’s greatest hits; and Alysa Nahmias’ Krimes from MTV Documentary Films, about artist Jesse Krimes, who secretly created monumental works of art—including an astonishing 40-foot mural made with prison bed sheets, hair gel, and newspaper, then smuggled out each panel piece-by-piece with the help of fellow artists. Clay Haskell and Dylan Nelson’s Mississippi Messiah looks at the surprising life and accomplishments of Civil Rights legend James Meredith, and Abby Berendt Lavoi and Jeremey Lavoi’s Roots of Fire will make its world premiere at the Oxford Film Festival, looking at five award-winning musicians as they push against stereotypes of the American South and move the music of their ancestors forward.
The festival is March 23-27 in person and virtual March 27-April 3. Learn more at www.oxfordfilmfest.com
– Melanie Addington (@MelAddington)