deadCenter Film Festival: Organizers have built an event with universal appeal 

(Illustration by Christopher Street)

(Illustration by Christopher Street)

deadCenter Film Festival


See related stories and the festival program in this issue.

click to enlarge Kim Haywood and Lance McDaniel pose for a photo at the deadCenter offices, Friday, May 27, 2016. - GARETT FISBECK
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • Kim Haywood and Lance McDaniel pose for a photo at the deadCenter offices, Friday, May 27, 2016.

There are many reasons people love films.

The stories and images take viewers to places they’ve never been and inside the lives of people they don’t know. At times, viewers see themselves in the characters on the screen, facing life’s greatest and unforgettable moments. All walks of life make their way into a movie theater, and in a moment, an audience can be brought to tears, laughter or fright.

A film festival offers more distinctive ambiance than any theater experience. A festival is a time of discovery for viewing new genres or types of projects, learning about the industry and meeting those in front and behind the cameras. The exclusive opportunities made possible at deadCenter Film Festival thrust the art event into the upper echelon of Oklahoma City’s premier summer events and made it one of MovieMaker magazine’s Top 20 Coolest Film Festivals in the World.

“You can rent a movie anytime,” said Lance McDaniel, deadCenter Film Festival artistic director. “What we are offering is a chance to meet the filmmakers. You can find out not only how a movie was made, but why.”

Kim Haywood, deadCenter director of programming and education, said film festivals offer viewers a chance to try new things.

“It’s not like seeing a movie at Harkins Theatres or watching something on Netflix,” she said. “Festivals, in my mind, are about discovery and trying something new. People can sometimes be hesitant to go for short films, but once you’ve been to a short film program, you are sold.”

There’s a reason people love deadCenter Film Festival, which is back for its 16th year through Sunday at locations across Oklahoma City. Brothers Justan and Jayson Floyd pioneered the movie festival concept in the Sooner State in 2001, introducing deadCenter as a one-night event at City Arts Center, now known as Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center. The one-night event was designed for those in the film industry to bounce ideas and catch flicks. Nearly two decades later, deadCenter remains fiercely true to its founding mission to promote, encourage and celebrate the independent film arts.

“The core of why it was started is absolutely the core of our mission now,” McDaniel said. “It started as an Oklahoma film networking event. Now, we are 30,000 people over five days with tons of national and international films, but it remains the biggest and most important networking event for Oklahoma filmmakers.”

Okie twist

“It’s a pass or nothing,” Haywood said as she described for-profit movie festivals.

deadCenter operates as a nonprofit film festival organization.

At many festivals, a pass or a badge is required for each screening or event. That leaves little or no opportunity for the general public to participate in an event that traditionally serves the film industry, festival sponsors and the media.

deadCenter founders knew their festival — the first film event of its kind in Oklahoma — could become something great for industry insiders and the public. Over time, deadCenter morphed into an event for the Oklahoma City community and an organization dedicated to year-round efforts in film education.

As a nonprofit, deadCenter prides itself on incorporating free events for the general public and giving viewers a better appreciation for independent filmmaking. This year’s diverse schedule features free public panel discussions, children’s activities, art exhibits and screenings.

“We want to make sure films are accessible to everyone,” explained Lissa Blaschke, deadCenter executive director. “There are so many film festivals that don’t have a free screening.”

In honor of deadCenter Icon award winner Carol Littleton, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial plays as the free public screening on the great lawn of Myriad Botanical Gardens 9:30 p.m. Friday. Littleton, who is an Oklahoma native, edited the 1982 family film.

The next morning, deadCenter welcomes children and families back to Myriad Botanical Gardens for kidFest, which plays a selection of children’s short-length films and provides activities on the lawns. deadCenter also incorporates an Animal WelFare event and the Cleats for Kids Summer Kick Off Party at Myriad Botanical Gardens on Saturday. Planned by the Cleats for Kids teen board, the party features sports tournaments, bounce houses and a variety of games for kids ages 10 and up. Participants are encouraged to bring lightly used athletic shoes and equipment to donate to the organization that distributes donations to kids who need it most.

This festival marks the second time deadCenter has teamed up with local charities, explained Blaschke.

“We always want to be doing something that gives back to the community,” Blaschke said, “and in a way where everyone can participate.”

On-screen exhibition

Part of deadCenter’s goal is to entertain film buffs, average moviegoers and those looking to be captivated by art.

Through partnerships with Current Studios and Oklahoma Contemporary, deadCenter incorporates exhibits of video art by local and regional artists.

“What we’ve never really done is curate art films like you would see in a museum,” McDaniel said. “We receive 1,200 films that we judge, and sometimes we receive art films. If it is a short, it might get in. One-hour-and-a-half films had no chance. This was really something we wanted to branch into. It is a whole different type of film.”

deadCenter crowds can view SLICES, an exhibit by Tara Najd Ahmadi, Sarah Hearn, Cole Lu and Liz Rodda, at Current Studio, 1218 N. Pennsylvania Ave., through Saturday.

Oklahoma Contemporary Showroom, located at 11th Street and Broadway Drive, hosts In One Ear… Silent Rave 9 p.m. Saturday. The public event features artist David Steele Overholt’s In One Ear…, a kaleidoscope of overlapping video clips broadcast on the showroom windows. Viewers wear headphones to listen to the matching music tracks.

Distinctive flavor

During the five days of events, crowds will visit Harkins Bricktown Cinemas 16, Oklahoma City Museum of Art, Myriad Botanical Gardens and District House, which is deadCenter’s first satellite venue. The documentary District Up! screens 8 p.m. Friday at District House, located in the Plaza District. (Read more about that movie on page 44.)

This year, the deadCenter team predicts festival attendance will tick just above 30,000, which will likely generate an economic impact of $4.25 million for Oklahoma City.

The event has experienced great growth in recent years in attendance and in the number of films submitted. The team focuses primarily on selecting the quality of the films deadCenter viewers have come to expect and adding new aspects to the film festival, such as video art exhibits.

Regardless of the events added to the schedule, deadCenter will always trace its popularity back to the films it screens, which give viewers a sense of great anticipation and excitement in the weeks leading up to the event.

“The films that get in,” McDaniel said, “they impress you when you see them.”

Often, deadCenter crowds stand in line and can wait for hours for a film to begin. They hope to see something magnificent, original and deadCenter delivers. That’s why people love deadCenter.

Print Headline: Action!, deadCenter isn’t a typical festival. For the past 16 years, the team has worked to create an event that benefits those involved in the film industry and movie fans everywhere.
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