deadCENTER organizers visit SXSW for film festival ideas 

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Oklahoma’s deadCENTER Film Festival team considers the South by Southwest (SXSW) film festival in Austin to be one of the best for gaining inspiration to bring back home.

“I think that Oklahoma City and Austin share a very similar sensibilities about music and about culture,” said Lance McDaniel, executive director of deadCENTER. “The reason we come to SXSW is because I think it’s the [film] festival that feels the most like deadCENTER in that the city of Austin really gets behind it and it creates this vibe where it is a celebration of film.”

SXSW’s film portion attracts nearly 80,000 attendees, more than three times the size of deadCENTER. But despite the size difference, McDaniel said he believes the Austin and OKC film festivals share a more honest celebration of film.

“A lot of the other bigger festivals have a harder time keeping it from becoming a commercial market for film,” said McDaniel, referring to festivals like Sundance. “SXSW manages to create an environment where, even though films still get sold [here], it’s a celebration of what is here.”

McDaniel and his team were in Austin last week to view films they are considering for deadCENTER, along with paying attention to the new technology and procedures used in Austin to facilitate the festival.

“I’m always looking to keep [deadCENTER] as up-to-date as we can within our resources,” said Alyx Picard, festival coordinator for deadCENTER.

Tracking attendees and films is always a major part of coordinating a film festival, and Picard said SXSW uses an advanced radio-frequency identification (RFID) system that she would like to someday use in OKC.

“[SXSW] has sensors above most of the doors of the venue, so their process includes three different ways of checking someone into a film,” Picard said, “whereas our festival currently has one, maybe two.”

Badges are scanned at the door at both festivals, but SXSW uses sensors above the doors to provide another form of tracking. This allows festival organizers to not only monitor admittance but also collect data on who is watching what films, something advertisers are sometimes interested in, Picard said.

deadCENTER began using personalized badges with scan codes a few years ago and last year provided the option of loading a personal photo for the badge prior to checking in. Picard said she would like to have multiple check-in procedures someday, which can come in handy if an iPad (used for scanning badges) stops working.

“We just started tracking that [viewership] information last year,” Picard said. “That data helps with programming, and we can find out what people really want to see, what age groups are seeing what.”

That data helps deadCENTER officials pick future films. So does watching films with a live audience at SXSW.

“We are looking at a lot of stuff that has already applied to us, but we are going to see how they play to the audience and see them in person,” McDaniel said.

Audience response will impact decisions on what to show in OKC, McDaniel said, which was the case last year when the decision was made to show Take Me to the River on the outdoor screen.

“I saw that film [at SXSW last year], and there were five standing ovations during the film,” McDaniel said. “People were going crazy for these performances [in the film], so I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s got magic.’”

deadCENTER receives more than 1,000 submissions for 100 spots, but the team is also on the lookout this week for any films that should be added to the list.

“I try not to look for anything in particular and just let it happen,” said Sara Thompson, deadCENTER’s short film programmer. “I really just try to come in with an open mind.”

Some films sparked Thompson’s interest, but she considers how well they would play in Oklahoma City. SXSW and deadCENTER might have some similarities, but there are some differences when it comes to values and how “edgy” deadCENTER can go, Thompson said.

Reaching the level of SXSW would be hard goal for any film festival, but the staff at deadCENTER look forward to continued growth and believe deadCENTER could someday become an event that showcases OKC on an international level, like SXSW.

“One of the reasons we try to emulate [SXSW] is they are so cutting-edge,” Picard said. “South by is really fun and accessible. We have always been, first and foremost, a festival for the filmmakers, to celebrate what they are doing, and I think you see that in Austin.”

Print headline: Celebrating film, deadCENTER organizers prepare for this summer’s festival with a trip to SXSW.

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