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Filmmakers, Actors Heading to Oxford for 20th Oxford Film Festival

By Alyssa Schnugg

News editor


With the Oxford Film Fest kicking off Wednesday, filmmakers, actors and directors are packing their bags and headed to Oxford, excited to be a part of a festival that has earned a reputation for being a premiere film festival.

Some have visited Oxford several times to come to the festival while others are making the trip for the first time.

“It’s one of the biggest film festivals in the South,” said Christopher Fitzpatrick, director of “Oklahoma Breakdown.” “Everybody knows about it and it’s a big deal to be included.”

When he learned his film was selected to be in the festival, it wasn’t a question of whether he was coming to Oxford.

“It was, are we driving or flying?” Fitzpatrick said.

Fitzpatrick’s film is about Mike Hosty, a one-man band who mixes music with comedy and who is well-known in the underground Oklahoma music scene. The film has won several awards including Best Feature at New Haven Film Festival and Lonely Seal Film Festival and the Audience Choice Award at the Lone Star Film Festival.

Fitzpatrick first saw Hosty at one of his gigs at the University of Oklahoma and continued to go to his shows for several years. In 2016, he went to one of Hosty’s shows in Denton, Texas and then visited with Hosty at his home. Five years later, the film was completed.

“I just pecked away at this story and just kind of peeled layers off the onion and kept finding out more about (Hosty’s) personal life and it just grew from there,” Fitzpatrick said.

Azia Dinea Hale wasn’t sure if she was going to make it to Oxford as of last week but she was sure hoping things would work out and kept her fingers crossed.

Hale stars in the film, “iMordecai,” by director Marvin Samel which stars film icons Sean Astin, Judd Hirsch and Carol Kane.

“I haven’t gotten full confirmation yet but I’m pretty sure I’ll be there (Oxford),” Hale said last week. “I heard Oxford is a beautiful town. I’ve never been to Mississippi so I’m really excited about going.”

“iMordecai” is about Marvin (Sean Astin), an ambitious cigar maker trying to support his own family while still being there for his aging parents, Mordecai (Judd Hirsch) and Fela (Carol Kane). When Mordecai’s ancient flip phone breaks, he starts to take lessons on his new iPhone, opening him up to all kinds of novel experiences and adventures, and making him feel like a kid again.

Hale plays Mordecai’s friend.

New to the silver screen, Hale said sharing that screen with Hirsch was sometimes intimidating.

“But the moment I met all of the cast, they were so incredibly kind to me and welcoming,” she said. “I made some really incredible friendships.”

Johanna Putnam, the writer, director, lead actor and producer of the film, “Shudderbugs,” will also be visiting Oxford for the first time.

“The Oxford Film Festival’s reputation precedes itself and was on the top of our list,” she said. “We were told by so many fellow filmmakers that we should do everything we can to come here.”

Johanna Putnam in “Shudderbugs”

“Shudderbugs,” is a story about Samantha Cole who returns to her childhood home when her mother suddenly dies. In place of familiar spaces and memories, Sam finds only uneasiness and confusion. Things are missing, the environment seems unnatural and the neighbor, Noah, is suspiciously obtuse. Isolated with these mysteries, a scavenger hunt her mom had prepared for her upcoming birthday and rising red flags from Noah, Sam wrestles with her sanity and certainties.

This film was a two-time winner at the Naples International Film Festival, including the Indie Spirit Award and Rising Star Award (for Johanna).

The idea for the movie came about while Putnam and Brennan Brooks went to stay with Putnam’s mother during the pandemic in upstate New York.

“We realized we couldn’t just sit around doing nothing so I woke up one day and I decided I was going to write a script,” she said. “If we fail miserably, so be it but we talked about collaborating on something of our own for a while and this was like the perfect time to at least try.”

‘Fire Bones” director Greg Brownderville is very familiar with Oxford. He lived here while attending grad school at the University of Mississippi.

The Oxford Film Festival will be the first film festival for the multi-media show.

“I still have a lot of friends in Oxford so it’ll be nice to come back and celebrate this with them,” Brownderville said.

“Fire Bones” is not just a movie. It’s a Southern Gothic story that is told in 10 chapters across multiple platforms including a podcast, short films, music videos, poems and still images. Brownderville calls it a “go-show.” Each episode of the show uses whichever medium worked best to tell that part of the story.

“The way it works is you just go to the website and the website is designed kind of like an app. You don’t have to download anything,” he said. “You have these chapters … you click on an icon, you don’t know what you’re gonna get. It could be a film or a music video. Could be a podcast that’s purely audio.”

Filmmaker Christina Huff is no stranger to Oxford of the Oxford Film Festival. Huff lives in Oxford and teaches at Ole Miss in the theater and film department. She’s also won awards for her films the past two years at the OFF. She has two films in this year’s festival – “The Hollidays in Mississippi,” and “Mississippi Creates: Big Clown.”

Both films came from class assignments while she was earning her MFA at Ole Miss.

Huff has worked on “The Hollidays in Mississippi,” film for about three years. She attended a drag show in Tupelo for a class assignment about interviewing people and conducting oral histories. Wanting to tell a bigger story, she asked a friend to reach out to the performers about who would be interested in working with her on a film. Eric White and Dustin Tyler agreed to work with Huff and for three years she filmed them. The short documentary film is a “passing of the torch story” between 20+ ear drag performer White, known as GoDiva Holliday, and Tyler, known as DeePression Holliday.

“Mississippi Creates: Big Clown,” is a short documentary about a punk band where the lead singer dresses up like a clown. The film illustrates the importance of creating weird art in a conservative South that often strives to stifle creativity. This film not only shows the inner workings of a punk band, but it also shows the interpersonal relationships that they have with each other that makes Big Clown special, Huff said about the film.

For the full schedule of movies and other events during this year’s Oxford Film Festival, visit ox-film.com.

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