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Brevity is the soul of wit, and story-telling: deadCENTER “shorts” yield visual feast

deadCenter Film Festival

by Patrick B. McGuigan
Associate Publisher

The deadCENTER Film Festival completed its thirteenth annual run in Oklahoma City last weekend.

Among the motion picture “shorts” this writer absorbed, the personal favorite was “Going Dark: The Final Days of Film Projection.” The project from Jason Gwynn and Jay Sheldon made its world premiere at the downtown Harkins Theatres during the five days of showings for deadCENTER. It was featured as one of the “Okie Shorts” – from our home town or state directors and producers.

The “Going Dark” documentary focuses primarily on two persons, a theatre manager and his 35mm film projectionist, in the last days of a theatre using film rather than digital technolgy. The methodical process of splicing film reels (as received from distributors until recently) onto the projection booth’s machinery is demonstrated and explained, sufficiently to grasp that it is a skilled laborer’s position, but without getting bogged down in too much technical information.
The real pleasure in viewing the film comes from understanding, appreciating and in some ways regretting the philosophical acceptance of the main characters (and a handful of others who appear on-screen) that a way of life – and of earning a living – at which they excelled is, due to technology, simply over.

During discussion with several film makers after the Friday night “Okie Shorts” the creators of “Going Dark” revealed the theatre whose final days were chronicled was the old Penn Square multiplex. After completion of the film, AMC Corporation bought the facility and converted to digital. Gwynn and Sheldon revealed they have enough material for a longer feature. This version is 15 minutes of fine film-making.

“Threading the Needle” (Alex and Todd Greenlee) is a dark story with deliberately uncertain resolution. Nicely filmed and performed, it left this viewer wanting to know the ending.

“Josephine” from director Ty Fanning and producer Sarah Clark provides a new take on stories about the challenges and disapointments of the modern music business. At 21 minutes, it tells a simple story efficiently, in the end leaving the viewer with a desire to see more from the cast, particularly Mary Anthony in the title role.

Other “Okies” included “Stanley Gets Fired” (a comic look at the firing of a unicorn from his job in a downtown Oklahoma City business), “Broken Boy” (a dark and troubling film about the aftermath of a murder), “Cooler” (another humorous look at the dark side of work, this time in a school), “Waystation” (a humorous take on what happens right after we leave this vale of tears), “Tower by Night Park” (a music video), and “Magnolia by Lushlife” (a rap video with a unique and entertaining twist, filmed at 65 locations in the city area).

The 12-minute fable “Sherman and Pacifico” was a creative tale of the relationship of a jellyfish and a lonely old man, from director Daniel Tarr and featuring the wondrous voice of Javier Bardem.

Also viewed were six of the “Love, Sex and Death” shorts. In “Natives,” Emily Young and Kendra Myienchuk starred as Rachel and Anita, a lesbian couple headed to the latter’s home, the Seneca Reservation, for a difficult encounter with her parents. Nice use of color and light characterized the 12-minute work from director Jeremy Hersh and producer Jonathan Cohen.

“Dimensions” is a 5-minute tale of two boys – although it is sufficiently myterious to yield to blurring of lines between reality and the imagination. From China, director Neysan Sobhani asks in the film “whether loss is truly loss, permanence is truly permanent, and whether the cords that are embedded the fabric of our ‘life’ are in fact illimitable.”

Affecting, tender and terribly sad – despite a lightness in the finale – is “Brightwood,” a beautifully filmed story about a little girl who because the real world is filled with drug-abusing adults finds comfort in an alternate world full of wonder, colors, nature and a couple of baby mice.

Director Lautaro Gabriel Gonda and producer Jason Leander show, in this 18-minute visual feast, tremendous potential for greater things.

From the Czech Republic and director/producer Chung Lam, “Sweetly Broken” is lovely fairy tale about two puppets, a boy and a girl, separated by commerce yet determined to return to one another. “You and Me” from Amanda Reiter is a light-hearted and entertaining couple of minutes of stop-motion animation combined with colorful “reality.”

Strongly acted but border-line depressing was “Where Does it Go From Here,” the story of “a real S.O.B” who hates his mother.

The annual deadCENTER Festival has become of the jewels of the annual arts and entertainment cycle in Oklahoma City.

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