Lights, Camera, Music!
Updated: Mar 4
Music videos, documentaries and live performances add to the enjoyment at the Oxford Film Festival.
Written by Shanna Flaschka | Illustrated by Frank Estrada
Alongside tailgating in the Grove and the Double Decker Arts Festival, the Oxford Film Festival is one of the things that make Oxford more than your average small Southern town. Now in its 17th year, OFF has become a collaboration of dozens of dedicated film aficionados.
Alongside narrative, documentary and other categories, in its second year, OFF began offering a breakout category of music videos. While the works then were from a diverse group of musicians and styles, the following year saw a greater inclusion of Mississippi artists with the addition of videos featuring local groups like the Kudzu Kings, The Cooters and the Taylor Grocery Band.
OFF executive director Melanie Addington proudly notes that all the videos included in the festival are now Mississippi-based, a trend that began in 2011 along with a change of the festival category’s name to Mississippi Music Videos.
“With Mississippi and its music history, it is one we like to keep highlighting,” Addington said. “It is always a popular block, usually selling out. It is a great sampler of all the types of music Mississippi offers.”
This year OFF celebrates Mississippi’s music heritage with live performances during the music block.
“We did a concert in November to raise funds to hire local musicians to play,” Addington said. “Among the musicians programmed, we have Tate Moore, Bill Perry, Silas Reed, Don Smith, Skid Rogues, Stace and Cassie Shook, Tony Maynard and more.”
Eight music videos are on the schedule this year, including “Price of the Blues,” a recording of a live performance by Nashville singer Tullie Brae at Ground Zero Blues Club, and “I Will Survive,” a moving performance by a man in treatment for stage 4 cancer.
The music videos are a part of a viewing block on Saturday, March 21, from 7:15-9:15 p.m., which includes a film category that was introduced in the festival as of 2017 — music documentaries. The idea originated with Newt Rayburn, publisher of The Local Voice and a musician himself, who has been involved with the festival since it began, both on and off the screen. He was originally a contributor, and he submitted several music videos; his band, The Cooters, received The Hoka Award for Music Videos in 2004. In 2015, Rayburn took the helm as head programmer for music documentaries and videos.
“About three years ago, I suggested that OFF add a music documentaries category,” Rayburn said. “It has been a very popular addition to the festival.”
For Addington, the documentary category was a natural complement to the music block, and the late Ron Shapiro had a hand in convincing her.
“I wanted to expand upon that (music category) when I took over,” Addington said. “After advisory committee member Ron Shapiro sent a suggestion for a good one back in 2016, I realized we needed to highlight music even more.”
This year, four such works will be shown within the music video and documentary block. Each is 12-15 minutes long; one, “40 Years of the Delta Blues Museum,” was made by Clarksville native Coop Cooper, who also has a music video in the festival. Other entries come from outside of Mississippi; for example, “Post 398” is a work by U.K.-based filmmaker David Drake that examines a floundering underground jazz club in Harlem that represents the last of its ilk.
In addition to those in the music block, longer music documentaries will be shown in other blocks within the festival. For example, at 3:30 p.m. on March 22, a feature-length film called “Stories In Rhyme: The Songwriters of The Flora-Bama Lounge” will be shown alongside a short piece about Elvis Presley’s love of spiritual music called “How Great Thou Art.”
The logistics of choosing the best of the best to showcase in the festival is complicated. Addington said the selection work is done by about 50 volunteer screeners and a head programmer for each category.
“They watch films for six months and narrow down to the final list,” Addington said. “We judge based on creativity, technical skills, sound and, with docs, the story as well. There are about 50 music documentaries submitted and room for about three to five. With music videos, we try to make sure as many as possible get in to support Mississippi musicians.”
“The music documentaries category was flooded with terrific submissions, and we felt like we could add more to the fest this year,” Rayburn said. “All of the documentaries playing in OFF are fantastic and not to be missed.”