The 2023 deadCenter Film Festival points its cameras toward outreach, inclusion and new experiences at theaters.
From its humble beginnings in 2001 to its rise as an Academy Award-qualifying summer staple, deadCenter Film Festival has tried to capture Oklahoma’s film boom with a figurative wide-angle lens — one that included all of Oklahoma City.
Last year’s festival brought screenings closer to people’s homes at Capitol Hill’s Yale Theater, but executive director Cacky Poarch said the distance from other venues ended up confusing audience members, who “didn’t quite know where to go” for their next movie. The organization needed another approach to continue its outreach.
Since then, deadCenter expanded its offseason programming by partnering with OKC Latino Young Professionals and the Asian District Cultural Association to show films with Latin and Asian voices and offer networking opportunities for those wanting to pursue a career in film.
And by keeping the 2023 festival centralized downtown and trimming travel time between showings, program director Sara Thompson hopes that everyone will have the chance to both “see themselves on screen” and also experience something new to them.
This year’s deadCenter Film Festival runs June 8–11 with screenings of 165 narrative and documentary feature films and shorts concentrated at Harkins Theatres Bricktown, OKCMOA, the First Americans Museum, 21c Museum Hotel, JDM Place and Scissortail Park. It’ll feature an eclectic film slate ranging from a rotoscoped sci-fi-Western (Quantum Cowboys) to a 1970s women’s football team’s underdog story (Herricanes) to the representative legacy of the Black Barbie doll (Black Barbie), which will serve as the festival’s opener.
“The (Black Barbie) director is Lagenaria Davis, and she went to the University of Oklahoma,” Thompson said. “Her style of filmmaking is really fun. She had a lot of great humor in the film and great documentary subjects.”
Davis isn’t the only skillful Oklahoman highlighted at deadCenter —the festival’s closing film Fancy Dance, which follows a Seneca–Cayuga woman on a search for her missing sister, was filmed in the state by Oklahoma native director Erica Tremblay. The lineup includes four Sooner State-made features and two Okie Shorts selections, the latter of which Thompson said is the festival’s biggest attended screening.
Providing a platform for Oklahoma filmmakers to share their art with industry professionals and community members has been a longstanding principle of the festival. “If we’re going to really have a thriving film community and sustainable film industry, I think we need to tell Oklahoma stories and build Oklahoma filmmakers that way,” Poarch said.
The nonprofit will continue its education efforts for young local filmmakers through events at the festival. The Film Future event will showcase motion capture, drone, virtual reality technology and more to teach their applications in storytelling, and the returning deadCenter University workshop will connect high school students with industry professionals for hands-on, on-set guidance with equipment and creative development. The festival’s parties also give the chance for esteemed and emerging filmmakers to network and learn from each other.
But film directors and producers aren’t the only ones that benefit from wide exposure. deadCenter Film Festival prioritizes diversity and inclusion in its slate of films to both boost creative voices and share intentional, potent stories with audiences. “What (shorts programmers Camila Chaves Rojas and Paris Burris) are thinking when they program is, ‘Who are we representing, and who are we supporting?’” Thompson said.
As a programmer, Thompson loves pushing people’s beliefs and expectations through film’s mesmerizing power, but most importantly, she enjoys the passionate collective experience of watching movies in a theater of movie lovers.
“When you get that crowded audience in the theater, and the filmmakers, too, the audience is so hardcore celebrating the film and rooting for the film,” Thompson said. “People are laughing harder than they might normally laugh, or they’re crying. For people who like movies, I want them to come in and experience really being a part of something bigger than just being at home.” An open invitation for all Oklahomans to search for the silver screen.
The 2023 deadCenter Film Festival opens with Black Barbie at the OKCMOA June 8. Festival passes are $200.