A ‘lost’ Terry Southern film and all the best movies the Texas Theatre could find for this year’s Oak Cliff Film Festival
When Steven Soderbergh “basically badgered” Warner Bros. into releasing Terry Southern’s lost film on DVD last year, the Texas Theatre guys geeked out.
“It’s awesome,” says Oak Cliff Film Festival co-founder Barak Epstein. “It’s basically unseen.”
The film will be introduced by Southern’s son, Nile, at the Oak Cliff Film Festival this month.
“Lost” is a relative term. The film, “End of the Road,” was released in 1970 but did poorly at the box office because of a lack of publicity and an X rating (it is now rated R). Southern, a Sunset High School graduate, died in 1995 at age 71. But his son, who is working on a documentary about his father called “Dad Strangelove,” has always been intrigued by the movie. Soderbergh, a fan of Southern’s work on “Dr. Strangelove,” “Easy Rider,” “Barbarella” and other films, heard of the younger Southern’s fascination with the film and convinced Warner Bros. to release it last year.
It is an early, low-budget independent film, financed by Villager clothing company owner Max Raab, who allowed Southern full creative license. The film is adapted from a 1958 John Barth novel, and the story is about a recent college graduate who seeks the help of Dr. D, played by James Earl Jones, who advises him to teach college English.
“I thought … it needed to be seen,” Soderbergh told Indiewire magazine last September.
The inaugural Oak Cliff Film Festival last year was a huge success, but making it happen was an epic task. For starters, “we had to convince people we were actually a film festival,” Epstein says.
That hasn’t been a problem this year, says co-founder Eric Steele.
When Steele approached one of the producers of “Computer Chess” at a film festival earlier this year, the producer agreed to bring the film to Oak Cliff on the spot.
The film festival team is composed of the theater’s management group, Aviation Cinemas, and volunteers. Over the past year, they collectively have attended dozens of film festivals and screened thousands of movies to arrive at the 70 or so films at this year’s festival.
Another film with a Texas connection is Robert Altman’s “McCabe and Mrs. Miller.” Filmmaker and Fort Worth native David Lowery will present that film, along with another flick, which the festival cannot name because it is playing at another festival. Epstein will say that it has a 95-minute runtime and that “it’s a film that our audience desperately wants to see. It’s a fairly high-profile film.”
One of the hits of last year’s festival was a screening of the silent film “Sunrise” with a live score by Austin-based band Montopolis. This year’s counterpart is a screening of silent short films called “Shadow of the Bat-Man,” which are thought to have inspired the Batman comic books. An eight-piece orchestra, Two Star Symphony, will perform the score along with the film Saturday night.
In smaller festivals like this one, it isn’t complicated to see most of the films offered. At Sundance and SXSW, for example, there are so many films that it is impossible to see them all, Steele says.
“We’re finding new things, but we’re also curating what’s been curated,” he says.
One example is “Medora,” a documentary about a small-town basketball team in Indiana on a quest to win a single game after a run of 44 straight losses. The film’s director, Davy Rothbart, describes it as “ ‘Gummo’ meets ‘Hoop Dreams.’ ” It screened at SXSW, but Steele says, “No one has seen it.”
“It’s going to be a sleeper hit,” he says.
A film making its Texas premiere is “Persistence of Vision,” a 2012 documentary about animator Richard Williams’ nearly 30-year quest to produce a masterpiece. Williams was nominated for an Academy Award for his work on “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” a job he took to finance his own film.
This year local films are not getting their own block but are placed throughout the schedule. They include “Hozomeen,” a short by Oak Cliff-based Cameron Nelson.
There also are two short films about Lyndon Johnson, a documentary about Dallas-based Carnival Barker’s ice cream, and a short from 15-year-old Atheena Frizzell, a student at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.
The Oak Cliff Film Festival is a production of the Oak Cliff Foundation, and it is not for profit.
“We love film. We’re film-obsessed,” says Epstein on why they created the festival.
Or as festival coordinator Mary Katherine McElroy puts it: “Film can be kind of a lonely enterprise. You’re often on set for long hours with just a few people. Connections come through festivals like this.”