deadCENTER festival runs through Sunday. See a full schedule here.
The deadCENTER film festival is about film, but it’s also about civic pride, a high minded effort by the city’s business and arts classes to rebrand our frontier town into something more urban and more livable. On the main drag of Broadway (which OKC.NET opts not to call Automobile Alley). Folks flooded the streets with their lawn chairs. Policeman politely told people where the bathroom was (with 5,000 attendance, there were 3 porta johns, the line was usually moderately long…). A guy crashing a water cooler down with his girl caused her to warn, “You aren’t supposed to bring that.” But no one was going to confiscate it. No one made a fuss about me and OKC.NETTER Daniel burning complimentary Kings of Leon mix CDs by the sound booth. D even slipped one to the sound guy when Pandora ran too many ads, so the very unofficial OKC.NET Kings of Leon mix was then streaming to the masses, priming them for Wednesday’s premier, Talihina Sky. I feel like we wouldn’t get away with this in Austin. Festivals like this look like a happening while avoiding the danger and claustrophobia of other crowded festivals. Call it the wide, sweeping plains.
From business owners to volunteers, people work to be a part of this festival. Joey Allen, general manager at King’s Limousine, watches all his vehicles make smooth entries to the Skirvin. He had to whisper to his friend, “What do the Kings of Leon sing again?” before heading to the event. But he was more than happy to be part of the festival. Elsewhere, I talk to a festival volunteer who’s been painting houses in Mesta Park for a living. He has his purple deadCENTER shirt on and is wrapping beer bands around people’s wrists. Volunteer and music afficionado Tommy tells me about how he’s driving arriving filmmakers from the airport to downtown.
“You know I want their first impression to be a good one…”
So he went the extra mile and made a mix CD.
At the OKC.NET booth I’m impressed as our two newest interns/writers tape our table linen to stand the strong winds and gather rocks because we didn’t bring paper weights for our flyers that our publisher Colin designed. Creativity counts though, one of the Chardonnay holding ladies stops at our table as her husband tries to keep going. She offers that our rocks look like ancient fossils. In that sense, we were a very sophisticated, historically conscious information booth– not ghetto.
This is a leisure event, but I pathologically tend to notice the people who are doing work. When I go in for my first press interview I see George Lang is already hard at work and at the table, along with Oklahoma Travel Vision, and a guy writing for Yahoo. They’re here to talk to the very tall, brightly clad, and bored basketball player from the closing night film Elevate, he’s sitting by himself over at that table, and Stephen Mitchell (pictured above), the filmmaker who first scouted The Followhill brothers and their Kings of Leon as an A & R rep in Nashville (and who unblinkingly points me here when I talk to him about Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse). 15 years ago was a good time to be in the scouting game he tells me, but not today. They want things too quick. And good things don’t happen quick.
After all, it took years of rollicking Followhill family reunions before Mitchell could see his chances at filmmaking open up.
Mitchell already had access to the Followhill crew from the label and co-filmmaker Casey McGrath, who had been to many of the reunions. And that access made their (narratively choppy) rock doc very colorful and intimate…and he creatively closed it with the Ford Center show and with a brazen full play of The Velvet Underground’s “Jesus,” instead of a rip roaring KOL finish. The soft touch roused applause from the audience anyway, with plenty of rock star images and the shot of the Ford Center approaching through the window of Papa Followhill’s van.
“You can do the Behind the Music,” Mitchell said. “But one of our goals was to put it out there … Sometimes the truth is not always pretty.”
And indeed plenty off unpretty characters abound the Kings doc, these are the fish bait sellers, the snake hunters, and the Chuck Berry jamming porch sitters who comprise the band’s proudest support group. These people have no problem showing a camera from NYC a little bit about jumping in creeks, catching snakes and playing horseshoes. (They also had no problem raiding the Skirvin after party last night, the gentleman below, third from left had the same KOL shirt on).
“They have ants in the pants like nobody I’ve ever met,” McGrath says.
At the heart of the story is their dad Leon (back row/third from right), a pot smoker turned traveling preacher turned back to drinker and occasional citizen arrest hand. Never losing his religion all the while. There are scenes when he’s driving in his van talking to the filmmakers honestly on being doubtful about the boys’ lifestyle. It’s not always the life he had planned for them. Yet, he’s at every show that I’ve seen the Kings play here. So, one of the things the filmmakers got to catch was that mixture of ambivalence in thought but love in practice (that is, being there) that has always endeared me to the guy when I see him at live shows with the rest of the clan. I also thought it was interesting that when he was hired to revive failing churches in small towns that he didn’t think it was right to ask them for donations.
There’s something to the party fringed values the Kings retain amid the misty rock n roll life.
Mitchell told us he just knew that this band was going to make it when he saw them. And part of it had to do with the kind of hard work that was making deadCENTER and Oklahoma City happen all around us. The kind of attitude of not taking extra donations, of not speaking unless you are spoken to, has always been in their stage dynamic. At a SXSW showcase a few years ago The Kings played on a bill that had Iggy Pop, Paolo Nutini, and Spoon. The Kings were decidedly the quietest, in demeanor. They didn’t pander to the audience. No cute jokes. There was very little space between each song. They were working. They are as much focused OU football players as they are performers (which the K OU L sticker on their drum kit imaginatively suggested).
They’ll be on to the next show tomorrow, and then on to the next, and the next.
If they aren’t working, they’re probably fighting with each other and going to get into trouble. I can think of no better band to be the symbol of the average Oklahoman at this time.
“A lot of young bands don’t realize how much hard work it takes,” McGrath says.
“These guys are insane,” Mitchell adds. “They get in the rehearsal space and start cursing at each other [if things aren’t going right]. They always had that chip on their shoulder.”
Back at closing party I talk chairman of the festival, Anthony McDermid, President of TAP Architecture. He’s got a British accent and I assume he brought this festival to town because he wants to see more fine films. But, he corrects me. In a white blazer and erudite eyeglasses, he seems to enjoy talking to anyone who approaches him. Film, per se, is not why he builds onto deadCENTER each year.
“It’s for the city,” he says.
During its first three years, deadCENTER was screening films in small art spaces, and last night it looked like a fully functioning city stimulus as the after party overwhelmed bartenders at the Skirvin. But beyond the economic impact, something more important is happening here. The greatest impact deadCENTER is in giving a platform for the hard work, activity and art of the filmmakers who come here to screen and create.
Mitchell tells us next stop for Talihina nights is the Edinburgh, Scotland film festival, where they had to shut the Web site down, so many people wanted tickets.