As crews outside Red Prime Steak prepared for the 9:30 p.m. Wednesday screening of “Talihina Sky: The Story of Kings of Leon,” the opening screening of this year's deadCenter Film Festival, executive director Lance McDaniel marveled at how the festival, now in its 11th year, always seems to hit its mark.
“I'm just proud to be part of this organization,” said McDaniel, who took over leadership of the festival last year. “There's only two staff members, and we're able to put on a program for 15,000 people because of the volunteers and because of the people who buy into it and support it across the community. That's been really great to see.”
McDaniel was preparing for a large portion of that community to turn out for the open-air screening of “Talihina Sky,” projected on a giant screen stretched across a blocked-off section of Broadway near NW 5. The documentary, directed by Stephen Mitchell and produced by Casey McGrath, chronicles the rise of Kings of Leon, the band's beginnings in the Pentecostal church, and the members' regular attendance at a family reunion in Talihina.
Mitchell said he met the band — brothers Caleb, Nathan and Jared Followill and their cousin, Matthew Followill — when he was working in the music industry and signed the brothers to a songwriting contract. This was more than 10 years ago, before the young men became Kings of Leon and long before they became one of the most successful bands in modern rock. Mitchell said there was a level of trust between him and the band that was crucial to making “Talihina Sky.”
“I think that's why they provided me with the opportunity to tell the story,” Mitchell said. “A lot of their goal was to be accurate in telling their story. The band is huge overseas, obviously, so people around the world have tried to tell their story and have gotten close, but I think the boys wanted someone who they trusted would tell it accurately.”
Doing so meant being extremely honest — something even bands with the best intentions can find difficult. McGrath said that there were tense situations when the band members saw some private moments revealed in the documentary. In the long run, McGrath said Kings of Leon, as executive producers of “Talihina Sky,” stand by the film.
“We got some hate-text messages from some of the band members,” he said. “I don't want to go on record and say it was a battle, because they were so open, but there were some fights here and there, but we were definitely trying to be as respectful as possible. But at the end of the day, the real thing to lead with is that their willingness and openness to show their warts and all was there, and key.”
Another deadCenter subject whose hard work is shown on screen is Dethie Fall, whose journey from a Senegalese basketball academy to American college hoops is depicted in Anne Buford's documentary “Elevate,” screening at 9:30 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday at the festival.
“It's showing a lot of people how we got to where we are right now,” said Fall, now a senior at Roanoke College in Virginia. “The movie has done a really good job of telling people about our background and how we got here.”
The festival continues through Sunday evening, and according to festival director and chief operating officer Kim Haywood, it is offering a more diverse group of films and subjects this year. Haywood said that she and McDaniel expanded their outreach efforts.
For more information and full schedules for the deadCenter Film Festival, go to www.deadcenterfilm.org.