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Crowds expand dramatically at Oklahoma City's deadCenter Film Festival

Reflecting growth of downtown Oklahoma City, Crowds expand dramatically at annual deadCenter Film Festival.
by Steve Lackmeyer Published: June 17, 2014
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photo - 
A crowd watches “Footloose” on Friday during a screening for the deadCenter Film Festival on the Great Lawn at the Myriad Gardens in downtown Oklahoma City. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman
  Bryan Terry -
A crowd watches “Footloose” on Friday during a screening for the deadCenter Film Festival on the Great Lawn at the Myriad Gardens in downtown Oklahoma City. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman Bryan Terry -

With everything that’s taking place in downtown Oklahoma City, it’s easy to overlook the significance of any one event. But in the case of deadCenter Film Festival, that’s exactly what is happening — and it’s time for the city to wake up and treat this gathering as yet another powerhouse development.

The festival grew up at a time when Oklahoma City was transformed into the home of an NBA team, when new towers were no longer just dreams, and when thousands of employees and residents relocated to downtown.

The deadCenter festival was a sleepy little affair — but with a lot of heart — when it moved downtown in 2003. The festival was born two years earlier at Arts Center at State Fair Park and moved to the University of Central Oklahoma in 2002. Rob Crissinger, still an active part of the festival’s operations, can remember seeing no more than a dozen people at the festival’s short screenings that second year.

I checked out the festival when it moved downtown when screenings were held at the Kerr-McGee auditorium. Some fun folks with some entertaining films were featured — but the crowd still numbered no more than 500 in 2003.

Fast forward to 2014 and just as many people packed two showings of the award-winning film “The Posthuman Project,” which played at venues that didn’t exist in 2003 — Harkins Theater in Lower Bricktown and Devon Energy Center Auditorium. The festival is growing dramatically — 15,000 attended in 2013, and 25,000 attended this past week.

Decade in the making

The deadCenter festival is now a nationally respected festival, one that may appear to the casual observer to be an overnight success.

But this success story has been a decade in the making. The move to downtown back in 2003 coincided with a greater transformation taking place in the urban core in which the creative class quit fleeing in droves to other states. They stuck around, they began to build up an arts community that had struggled for so long to establish the presence that is desperately needed in any city looking to not just survive but thrive.

The festival now enjoys a huge following among civic leaders, wealthy patrons, corporations and business owners, and the movie-loving public. Devon Energy Corp. is credited by many with providing the festival with much-needed stability and momentum.

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by Steve Lackmeyer
Business Reporter
Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter and columnist who started his career at The Oklahoman in 1990. Since then, he has won numerous awards for his coverage, which included the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the city's Metropolitan...
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