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.
The list of supporters, however, goes deep and wide. They include folks like Manny Leclercq, who signed up his restaurant, Fuzzy’s Taco Stand, as a sponsor this year after just hosting happy hours in previous years.
The crowds over the weekend could be seen walking from venue to venue, from the theater at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art to screenings and talks at The Paramount in Film Row to showings at Harkins Theater to parties at the Aloft Hotel in Deep Deuce and free outdoor movies at Myriad Gardens.
The folks gathering at Flint’s patio throughout the weekend were drawn there by deadCenter. And if you saw old west saloon girls, Chewbacca, Frankenstein and the Village People walking downtown streets Friday, yes, they were here for deadCenter.
With the exception of displays in Lower Bricktown, however, the streets gave little hint to the nature of all this activity. The festival is creating far more walking traffic, morning through night, over a three-day period than I’ve ever witnessed during an NBA Thunder playoff game.
Of course, there is no mistaking when the playoffs are in town. Banners are flown from poles throughout downtown, and on the sides on buildings and on the skywalk that connects the Cox Convention Center and Renaissance Hotel.
‘Kind of a big deal’
Both events draw huge crowds. And while the film festival isn’t getting international coverage — yet — it’s time has arrived. National entertainment critics are attending the festival, writing stories, and hoping (yes, hoping) that this festival they love so much doesn’t turn into the next Sundance.
So maybe its time to hang the banners next time the movie projectors start rolling. The deadCenter Film Festival, to quote “Anchorman” Ron Burgundy, “is kind of a big deal.”