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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — Film lovers and moviegoers from across Oklahoma eagerly arrived at Rodeo Cinema Saturday to view short films in person as part of the deadCenter 2021 Film Festival. 

DeadCenter’s Film Festival, a hybrid of virtual and in-person showings this year, marks its 21st birthday this year with a 10-day feast of short films, music videos, and full-length feature films from June 10th to the 20th. 

DeadCenter’s Saturday night event, its second short film screening of the evening, highlighted young talent in acting and filmmaking, a sign of Oklahoma City’s new, ascendant role in the film industry.  

Devraat Awashti

The Arts

with Devraat Awasthi

The films

The night began with a stop-motion animated short film, “Yarn” by Colton Tomkins, with a person made of yarn coming to life and escaping. Though easily the shortest film of the night, its theme of adversity and triumph over it set the mood for the following films. 

Carrying that thread forward, “The Writer’s Room” by Cary Thomas Cody and Orrin Ponkilla and followed by “Phantom Power” by Sam Brown, experimented with the horror genre.

Cody and Ponkilla exaggerated the classical tropes of 80’s horror to distill comic relief from otherwise frightening narratives. On the other hand, Brown committed to an earnest representation of horror, imbuing her three minutes with suspense and surprise.

“Black Owned” by Francis Lacis, Precious Alexander, and Matthew Robins took on the history of Black-owned businesses in Tulsa with a documentary short film. 

Screenshot from the trailer for Black Owned, a short film about black-owned businesses in Oklahoma.

Interviews with three different Black business owners in Tulsa highlighted the value of community while underscoring the challenges Black entrepreneurs face in business. 

“Black Owned” was followed by “The Audition,” by Ethan Cooper, as part of OK|LA, a comedic but realistic approach to what is sure to be a relatable experience for many in deadCenter’s audience, the first audition for a part. 

Standout films

The night ended with two powerhouse standouts. 

“You’re Not Safe in Your Own Bed” by Alexandra Swanbeck explored the aftermath of an assault by someone trusted and a girl’s attempt to be okay. It’s powerful storytelling and creative camera work made an elegant film out of tragedy. 

In its world premiere at deadCenter, Stick Up by Chris Oz McIntosh hilariously depicts a gas station robbery gone awkwardly wrong. Its Knives-Out-style narrative and incredible cast made quick work of the audience, earning loud applause at the end of the showing.

Screenshot from the trailer for Stick Up in its world premier at deadCenter Film Festival.

Taken together, the films screened by deadCenter highlight a new wave of Oklahoma talent in the film industry. The audience was filled with people ready to support and celebrate that talent. 

Mark Johns, a local filmmaker, talked to us about his night. “It was really enjoyable. I’m excited just to be back in here and especially see what Oklahoma indie is doing.” 


McKenzie, an out-of-towner in Oklahoma City just for the festival, said “I’m not at all from Oklahoma, so I was very unfamiliar with the fact that there’s an industry here … and I have been very pleasantly surprised with what I saw today!”

With Prairie Surf Studios and Green Pastures Studio attracting old and new talent to the city, the festival was awash with excitement with Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon production on the front of everyone’s mind.  

‘Cool time for film

Kelley Gann, President of Freestyle Creative and an associate producer of Stick Up, explained, “It’s a cool time for film, with a lot of the news that’s happening.” 

“The film rebate just passed. It’s growing. It’s expanding,” Gann added. “Martin Scorsese’s filming here. Minari was nominated for an Oscar this year. So, [we have] really talented local cast and crew. And, there are other projects that are coming into the state, so it’s a really cool time with everything that’s happening in Oklahoma.” 

However, part of Oklahoma City’s growth is due not to the investment of out-of-state stars, but the unique opportunity for creativity Oklahoma City provides. 

As Montana Mooney, a producer of The Audition, highlighted, “whenever I’m talking to people from out-of-town that are asking about the film industry, the artistic industry here in the city or in the state of Oklahoma, … my answer is always that it’s not competitive, it’s collaborative.” 

That collaborative atmosphere was on full display at deadCenter, providing an optimistic perspective on the future of film in Oklahoma City. 

Rodeo Cinema
The Rodeo Cinema in Stockyards City SW of downtown Oklahoma City is a nonprofit that has just recently expanded to a second location at The Paramount on Film Row. (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

Last Updated June 13, 2021, 11:12 AM by Brett Dickerson – Editor