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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — Few arts or entertainment institutions in Oklahoma have the clout and staying power of the deadCenter Film Festival.

Since launching at the state fairgrounds in 2001, the festival has not only grown into a nationally respected and eagerly anticipated event taking place all across OKC, but the team behind it has also dramatically expanded and evolved into a supportive and educational force for Oklahoma filmmaking.

As the March 1st submission deadline nears for entries into deadCenter’s 22nd year, Executive Director Alyx Picard and the full team are gearing up not only for the biggest slate of films the festival has ever seen, but also for the very first installment since being designated as a qualifying event for the Academy Awards’ short film categories.

“We’re an official qualifying festival in two categories and, wow, have submissions in those areas skyrocketed!” Picard said. “We’re seeing a lot of filmmakers find our festival organically through that process.”

‘An incredible resource’

That new distinction of being a part of the “Oscar pipeline” has already substantially increased deadCenter’s visibility among makers and producers of short films all over the country, and Picard couldn’t be happier about the opportunity to raise awareness and awards consideration for more young and aspiring filmmakers than ever before.

“Awards are great marketing, both for the film and also for the filmmaker,” she told me. “Truly any award that is recognized by the industry helps raise the profile of a filmmaker, and when you’re making movies on your own that can be an incredible resource.”

Oscar statuettes given to winners of the Academy Awards. Photo by Prayitno, CC by 2.0

Annual discussions of the worth and relevance of competition among filmmakers have become as much a part of Oscar tradition as the awards and ceremonies themselves, but Picard believes that the value of competition and awards within the film community is about both education and perseverance. 

“It’s an easy way to communicate that you’ve been vetted in a sense,” she explained, “and that’s part of how you get your next project, secure funding for a passion piece, and gain additional resources to continue a career in film. It’s one of the reasons deadCenter Film Festival continues to evaluate what types of films we’re shining a spotlight on, and we’re working to supplement those awards with a cash prize to support the work of filmmakers outside of the traditional ‘Hollywood’ system.”

‘Subjective medium’

While being a crowd-pleaser and an award-winner might be the fastest way for a young filmmaker to open doors in the industry, Picard and deadCenter know that what matters more is a strong artistic voice and vision, and she says they want to encourage interest in the challenging and experimental realms of film as well.

“Film is a partially subjective medium,” she told me. “Awards, unfortunately, can’t always reflect the creativity, innovation, and perspective of how a film connects to its audience. It’s important for you to find and support the films and filmmakers that you love, even if it doesn’t have a bright, shiny statue or festival laurels yet. Festivals are a great place to experiment with new ways of telling a story on film, which is why deadCenter Film does what we do!”

That same interest and appreciation for the experimental and the hard-to-classify is something she’d like to see more of from the major awards bodies like the Academy, and something that she expects to increase as more filmmakers cross the boundaries of genre and style.

“I think we’re going to see more films that stand outside the existing awards categories,” Picard said. “Like ‘Flee’s’ historic three Oscar nominations for Best Foreign Language Film, Best Animated Feature, and Best Documentary. It’s really awesome to see how filmmakers continue to challenge our preconceptions of what a film is and show us what a film can be.”

‘Accessible and inclusive’

In addition to the film festival and all of its exploding interest and activity, deadCenter also stays heavily involved in community outreach, particularly when it comes to filmmaking education and support for diversity and inclusivity within the film community.

“We are committed to our programming being as accessible and inclusive as possible,” said Picard. “This month, we kick off a new screening series curated by women and non-binary programmers with Councilwoman Nikki Nice and her pick of the flick ‘Cleopatra Jones’ at 21c Museum Hotel, and we’ve also helped bring in some great films for Black History Month through our partnership with Tower Theatre.”

That support for new and different voices in the film community is a major part of deadCenter’s many education initiatives around the state, all in the hope of continuing to raise Oklahoma’s standing as a viable and valuable location for filmmaking of all types.

“We’ve continued to provide film education opportunities throughout every iteration of the pandemic,” Picard said. “We introduced Next Generation Online early last year, and are periodically adding new modules to explore the range of disciplines filmmaking encompasses, and deadCenter University, led by Harry Wolohon and our friends at Metro Technology Centers, remains one of the best ways for students grades 10-12 to experience hands-on filmmaking and connect with local industry pros.”

As a non-profit organization, all of these programs and events, and indeed the future of the festival itself, wouldn’t be possible without the support and contribution of the local community.

The 22nd annual deadCenter Film Festival kicks off June 9th, 2022, and the deadline for submissions is March 1st.

For news, schedules, information, and to donate to the organization, visit deadcenterfilm.org.