Norman Film Festival prepares to make its introduction to the city’s crowded art community

<em>from left</em> David Lynch and Harry Dean Stanton star in <em>Lucky</em>, which screens at Sooner Theatre as part of the first Norman Film Festival. (Norman Film Festival / provided)

from left David Lynch and Harry Dean Stanton star in Lucky, which screens at Sooner Theatre as part of the first Norman Film Festival. (Norman Film Festival / provided)

More than ten years after Norman Music Festival took its first steps in becoming a statewide arts tradition.another Norman-area festival is hoping to follow its lead.

The first Norman Film Festival (NFF) arrives Saturday with film screenings and workshops across several downtown Norman venues, including Sooner Theatre, Mainsite Contemporary Art, Opolis and The Mercury.

“To me, it didn’t seem like we could be a festival with just one venue,” NFF founder Chase Spivey said. “That would be more like a showcase or something.”

The event’s lineup includes 16 feature-length films and more than 50 shorts and music videos from local and international filmmakers.

Screening passes are $15 in advance and $25 the day of the event, with 10 percent of proceeds donated to the Video Resource Center of Norman Public Schools.

A selection of intriguing and diverse indie features from 2016 and 2017 highlight NFF’s offerings. The fest’s biggest headliner is Lucky, a 2017 drama about a 90-year-old’s spiritual journey. John Carroll Lynch’s directorial debut stars the late Harry Dean Stanton, Ron Livingston and David Lynch. Lucky screens 6:45 p.m. at Sooner Theatre, 101 E. Main St.

Some of the fest’s other features include the 2016 documentary Kedi (screening 5:50 p.m. at Studio of the Sooner Theatre, 110 E. Main St.). It explores the Turkish capital Istanbul through the eyes of the ancient city’s many stray cats. The 2017 experimental drama Guys Reading Poems (8:20 p.m. at Opolis, 113 N. Crawford Ave.) is about a young boy who uses poetry to survive after being trapped in a puppet box by his eccentric artist mother. The ’17 crime mockumentary Black Cat (1 p.m. at Sooner Theatre) stars Douglas Bennett and Jimmy Pardo.

Those with screening passes will also be free to attend the festival’s two official after-parties. A live comedy showcase begins 10 p.m. at Opolis and will feature stand-up from local comics Jenny Godwin, Spencer Hicks, James Nghiem, Mack O’Henson, Jeramy Westbrook and Saadboys.

Live music from Austin garage psych band Delicate Boys, Oklahoma City indie folk duo O Fidelis and Andy Brewer of Stillwater rock band Taddy Porter can be seen 10 p.m.-1 a.m. inside Scratch Kitchen & Cocktail’s event space The Mercury, 426 E. Main St. Food trucks and beverage vendors will serve guests at Sunset Market outside The Mercury.

Spivey said he does not want NFF to resemble a rigid, black-tie film fest where guests are expected to sit for hours taking in endless numbers of films. Instead, he takes a buffet-like come-and-go approach to the first NFF.

“I want it to be fun,” he said. “I definitely don’t want it to feel like going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art or something.”

Getting inspired

Spivey first made his name in the Norman community as a musician in the band Ghosts of Monkshood and as a collaborator with indie folk-rock artist Penny Hill.

Eventually, Spivey got into making music videos for those projects. He loved it, and film became an increasingly larger part of his life. He joined the film crew at Norman Music Festival (NMF) and discovered that he actually liked video production more than making music.

A rekindled love for film drove him back to the University of Oklahoma. He left before completing his film and music studies degree at the university but is now only a semester away from his bachelor’s.

Being around OU’s film program, Spivey was impressed and inspired by the many talented filmmakers around him. He felt like Norman was a large enough cultural hub that it should have a film festival of its own.

“Seeing a lot of the local talent that we have at OU and deadCenter [Film Festival in OKC], things like that, I just really wanted to bring that to Norman specifically,” he said.

Early challenges

While NFF takes partial inspiration from the city’s free and unticketed annual music festival, Spivey said the two are completely different animals with separate goals and aspirations.

Like almost every other first-year nonprofit event, NFF had a steep learning curve starting out — particularly with making legal arrangements, finding sponsors and facilitating other back-end issues.

“Every nonprofit that I’ve talked with has told me the same thing,” Spivey said. “You just have to get that first year done and then it’s a lot easier to get people excited about it.”

Spivey said the local community is generally excited about the idea of the film festival, but he has noticed some skepticism about the charge for a pass. People in Norman and elsewhere across the country regularly enjoy free art events, so convincing them to pay for a ticket can be challenging.

“I don’t know how to overcome that,” Spivey said. “NMF is free, but it’s also just out in the road, so you can’t really charge for tickets.”

Spivey hopes in the future increased sponsorships can help lessen or, if at all possible, eliminate admission costs.

Filmgoers and filmmakers are regularly willing to pay to attend OKC’s annual deadCenter Film Festival. Spivey said that is because their event is focused on drawing  industry heavyweights and networking opportunities that make spending big money on a pass more worthwhile. NFF is about providing a fun community event.

Spivey said he is fine with going through the process of trial and error in the event’s first year. Audiences not wanting to pay for art are far from a unique problem and one that other events have found a way to overcome.

“Even when I was in bands, you can hardly put a cover at the door or people won’t come in,” he said. “It’s frustrating, but it’s just part of today’s art world. It’s a fact of life.”

Education focus

In the future, Spivey would like NFF to expand into more venues with screenings over the course of multiple days.

He also hopes NFF provides opportunities for Norman’s many young and talented filmmakers. About 20 percent of this year’s films are local- or student-submitted projects, and Spivey would like to see that number increase in the future.

A commitment to supporting young filmmakers is part of the reason Spivey wanted to give a portion of ticket sales to Norman Public Schools.

“We’re trying to make this an education-centered thing and boost the video offerings for teens and college students in Norman,” he said.

Just as Norman’s music festival got some young people excited about forming bands, Spivey hopes NFF can spark interest in video projects.

“I hope to become a target for young filmmakers,” he said. “It’ll no longer be an issue of, ‘Oh, well what am I going to do with this thing once I’ve made it?’ I want to give them a platform, basically, to show their stuff.”

Visit normanfilmfestival.com.


Norman Film Festival

noon-11 p.m. Saturday

downtown Norman

normanfilmfestival.com

$15-$25


Print headline: Big premiere, Norman Film Festival hopes to carve a space for itself in the city’s crowded art community.

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