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Take 5 with Alaska is a Drag

We’ve asked the filmmakers for the 11th annual Oxford Film Festival the same five questions. Meet Shaz Bennett, writer and director of Alaska is a Drag.

#1: In 140 characters or less, describe your movie and why someone should see it.

Alaska is a Drag is like if Hedwig and Rocky Balboa had a love child. I think it’s universal so let me know what you think.

#2: Biggest lesson learned in getting the film made? Best part in getting the film made?

Getting a fish cannery to let us turn the drab cannery into a drag fantasy was hard but if you just keep knocking on doors, one of them is bound to say yes somewhere. So, the lesson is never let a no stop you.

#3: Tell us about you. What is your movie making background?

It took me awhile to become a full time filmmaker and writer of television. I started out initially taking tickets at Sundance which led to me watching 1000s of movies a year as a film programmer at Sundance, LA Film Festival and AFI FEST. I’ve also worked in a fish cannery; bartended at a mafia bar; peddled liquor undercover; developed films for actor Giancarlo Esposito; and was Cher’s stand-in for a day. My films and performance pieces have been seen in festivals, theatres, museums and abandoned warehouses all over the United States, Mexico, Canada, South Africa and Europe.

#4 What do you want the Oxford Film Festival audience to know about your film that isn’t obvious from its title or description?

It’s really about friendship and those forever friends you make when you least expect it. And it might be obvious but I love drag queens and boxers equally.

#5: What does the future hold in store for your film and for you?

I’m fundraising currently to make a feature version of Alaska is a Drag. I’m not done with these characters yet. I’m also finishing up another short and have two other features that I’d like to make. It may have taken me awhile to start, so I’m going to make up for lost time fast.

Take Five Series Compiled

Take 5 with “Breaking Through”

We’ve asked the filmmakers for the 11th annual Oxford Film Festival the same five questions. Meet Cindy Abel, director and producer of Breaking Through. This film will be screening Friday, Feb.7 at noon and Saturday, Feb. 8 at 2 p.m.

#1: In 140 characters or less, describe your movie and why someone should see it.

It’s about people who did what they were told they couldn’t. It’s for those who dare to imagine something “more” – and want to see politicians actually be real and authentic.

#2: Biggest lesson learned in getting the film made? Best part in getting the film made?

I didn’t expect to be as impacted by the people we interviewed. They were willing to be authentic and deeply vulnerable, which opened my heart and caused me to be more vulnerable as well.

The best part has been interacting with audiences and experiencing their emotional and positive reactions, as they realize we all face obstacles and are more alike than we are different.
#3: Tell us about you. What is your movie making background? *
This is my first feature length film. I’ve also directed and produced two shorts: BACK TO SALEM, based on the novel, and DISTURBING THE UNIVERSE, a tribute film to Atlanta leader Allen Thornell. I’ve also directed and produced videos and webisodes for corporate and public affairs clients.
#4 What do you want the Oxford Film Festival audience to know about your film that isn’t obvious from its title or description? *
Breaking Through features openly gay elected officials: but it’s not about politics, and some of their earliest obstacles have nothing to do with being LGBT.

What others are saying:
“Breaking Through is a rich, fast-paced, spellbinding film. How director Cindy Abel and her team got politicians, famous for saying a lot without saying much, to expose their vulnerability is one of the wonders of this documentary. Some of the revelations are so shocking you find yourself thinking, “Did she just say what I think she said?!” (Michael Alvear, Huffington Post)

"4 out of 4 Globes. The dozens of diverse LGBT elected officials profiled in this absorbing documentary are heartening role models who give a voice to minorities. The subjects’ candor is quite forceful." (Gary M. Kramer, Metro.us)

"This is an important work, with a tightly-woven storyline and beautiful footage." (Todd Hunter, WorldFest Houston Founder, presenting the Silver Remi award)

#5: What does the future hold in store for your film and for you?

For Breaking Through: distribution and ongoing screenings at companies, colleges/universities, high schools and community groups as a way to spark conversations about “difference” and overcoming obstacles.

We’re also developing a couple other films, starting production on one in a few months.

Take 5 with “The Horrible Life of Dr. Ghoul”

We’ve asked the filmmakers for the 11th annual Oxford Film Festival the same five questions. Meet Don Swaynos, writer and director of The Horrible Life of Dr. Ghoul. This film will be screening Friday, February 7 at 6:30 p.m. and Saturday, Feb. 8 at noon.

#1: In 140 characters or less, describe your movie and why someone should see it.

It’s about a horror host when he isn’t “horror hosting”. Maybe you want to see it because you like horror hosts or old horror movies, or maybe you don’t know anything about horror hosts and you’re curious? Maybe you have a “horrible life”? I hope not, but maybe you do and then maybe you’d like it? That seems kind of weird, but I don’t know what you’re into, that horrible life probably comes as a result of some pretty poor decisions.

#2: Biggest lesson learned in getting the film made? Best part in getting the film made?

I’d initially written ‘Dr. Ghoul’ as a feature- or I’d tried to. I wrote a bunch of drafts and none of them were working so I gave up on it and focused on a script I had finished (‘Pictures of Superheroes’, which played Oxford last year). After wrapping the feature, some friends had started a short film writing club, where every two weeks we would turn in a short film script and our friends would critique it. After a few weeks you really start to run out of ideas, so in desperation I revisited the ‘Dr. Ghoul’ character. Removing him from all the unfinished/just plain ideas that surrounded him in the feature script and writing a simple story about a day in his life allowed me to clear my head and remember what drew me to the idea in the first place.

Then once we got our fantastic cast I got see something that has been in my head for so long, getting bogged down in rewrites and tangents, finally come to life in a clear way.

#3: Tell us about you. What is your movie making background?

‘Pictures of Superheroes’ was my first narrative feature as a writer/director (and it is now out on VOD by the way), but I mostly work as an editor. I recently cut Yen Tan’s ‘Pit Stop’ (which is currently nominated for an Independent Spirit Award and is also available on VOD) and Bryan Poyser’s ‘The Bounceback’.

#4 What do you want the Oxford Film Festival audience to know about your film that isn’t obvious from its title or description?

It isn’t a horror film, I know it kind of sounds like a horror film, but it isn’t. I mean I guess you could say it’s about the horrors of the human condition or something like that- but no, that sounds dumb. Let’s just say it isn’t a horror film. It’s a comedy.

#5: What does the future hold in store for your film and for you?

Once Dr. Ghoul’s festival run is over it’ll head up to the short film retirement home in the sky (YouTube). I’d love to tackle the feature version at some point, I’ve got a few feature ideas I’m juggling in my head right now so I’m mainly just writing and trying to figure out which one to actually make.

Take 5 with Rage Against Symphony

We’ve asked the filmmakers for the 11th annual Oxford Film Festival the same five questions. Meet Elcid Asaei, director of “Rage Against Symphony.” This film will be screening Saturday, Feb. 8 at 11:30 a.m. and Sunday, Feb. 9 at 2 p.m.

#1: In 140 characters or less, describe your movie and why someone should see it.

A mysterious woman lays in a candlelit bath, still wearing her wedding dress as all around her is calm, but within her there is a symphony of rage that is gradually bubbling up.

#2: Biggest lesson learned in getting the film made? Best part in getting the film made?

The biggest lesson learned was that budget and technology are not barriers to creating an engaging short film. The best part in getting the film made was the entire production process, and of course not getting my iPhone wet.

#3: Tell us about you. What is your movie making background?

I started making films 3 years ago, and made my festival début with a short award-winning documentary, titled ‘Revolutionary Roads’. Since then, I have set up my own indie production label, Crimson Black, and in 2013 I completed a number of short films, including ambitious projects like ‘Piranha’, and ‘Sun up Sun down’.

#4 What do you want the Oxford Film Festival audience to know about your film that isn’t obvious from its title or description?

Rage Against Symphony was entirely shot with my iPhone, in one continuous shot.

#5: What does the future hold in store for your film and for you?

The future holds oranges, hopefully, and perhaps more festival screenings for Rage Against Symphony. As for me, I am working on a short animation project and my feature film début, so hoping the future is bright for these two projects.

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Take 5 with “Being Awesome”

We’ve asked the filmmakers for the 11th annual Oxford Film Festival the same five questions. Meet Allen C.Gardner, writer/director/producer/editor/actor of Being Awesome. This film will be screening Friday, Feb.7 at 4 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 9 at 4:30 p.m.

#1: In 140 characters or less, describe your movie and why someone should see it.

Pushing thirty and disappointed with their lives, two guys set out to be awesome. It’s a story about seeking the kind of validation that, in countless ways, we all need.

#2: Biggest lesson learned in getting the film made? Best part in getting the film made?

The biggest lesson I learned is that you should stay open and explore all of the possibilities through every stage of production. The more you question all of your creative, technical, and logistical choices, the more you’ll reinforce why you need every scene or piece of equipment or location that you’re convinced that you need, and the more you’ll realize what you should let go of. The goal is to make a movie that you love, and you need to figure out what’s helping you achieve that goal and what’s actually getting in the way. All of that being said, know when you’ve found the answers that you’re looking for. Don’t question yourself into a corner. The key to making a movie is to actually MAKE the movie. Sometimes questioning can give way to incessant doubt, and that mind-set will keep you from ever really moving forward with your film. This is a movie that I simply needed to make, and by far the best par t about the whole process was that I got to make a movie that I’m very proud of with so many people who I love.

#3: Tell us about you. What is your movie making background?

I’m a Memphis native, and I’ve loved storytelling my entire life. I started writing scripts and attempting to shoot movies when I was a little kid, and in high school my friends and I shot a lot of sketches and completed our first feature films. After high school I moved to Los Angeles, where I currently live, and began further pursuing acting and filmmaking. The greatest joy for me in all of this has always been telling stories with my friends, and I’ll continue to do that for the rest of my life. “Being Awesome” is the eleventh movie that I’ve written, produced, and acted in, but it’s the first feature film that I directed on my own. I also love acting in, writing, and staging plays. We recently put up my third original play, “We Got Lucky”, and just completed production on the movie version.

#4 What do you want the Oxford Film Festival audience to know about your film that isn’t obvious from its title or description?

It’s a very sincere, grounded movie. My whole life is about connecting with people, and that mentality definitely informs my approach to storytelling. The only way to really connect with people is to be honest and unguarded, so I want my work to be honest and unguarded. Oh, and if it helps to paint the picture a little more clearly, one of the first things that I do when I’m working on a new script is put together a massive playlist that I’ll then listen to constantly, and there’s a ton of Elliott Smith, Ryan Adams, and Band of Horses on my “Being Awesome” mix. So anyway, now you know THAT! Ha!

#5: What does the future hold in store for your film and for you?

We’ll continue entering “Being Awesome” into film festivals and will find the most ideal distribution platforms for us. We want to share our work and connect with as many people as possible. Aside from this movie, I’m in post-production on “We Got Lucky”, I’m getting ready to shoot a comedy called “Bad Bad Men” with Brad Ellis, Drew Smith, Gabe Arredondo, Matthew Stiller, and a few of our other close friends, we’re in pre-production on a horror/thriller I wrote called “Sold”, and I’ve got a few other films that I’m very excited about lined up.

Take 5 with “Bellringer”

We’ve asked the filmmakers for the 11th annual Oxford Film Festival the same five questions. Meet Brett Frank, co-producer, co-writer and actor with Bellringer. This film will be screening Saturday, Feb. 8 at 1 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 9 at 4:15 p.m.

#1: In 140 characters or less, describe your movie and why someone should see it.

BELLRINGER was an official entry and award winner in the Memphis 48 Hour Film Project. It is a dark comedy that encourages viewers to be mindful of how they treat others and the consequences that may occur if they don’t live by the golden rule. When an outsider makes his initial visit to Cherry’s Bar, his behavior and antics create quite the scene. Despite efforts to calm him down, there’s no stopping him until the bartender offers him the house special, BELLRINGER. Trust us, it’s one helluva drink! BELLRINGER is a fun ride featuring all Oxford talent and crew.

#2: Biggest lesson learned in getting the film made? Best part in getting the film made?

BELLRINGER was an official entry into the Memphis 48 Hour Film Project. After drawing our genre and being given a character, line, and prop that were required to be included, our team had 48 hours to write, shoot, edit, score, and submit our final product. It was truly a team project and everyone involved was instrumental to its success. Probably the biggest lesson learned was time management and prioritizing the various aspects required in finishing our film in the time allotted. The best part was working with such a great and talented group of Oxford residents!

#3: Tell us about you. What is your movie making background?

A basketball coach of 20 years, I was given an opportunity to work with James V. Bulian on his short film,”Long Black Limousine” in March 2013. It was my first film project and I immediately caught the film bug. Melanie Addington was a huge resource in helping me locate various websites and groups that serve as networks for the entertainment industry and through her guidance, I’ve appeared in three short films and 3 feature length films. Additionally, I’ve had the chance to work on sets as a production assistant and boom operator.

#4 What do you want the Oxford Film Festival audience to know about your film that isn’t obvious from its title or description?

This is a true Oxford effort! All participants were Oxford residents and the film was shot entirely in Oxford. Additionally, BELLRINGER was crowned the winner of the crowd-pleaser award at the Memphis 48 Hour Film Project.

#5: What does the future hold in store for your film and for you?

I’ve been devoting some time to writing and researching for a couple of new projects. I’m hoping to be as involved as possible in the Mississippi Film community for many years to come!

Take 5 with “Poor Lost Souls”

We’ve asked the filmmakers for the 11th annual Oxford Film Festival the same five questions. Meet Shannon Cohn, co-director and producer of Poor Lost Souls. This film will be screening Friday, February 7 at 2 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 9 at 2 p.m.

#1: In 140 characters or less, describe your movie and why someone should see it.

Inspired by Flannery O’Connor’s WISE BLOOD, POOR LOST SOULS is a music video featuring the music of Jimbo Mathus that follows a brother as he attempts to rescue his sister from a band of religious zealots.

#2: Biggest lesson learned in getting the film made? Best part in getting the film made?

Little people are people, too! The characters in the video are marionettes that Jimbo has spent years making. He made every single detail by hand from the faces to the shoes to the clothes. A big challenge was rethinking the marionettes as live actors and capturing details of them as we would real people. The best part of getting the film made was helping Jimbo realize this vision he’d had for these characters since he started crafting them years ago.

#3: Tell us about you. What is your movie making background?

Before I became a filmmaker I practiced international law at a big firm. Completely soul-destroying line of work, that is. I left and ended up at film school at NYU. Since then, I’ve produced a number of feature documentaries and short narratives. I produced a TV travel series called SEA NATION that appears on Discovery Channel and NatGeo around the world. I have three feature docs in production at the moment and one feature narrative in pre-production. The feature narrative, LILA ROSE, is a quintessential southern story with honesty and heart - it embodies the spirit of independent storytelling in the South, a big reason why I wanted to get into film.

#4 What do you want the Oxford Film Festival audience to know about your film that isn’t obvious from its title or description?

POOR LOST SOULS is the result of a group of friends coming together to create and collaborate. You would never know by the dark and fairly disturbing finished product that the video shoot was light-hearted and fun. There was a lot of laughing and good times going on while we were on set.

#5: What does the future hold in store for your film and for you?

I hope that through the video more people are introduced to Jimbo’s music. He’s a southern treasure.

Take 5 with “The Crosby Arboreteum Project”

We’ve asked the filmmakers for the 11th annual Oxford Film Festival the same five questions. Meet Jennifer Mizenko, producer and choreographer of The Crosby Arboretum Project. This film will be screening Friday, February 7 at 3:15 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 9 at noon.

#1: In 140 characters or less, describe your movie and why someone should see it.

This is a Dance on Camera film. In this genre of film the shot director and editor are as much a part of the choreographic process as the choreographer. The edited film stands as the choreographic piece. This film highlights the Pavilion at the Crosby Arboretum in Picyune, MS, designed my Frank Lloyd Wright descendant Fay Jones. The choreography and shot direction reflect the structure of the Pavilion and the natural surroundings of the Arboretum.

#2: Biggest lesson learned in getting the film made? Best part in getting the film made?

Mother Nature worked in our favor to create a dramatic ending.

#3: Tell us about you. What is your movie making background?

This is my first film, but I am backed by very experienced and talented film makers Alan Arrivee, Jordan Berger & Houston Settle. It was great to work with these talented artists and the collaborative process was exciting.

#4 What do you want the Oxford Film Festival audience to know about your film that isn’t obvious from its title or description?

This film is a contemporary dance work.

#5: What does the future hold in store for your film and for you?

Not sure - I enjoyed this process and hope to create more Dance on Camera projects in the future.

Take 5 with The Travelers

We’ve asked the filmmakers for the 11th annual Oxford Film Festival the same five questions. Meet Andres Gonzalez, videographer and creator of The Travelers. This film will be screening Saturday, Feb. 8 at 11:30 a.m. and Sunday, Feb. 9 at 2 p.m.

#1: In 140 characters or less, describe your movie and why someone should see it.

The Travelers is a meditative film about journeys. The short film takes place in Istanbul, Turkey at the mouth of the Bosphorus where it opens up to the Black Sea. It is a place of coming and going, ships sail off towards open sea.

#2: Biggest lesson learned in getting the film made? Best part in getting the film made?

Anything can have artistic value.

#3: Tell us about you. What is your movie making background?

Andres Gonzalez is a photographer and educator who splits his time between personal projects, assigned commissions, and the occasional teaching position. He currently lives and works out of Water Valley, Mississippi.

Andres has been nominated for a Baum Award for Emerging American Photographers, was selected as one of PDN’s 30, and is a Fulbright Fellow. His photographs have been exhibited in Milan, New York, Istanbul, and London, and his first book, Some(W)Here was self-published in 2012.

#4 What do you want the Oxford Film Festival audience to know about your film that isn’t obvious from its title or description?

The footage was taken while I was living in Istanbul, editing a book of photographs from around the world, and thinking a lot about journeys. There was a sea voyage that I was obsessed with for years, from Istanbul to Odessa, Ukraine across the Black Sea. When I finally went to investigate I found that the ship was no longer making the sail. So I went up to where the Bosphorus opens up to the Black Sea and watched the cargo ships and shot this video, imagining them arriving to port.

#5: What does the future hold in store for your film and for you?

I think it will live quietly. Perhaps I will include it in an exhibition as a video element.

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