20 years of deadCenter

How this Oklahoma City festival is adapting to our unique situation, as the torch passes to a new Executive Director

Venturing ahead into what should be a busy summer event season, it seems every day another organization announces a postponement or cancellation due to Coronavirus concerns. It is disappointing but understandable, and the only logical thing to do while we cannot gather in large groups. 

The deadCenter Film Festival is set to celebrate its 20th anniversary this year. The festival, which usually kicks off in May with pre-parties and schedule announcements leading up to the main screenings in June, is a staple for both serious film fanatics and people who just love a great local event. The original dates for the festival were June 11th though 14th. More than 35,000 people attended deadCenter Film Festival screenings in 2019, generating an economic impact of approximately $5 million for Oklahoma City.

Fortunately, despite the complications this year holds, the organizers have managed to turn lemons into lemonade. Ten days of lemonade, to be exact.

Already Oklahoma's largest film festival, and recognized as one of the "Top 20 Coolest Film Festivals in the World" by MovieMaker Magazine, The new extended schedule will include more award-winning films, filmmaker panels, celebrity discussions, screenplay readings, and film classes than ever before. They will feature all of it in social-distancing-approved ways. As a bonus to bring the festival to more Oklahomans through this uncertain time, passes will be half of the regular price this year. 

This expanded event will take place between June 11th and 21st, featuring 140 films. The competition was fierce for those spots, with over 1,600 submissions. Of those selected, 20 are feature-length films, while the rest are short-format. 

Thirty of the chosen films were made in Oklahoma or by Oklahoma filmmakers. Christopher Hunt and David Tester won Best Oklahoma Short Film at the deadCenter Film Festival in 2015 and 2017. This year, they are leading the lineup with Eddie, the definitive documentary about OSU coaching legend Eddie Sutton.

Other award winners returning with new films this year include Sterlin Harjo (Best Oklahoma Film 2009) with his new documentary Love and Fury; Ryan Staples Scott (Best Oklahoma Film 2015) with his action film Robot Riot; and Jacob Burns (Best Oklahoma Film 2016) with his new thriller Shifter.

deadCenter is featuring a variety of methods to bring you all that the festival has to offer. Thankfully modern technology is primed for this kind of streaming and at-home social engagement. In addition, as festival organizers monitor the ongoing situation, they are hoping to move ahead with pop-up drive-in movie experiences for passholders and sponsors throughout the festival. As restrictions and public safety allow, they are hopeful that additional outdoor public screening dates at Scissortail Park will be possible. deadCenter will also offer a selection of free films and shorts programs to the public, and sell individual tickets and downloads to selected shorts programs and features. 

"We are so excited to proceed with our 20th annual film festival and celebrate these awesome filmmakers and films," said Executive Director Lance McDaniel. "Moving the festival online will allow our passholders and sponsors to watch more movies and uniquely interact with a wider range of celebrities and industry leaders than ever before."  

This year, the format is not the only thing changing. This is the final year that Lance McDaniel will head the event as Executive Director. Over the past ten years that McDaniel has served, he has led the re-branding and community outreach that increased attendance from 10,000 to 35,000, corporate sponsorships from 8 to 80, and income from $330,000 - $940,000. He Created new programs to expand audience, including deadCenter University, Distribution Forum, Film ICON Panel Series, and a statewide education program that reached 26,000 high school students. 

McDaniel also produced & Directed 4 narrative features, 2 documentaries, 4 shorts, and 1 virtual reality film. During that time, the deadCenter Film Festival was awarded Oklahoma’s Best Arts & Culture Nonprofit 2018 by the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits. In this, his final year, McDaniel faced the challenge of leading the transition to a "socialy distanced" format. 

To say that his contributions are monumental would be an understatement, but beyond that, those who have worked with him at the festival say that what they will miss most is his infectious laugh and encouraging personality that have been so important to the culture of the organization and festival.

Stepping up to fill McDaniel's shoes at the end of this year's festivities is Alyx Picard Davis. Davis has been with the festival since 2006 when she joined as a volunteer. An Oklahoma City native, Davis graduated from Putnam City North High School and the University of Central Oklahoma. Since 2013, she has served as Director of Festival and Operations.

Among the projects within her extensive involvement in the film community, Davis is on the Executive Board for Exchange Rotary on Film Row, and is Vice President of the Board for the International Film Festival Alliance. No strager to the production side, she has produced films screened at festivals around the world. 

"We are thrilled that Alyx will lead us into our next decade. We interviewed several great candidates through our national search. But none of them compared to Alyx when it came to festival experience, industry connections, and a true passion for film." deadCenter Film Board Chair, Greg Mullen

Unlimited passes are on sale this year for $100, which is half the normal price. For passes and more information, go to DeadCenterFilm.org

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