Last night the inaugural Red Dirt International Film Festival kicked off in Stillwater, Oklahoma with a meet-and-greet in the second story of the local Eskimo Joe’s.
Festival organizer Damon Blalack was walking around the upper deck bar room, filmmakers continually catching his attention. I was able to talk to him for a few, brief minutes before he was drawn elsewhere.
“We have films from all seven continents,” Blalack said. “Including Antarctica.”
The film he’s referring to is Anthony Powell’s Antarctica: A Year on Ice, a documentary chronicling the challenges of life at the bottom of the world.
Next I shook hands with Jack Robinette, producer of the film Summer Children, which is also screening at Red Dirt.
“Have you ever heard of Vilmos Zsigmond?” Robinette immediately asked me.
I had to admit I hadn’t.
“Then you know nothing about film!”
I guess I didn’t. Robinette then launched into his pitch for Summer Children, a previously lost — now found — American neo-noir photographed by Zsigmond, whom I learned is the cinematographer behind such lauded New Hollywood classics as The Deer Hunter and Deliverance. The festival screening of Summer Children quickly became one of my most anticipated.
I ran into young Finnish director Jani Salminen, who’s at Red Dirt with his 7 minute short Valaistuminen (English title: Enlightenment). Salminen braved a 22-hour flight to get to Oklahoma. According to him, Red Dirt is the first film festival where his work has been featured, and simultaneously his first trip to the United States. It was then that I realized the Red Dirt International Film Festival truly is “international.”
I was then approached by Kimberly Calkins, director of the education documentary 922: From Academic Watch to Academic WOW!
“It’s about this little school district in northeastern Ohio that has every strike against it that it can have,” Calkins explains. “And they’re just going through the room academically, because they’re doing education right.”
Calkins said they began self-distributing 922 in March, but are taking the film to festivals like Red Dirt to gain credibility.
“We want our film to be in the hands of educators,” Calkins said.
It certainly is an eclectic set of films that lie ahead for Red Dirt festival goers. Personally, I can’t wait to see all the films of the individuals I met opening night — and more.