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By Pete Vonder Haar | June 15, 2007

Consider, if you will, the plight of the Midwestern film festival organizer. Far removed from the entertainment centers on either coast and lacking their existing infrastructure, forced to compete for films and attendees with other events, and often lacking the mystique of more exotic locales, these smaller festivals tend to come and go. Those that survive do so not merely because they capitalized on an already successful event (a la South by Southwest), or benefit from wealthy patronage, but because the organizers work their a***s of to put together the best festival possible. The deadCENTER Film Festival, held every year in Oklahoma City, is a hidden gem. An awesome little (for now) fest tucked away in America’s so-called heartland, it likely won’t escape notice for long.

My attendance at this year’s 7th annual deadCENTER came about through rather roundabout circumstances, which I will now summarize because if I let someone else do it, the details are likely to be less flattering to yours truly. In March of this year, FT’s Mark Bell and Don Lewis and I were returning from what my memory informs me was the midnight screening of “Black Sheep.” Several beers into the small hours, we were making our way back down 4th Street to our hotel when we spied two similarly perambulatory-challenged ladies about a block ahead of us. Using some means of identification I won’t go into here, Mark immediately recognized them as Cacky and Melissa of deadCENTER. Boozy introductions were made, and – apparently – invitations extended to someone from Film Threat to attend this year’s festival in June.

What this boils down to is: I had no recollection of this meeting when the e-mail invite from Cacky arrived. And also why I (briefly) thought the sender was a guy. A mistake I would not live down the entire time I was there.

Thursday – Oklahoma! Oklahoma! Oklahoma!,
My plane landed in Oklahoma City on Thursday afternoon, and I was whisked away from airport in short order by my old friend Ray. Ray went to college with The Wife, and (I’m guessing) someone involved with the festival must have some pretty juicy dirt on him if he’s being forced to pick up internet “journalists” at the airport.

Checked into my hotel, the Colcord, without a hitch. The desk clerk secured a credit card for “incidentals,” however, and I could sense her sizing me up for whether my tastes would run to “Barely Legal Beauties” or if I was more of a “MILF Invaders 2” fan. Sadly, the only expense I’m likely to rack up at any given hotel is draining the minibar, which was one of the few amenities the Colcord didn’t provide.

I did make one unfortunate discovery during upending my suitcase on the floor unpacking: somewhere during the trip – and since I like to blame everything on Dallas, I’m going to say North Texas – my wireless program went belly-up. This was going to be a banner freaking event if I couldn’t even post reviews. Fortunately, the Colcord has a “business center” with a couple of computers. I would find myself spending a fair amount of time here, much to the chagrin of whoever at the hotel had bookmarked in the computer’s browser. Rest assured, I used plenty of Purel after those writing sessions.

Having discovered a handy stop-gap solution for my computer woes, and with the opening night party still an hour off, I took Ray’s recommendation and headed to a place a few blocks from the museum called Coney Island that specialized in…yes…hot dogs. Turn up your noses if you much, hipster elite, but $6 for two dogs and two beers is a hot beef injection everybody can enjoy.

Finally, it was party time. The opening reception was held atop the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. It was here that I reconnected with my SXSW soulmates, Executive Director Cacky (a family name of long distinction, I’m told) Poarch and Programming Director Melissa Scaramucci. After getting my credentials (and following several good-natured(?) jibes at my memory and manhood), I headed up to the rooftop to join everyone for cocktails. The night was a little warm, much to the chagrin of those from – one assumes – cooler climes who elected to sport the fashionable all-black festival ensemble. This is Oklahoma, baby; your keyword when planning a wardrobe should be “breathable.” I also learned that joking about tornadoes is frowned upon.

They ran out of beer in fairly short order, which probably was better for me in the long run. Besides I had movies to see.

“Year of the Fish” was the official opening night film, and writer/director David Kaplan was in attendance. Options following the movie included the tattoo party at the IAO Gallery (tattoos were only legalized in Oklahoma in 2006) and the after-party at Maker’s Cigar Lounge. After much soul-searching, I decided I’d look like less of a douchebag if I went to the cigar lounge. At least, that’s where my particular brand of douchebaggery would fit in best.

The Maker’s Lounge lies in Bricktown, the neighborhood that houses Bricktown Ballpark (home of the Redhawks), and was a brief jaunt from the Colcord. After a short, vaguely uncomfortable time drinking by myself, the deadCENTER folks descended upon the bar and we filled the room with as much smoke and profanity as possible for non-Romanians. Ray made sure I got back to the hotel, and I collapsed around 3 AM.

Read more of Pete’s adventures in Film Threat’s 2007 deadCenter Wrap-Up (Part 2)>>>

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