According to a detailed manifesto on its website, the Oxford Film Festival began in 2003 "as a project of the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council... committed to celebrating the art of independent cinema." What the festival actually is, however, is so much more: a four-day celebration where filmmakers, industry professionals, critics, and cinephiles gather together, get to know one another, and share in a community's collective appreciation for film in all of its forms. Cozily entrenched in the businesses and residences of Oxford, Mississippi, the town that the picturesque college Ole Miss calls home, OFF is a modest, maturing sibling of mainstay festivals like Sundance and South By Southwest whose smalltown charm bypasses superficial spectacle in favor of more substantial rewards.
The festival runs four days and features more than 80 different offerings, including narrative features, documentaries, short films, animated works, and experimental projects. I was enlisted at the last minute to serve as a member of OFF's documentary jury, so I was unfortunately unable to attend the Opening Night screening of director Joshua Goldin's Wonderful World, but took a break from some 20 hours of verite filmmaking to attend a party at Oxford's Southside Gallery. In attendance were several of the filmmakers who brought their movies to the fest, as well as an array of other participants and locals without whose presence the festival simply wouldn't have its singularly intimate feel.