Oklahoma City’s deadCENTER Film Festival turned 14 this June. That particular age is significant in various ways depending upon where it’s applied. In humans, 14 is when we exchange the hell of junior high for the slightly taller hell of high school; for scotch, the 14-year mark is generally when you stop adding ice or soda, and if your beloved dog or cat is 14, that’s probably around the time you need to start considering a replacement pet. Nature is cruel.
A film festival that survives to reach its 14th year, on the other hand, should really be hitting its stride. Maybe it has grown from a handful of films over a couple of nights to a full slate spanning the better part of a week. Perhaps instead of simply walking up and flashing a wristband, you end up waiting in — gasp — a line. You! An all-access badge holder!
And hopefully by this time the festival has also outgrown merely reusing films released in earlier festivals and is premiering exciting, buzz-worthy movies in its own right. Enter The Dramatics (A Comedy), indie veteran Scott Rodgers’s inside-baseball look at the search for love and fame in 21st-century Los Angeles. It made its world premiere at deadCENTER to an enthusiastic crowd at the Harkins Theatres in the Bricktown section of Oklahoma City.
Written by Rodgers and co-star Kat Foster, The Dramatics is the kind of accomplished production that can help secure wider notice for a festival, boasting a mostly recognizable cast (Foster appeared in several episodes of Weeds and Royal Pains, while co-star Pablo Schreiber played The Wire’s Nick Sobotka, and “Pornstache” Mendez from Orange Is the New Black) and a self-aware yet unpretentious approach to the modern rom-com.
The story centers on struggling actress Katie (Foster), who gets her big break in an erotic Fifty Shades of Grey–esque cable miniseries. The job requires Katie to fly to England and — much to the consternation of pot-smoking/occasional screenwriter boyfriend Paul (Rodgers) — frequently disrobe. Schreiber plays Bryan, the miniseries’ lead. A recent Oscar winner and malignant narcissist, Bryan comes across like James Franco without any self-awareness, and Katie finds her limits tested as she’s forced to contend with Bryan’s increasingly bizarre behavior in addition to Paul’s apparent peevishness at her success. Despite ending in unfortunate romantic-comedy cliché, The Dramatics (A Comedy) is, overall, an understated delight.
The deadCENTER Film Festival has survived, nay flourished, since its 2000 inception because it combines several critical factors: professional and competent management, a bend-over-backward-to-lend-a-hand Midwestern sensibility, and the realization that in order to coax people out to rural America, you need to throw a shit ton of parties. But success often forces compromise and brings growing pains. For the first time in my memory, people were turned away from sold-out screenings — a far cry from the days when I would find myself one of a dozen attendees in a theater. Volunteers, friendly and cooperative to a fault, occasionally seemed unsure of how to handle the various passes and badges, and festivalgoers were a constant presence in downtown and the nearby entertainment districts, unlike in previous years, when you’d mostly run across them in a hotel or at one of the plentiful social gatherings.
But what sets deadCENTER apart is a sense of inclusiveness to the proceedings that outstrips that of any festival I’ve attended. Let’s face it, Sundance and South by Southwest are more industry symposiums than celebrations of film, whereas going to deadCENTER feels as if your slightly inebriated yet ridiculously well-organized friends decided to have a few thousand people over to watch some movies. It may not be of legal age yet, but deadCENTER is certainly old enough to get you in trouble.