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Circle Cinema Film Festival returns this year with new films, documentaries
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Circle Cinema Film Festival returns this year with new films, documentaries

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After a year of pandemic shutdowns and social distancing, the unique magic that can be created when a group of people gather in a darkened room to experience a movie can be a pleasant surprise.

That is how Chuck Foxen, film programmer for Tulsa’s Circle Cinema, described the way he felt after one particular screening last year. The theater hosted an event for the cast and crew of “Finding Carlos,” an Oklahoma-made film by Lance McDaniel that puts a hip-hop spin on the story inspired by “The Nutcracker.”

“It wasn’t a big audience, but the energy and excitement in the room, how they were reacting to seeing themselves on the big screen — it really hit me,” Foxen said. “It really reminded me of why we do this, and how awesome it can be to bring people together to share in an experience.”

The Circle Cinema will be offering about a dozen or so opportunities for such experiences this weekend, as it presents the 2021 Circle Cinema Film Festival, July 15-18 at the theater, 10 S. Lewis Ave.

This will be the third festival the theater has hosted. The first, in 2018, was created to mark the theater’s 90th anniversary and featured appearances by such hometown stars as Mary Kay Place, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Gary Busey, Tim Blake Nelson, Heather Langenkamp, and Peggy Helmerich.

However, Foxen said, there were some doubts whether a third festival would happen at all.

“A lot of things have been happening kind of at the last minute,” he said. “Fortunately, when we finally decided to move forward with the festival, we had a pretty large backlog of really good films that we hadn’t been able to show yet, because of the way the pandemic affected how people saw movies.

“But we’re noticing that people are slowly starting to get out again,” Foxen said. “We hosted some events in connection with the Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial, and they sold out. We were one of the satellite sites for the Sundance Film Festival, and that worked out well for us also.”

The four-day festival will feature new feature films, documentaries, and locally-made short films, along with a classic favorite, all with Oklahoma connections.

The Circle Cinema is continuing to follow social distancing rules, with its theaters arranged for 50 percent capacity. The theater is also requesting patrons to wear masks while in public spaces.

In addition to the screenings, the festival will feature special appearances by film makers, actors and other celebrities, such as Tulsa native and NBA legend John Starks, who will return to Tulsa for the screening of “Keep Shooting: The John Starks Story,” which will open the festival with showings at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 15, and 2 p.m. Friday, July 16.

Starks and the film’s producer, Leigh Simons, president of JD3TV, will take part in a question-and-answer session after the film’s first showing, and will introduce the film at the Friday matinee. Tickets for “Keep Shooting” are $20.

A limited number of VIP packages featuring a four-course lunch at Polo Grill with Starks and Simons are available for $1,000 as a fundraiser for the John Starks Foundation and Circle Cinema Foundation.

For more about the documentary, read Jimmie Tramel’s interview with Starks and Simons at tulsaworld.com.

Simons will host a discussion titled “If You Have a Show, We Want to Know” at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, July 15. The event is for aspiring filmmakers to learn about film distribution and how to get projects green-lit for production and streaming.

This year is the 25th anniversary of the film “Twister,” which was filmed in Oklahoma, which the festival will mark with a “25th Anniversary Screening” of the film, 1:30 p.m. Sunday, July 18. The showing will be introduced by Oklahoma film critic Jeff Huston, and will be attended by actress April Warren, who portrayed the mother in the movie’s flashback scene. Memorabilia from the Twister The Movie Museum in Wakita, one of the main locations for the film, will be on display in the theater’s lobby.

Michael Abbott Jr., who is currently filming “Killers of the Flower Moon,” will attend the screening of “The Dark and the Wicked,” an award-winning horror film in which he stars. The film, about the evil that besets a family that has gathered to be with their dying father, will be screened at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, July 13.

Abbott, who plays one of the F.B.I. agents investigating the murders of Osage Nation citizens that are at the heart of “Killers of the Flower Moon,” will take part in a question-and-answer session following the showing.

Tulsa filmmaker Justin Monroe’s film “Holy Frit,” has played several film festivals, and won the Best Documentary prize at the 2021 Slamdance Film Festival. It’s the story of an artist who lands a commission to build the largest-ever stained glass window — an art form about which he knows nothing. It will be shown Saturday, July 17.

The story of two Oklahoma City siblings who, at ages 14 and 9 founded the cult band Skating Polly, is told in “Skating Polly — Ugly Pop,” which will be shown Friday, July 16. Kurtis Mayo, the band’s bassist and brother to founders Peyton Bighorse and Kelli Mayo, will be in attendance.

Those waiting to have a family-friendly experience will want to check out “The Sneak Over,” to be shown Saturday, July 17. This film by Tulsa director Brandon Bergin is the story of a 5th-grader named Henry, whose newfound friendship with a group of film geeks gives him the courage to lead a battle against the neighborhood bullies.

The festival will also feature two films that deal with the Tulsa Race Massacre and its aftermath.

TheRese Anderson-Aduni’s “Rebuilding Black Wall Street: My Life” will be screened at 2 and 6 p.m. Saturday, July 17, and the filmmaker will talk about the film following the showings. The film incorporates 8mm home movies of families that stayed in Greenwood and rebuilt after the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. The film is part of the Greenwood Arts Project, and Anderson-Aduni hopes attendees will be able to identify some of the people featured in the clips before the film is sent to the Smithsonian for preservation.

“Greenwood Here and Now,” which will be shown at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, July 18, was directed by Kelly Kerr, former Tulsa World photographer and now student media coordinator at the OSU School of Media and Strategic Communications. Kerr worked with OSU students on a film that examines the Greenwood neighborhood today, the memory of the massacre and what the future may hold.

Closing out the festival is the one film without a strong Oklahoma connection, but which is certain to attract audiences. It is “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain,” that will be shown at 7 p.m. Sunday, July 18. It is an intimate, behind-the-scenes look at how an anonymous chef became a world-renowned cultural icon before his death by suicide in 2018. The film was directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville (“20 Feet From Stardom,” “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”).

Following the film will be a discussion that will feature Nico Albert, a self-taught chef, caterer and student of traditional Indigenous cuisines based in Tulsa, and Cheryl Delk, Coordinator of Youth Mental Health Programs at Mental Health Association Oklahoma.

“We really think we have something to appeal to just about everyone,” Foxen said. “And people who may never have come to the Circle before, this weekend is a great introduction to the kind of programming we do everyday.”

O’Colly Creative—Greenwood Here and Now

This is a documentary film about the Greenwood Neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In 1921, the 35 square block neighborhood was destroyed during the largest race massacre in United States' history. Three hundred people lost their lives. This film examines the neighborhood today, the memory of the massacre and what the future may hold.

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