News in the Arts: Oxford Film Festival to screen flicks of all sorts

  Don Lewis and John Beck's 'Worst in Show' takes a look at the annual World's Ugliest Dog Contest.

Don Lewis and John Beck's "Worst in Show" takes a look at the annual World's Ugliest Dog Contest.

Famed documentarian Les Blank -- perhaps best-known for "Burden of Dreams," his 1982 chronicle of the chaotic production of Werner Herzog's Amazon epic "Fitzcarraldo" -- will be the special guest of the 8th annual Oxford Film Festival, which begins Thursday and continues through Feb. 13 at various venues in Oxford, Miss.

Thursday's opening-night events include a special Thacker Mountain Radio live show featuring Blank; Michael Adams, author of "Showgirls, Teen Wolves and Astro Zombies: A Film Critic's Year-Long Quest to Find the Worst Movie Ever Made"; and musical guests Kenny Brown and Robert Belfour.

Screening that night will be actor/director Ray McKinnon's new short, "Spanola Pepper Sauce Company"; Blank's classic 1980 the-title-tells-it-like-it-is short, "Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe"; and the "mockumentary" feature "Brother's Justice," written and co-directed by its star, Dax Shepard ("Parenthood"), with a cast that includes Bradley Cooper, Tom Arnold and Jon Favreau. A sort of slapstick "I'm Still Here," the film follows Shepard as he abandons comedy to pursue his dream of becoming a martial-arts fighter.

Numerous other narrative features, documentaries, shorts, experimental films, animated films and music videos will be screened, including work by such regional filmmakers as brothers Joshua and Miles Miller of Arkansas, directors of the Southern Gothic short "Pillow," and Mississippi residents Michael Williams (the eerie "Lukos") and Daniel Lee (whose short "River City Dead" mixes zombies, Nazis and private eyes).

Documentaries include the world premiere of "Worst in Show" by Don Lewis and John Beck, about the annual World's Ugliest Dog Contest in Petaluma, Calif.; Miao Wang's "Beijing Taxi," an uncensored look at contemporary China; Joe York's "Mississippi Innocence," featuring John Grisham, about two men who were convicted of crimes they didn't commit; Chris Metzler's "Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone," a look at the cult narrated by -- appropriately enough -- Laurence Fishburne; and Rachel Julkowski's "God's Square Mile," which examines a Jersey Shore community where outspoken gay activists and ardent anti-homosexual fundamentalists live side by side, to name a few.

Parties, workshops, filmmaking panels and related events also will take place.

Visit oxfordfilmfest.com for a complete schedule, ticket prices and other information.

-- John Beifuss

Party with Oscar!

The 10th annual "Oscar Night America" party to benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities of Memphis will be held Feb. 27 at Minglewood Hall, 1555 Madison.

This year's party -- one of 50 such events officially sanctioned by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences -- begins at 6 p.m. Tickets are $125 each, available at rmhmemphis.org or by calling 312-7479.

Partygoers will be able to watch the 83rd Oscar ceremony, hosted by James Franco and Anne Hathaway, in a private viewing room, on large screens courtesy of WPTY-TV Channel 24 (the local affiliate of ABC, the network broadcasting the Academy Awards). Guests will receive the same official program given out at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, and enjoy gourmet food, champagne, live and silent auctions and live music by Party Planet.

The Ronald McDonald House provides a free "home away from home" for families staying in town while a child receives treatment for cancer or other illness at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

"Oscar Night" parties last year raised $3 million nationwide, and more than $70,900 for Ronald McDonald House Charities.

-- John Beifuss

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