Mining For Hidden Gems At The 2017 ‘Dallas International Film Festival’

The area’s longest (11 days) and most diverse film festival is back for its 11th year. Whether you are an avid film festival fan or a casual movie-goer, there is certainly something on the schedule for you at the Dallas International Film Festival.

This year’s theme is ‘Films of 1967’ and Opening Night kicks off in a blaze of glory with a screening at the Dallas City Performance Hall of BONNIE AND CLYDE. Special guests are Robert Benton and Faye Dunaway. Mr. Benton was a writer on the film, and is a 3-time Oscar winner (Kramer vs. Kramer, Places in the Heart); while of course Ms. Dunaway played Bonnie, and is also an Oscar winner (Network). Now THAT, my friends, is how you start a film festival!

DIFF has a tradition of honoring both legends of film and exciting newcomers. In addition to honoring Mr. Benton at the ‘Art of Film’ event and Ms. Dunaway the following night, special recognition will also go to rising star Zooey Deutch and filmmaker David Gordon Green, along with a posthumous tribute to Ft Worth native Bill Paxton. Throughout the festival, many filmmakers will attend screenings, and a rare treat involves Katharine Houghton, who will be attending GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER, the classic film she starred in alongside her legendary aunt, Katharine Hepburn.

In addition to the usual festival categories such as Narrative, Documentary, World Cinema and Shorts, DIFF prides itself on unique categories such as Texas competition (Texas-based productions), Silver Heart Award (projects or people dedicated to social change and improving humanity), Deep Ellum Sounds, Latino films, Family films, a special partnership with EARTHxFilm (the new film festival venture from Earth Day Texas), and for this year only … films of 1967.

My favorite part of DIFF is that it often provides the only opportunity to catch some of these indies on the big screen. So while The Dallas Morning News and Ft Worth Star-Telegram have published their “must see” lists, I prefer treasure hunting … uncovering the little gems that might otherwise get overlooked. The DIFF programmers are knowledgeable and have varied interests, and they excel at discovering the rare and unusual. So here’s my list of hidden gems that might be worth checking out:

KATIE SAYS GOODBYE (Narrative) – the debut of writer/director Wayne Rogers features an excellent cast including Olivia Cooke, Mirielle Enos, Mary Steenburgen, Jim Belushi, Kier Gilchrist, Christopher Abbott and others. The story is about a young dreamer striving to change her life and the challenges she faces.

SPETTACOLA (Documentary) – Award winning co-directors Jeff Maimberg and Chris Shellen collaborate on a United States/Italy project centered on a farming village in Tuscany that is struggling with maintaining the traditions that prove how art has the power to unite and transform.

WHAT LIES UPSTREAM (EARTHxFilm) – Documentary filmmaker Cullen Hoback delivers a real life detective story as he researches a West Virginia chemical spill that spoiled the water for 300,000 residents. He uncovers collusion between business and government that is nothing short of frightening.

A BAD IDEA GONE WRONG (Texas) – a full bore comedy is a rarity at film festivals, and writer/director Jason delivers a true laugh-fest as two bumbling would-be thieves find themselves trapped inside the target home with the housekeeper.

THE SECRET LIFE OF LANCE LETSCHER (Texas) – Film editor extraordinaire Sandra Adair chose Austin-based and internationally renowned artist Lance Letscher as the subject of her directorial debut. The film is more psychological portrait of the genius and insight into creativity than tribute to the work.

ABACUS: SMALL ENOUGH TO JAIL (Documentary) – Can you name the only U.S. bank to face criminal charges in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis? The answer is Abacus Federal Savings Bank, a small, family-run business in Manhattan. Hoop Dreams director Steve James chronicles the legal battle of the Sung family.

SCORE: A FILM MUSIC DOCUMENTARY (Deep Ellum Sounds) – Of course we are all familiar with the iconic film scores to Jaws and Star Wars, but how many times does the music in a film guide you through the emotions of a particular scene? Sometimes the influence is so subtle we barely notice. Director Matt Schrader interviews some of the biggest names for a peek behind the curtain in this challenging musical sector.

THE JUNGLE BOOK (1967) – OK, I’m cheating a bit on this one, but if you’ve never seen this animated Disney classic on the big screen, it’s high time. The story and characters are charming, and the voice work is stellar. Don’t be surprised if you catch me singing along with Phil Harris on “The Bare Necessities”.

I’ve hardly scratched the surface of what DIFF offers for film lovers, so do a little research on the site to find something that scratches your movie itch. If you’ve never been before, don’t be intimidated … the volunteers are friendly and the choices are many. For information on ticketing and how to fest, go to

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