Three questions with director, producer and Tulsa native Jason Connell, founder of the United Film Festival… coming THIS WEEKEND to Tulsa. If you’ve never heard of the festival… where have you been? Started in Tulsa in 2002, it now includes New York, LA, Chicago, San Fran and London. And Tulsa. The festivals screen exceptional independent films and have gained a respectable reputation in only a few years time through Jason’s efforts to shine a light on some film wonderfulness you may not know existed. Want to know more about the festival itself? Hit their website.
Being from Tulsa is a big part of the festival’s connection here. The festivals started when I was living here, with only short films. This was pre-Youtube so short films were still a novelty. It wasn’t until I moved to Los Angeles and began producing features that the festival really started to grow. I traveled the world with my first film, Strictly Background, and my appetite kept growing. As I expanded the festivals into Los Angeles and New York and I continued to believe in this brand, it was important for me to continue to grow the Tulsa festival because it was where it all started and it was still home. There is a growing arts culture here and music obviously has a rich tradition in Tulsa, so I think independent film fits into that culture and the festivals help bring more awareness to that. Alongside the other big cities in the United Film Festival umbrella, Tulsa may seem a little strange, but I think investing energy in those smaller markets is essential and the idea is to get into the community and make people aware. I think the bigger question is, why NOT Tulsa?
As I mentioned, music has a rich tradition in Tulsa and I would like to see film become a bigger part of that culture in the same way. Growing up here I remember when Francis Ford Coppola came to town and filmed The Outsiders and Rumble Fish, but that momentum for moviemaking fell off. I see no reason why Tulsa couldn’t be the next Austin in this way. We’ve seen the festival grow a lot, from a shorts only program to include features, moving to the Circle Cinema five years ago, and watching attendance rise. The hardest challenge has been getting people to buy into the concept of film festivals, which aren’t as common in Tulsa as they are in some of our other festival cities where there are literally hundreds of film festivals.
It’s always gratifying to be able to showcase movies made by Tulsans. Examples from our 2010 festival include Jeffie Was Here, made by established filmmakers who had spent time in Tulsa, Biker Fox, a documentary about the infamous local Tulsan, and The Rock’n’Roll Dreams of Duncan Christopher, which was made in Tulsa and involved a lot of the community. Having screenings sell out is always a big “win.” Screening films that I have been involved with is always a highlight, and this year I hope to have another highlight with the Tulsa premiere of Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians, a documentary that I produced which follows the rise of arguably the largest and most well-funded blackjack team in America-made up entirely of churchgoing Christian, examining how will they manage to find a place for faith and God while taking millions from casinos.