Oxford Film Fest’s Favorite Mom
Lynda Addington is making her mark on the Oxford Film Fest
When Harry and Lynda Addington moved to Oxford nearly ten years ago to be closer to their daughter and grandson, Lynda had no idea that she would find a little bit of Hollywood in Mississippi through her daughter's involvement with the Oxford Film Fest.
"When we moved here Melanie was volunteering with the festival. I didn't realize it that year, and we were in Cancun. But the next year I went and just did whatever she needed me to do to help out. The year after that I started helping in the green room," she remembers. The early days of the festival were a little more simple she recalls. "It was just me in the party room of the Malco having food and breakfast and stuff for the VIPs. I did that for a few years, and then I looked at Melanie and asked how much I could donate so I didn't have to work!" she laughs. "I thought, 'What can I do where I can still go to the parties and see my kids and not do tons of work."
The coming years Lynda was able to relax a little more and enjoy the festival and spend time with her extended family of visiting filmmakers she calls her kids. "These same kids kept coming back year after year and they started calling me 'Mom'," she says.
Harry enjoys the festival to, but in a different way. "He likes to go and watch all the movies. Some of the years I was working and I never got to see a movie. I was always in the green room." But these days she and a friend make it a point to watch some movies together. But more that the movies Lynda enjoys the people who return to Oxford for multiple festivals. "I really enjoy my kids who come back year after year. I like to visit with them. They're so sweet and I love them to death."
"Last year I made one of them a chocolate meringue pie. I took it to his hotel room and said, 'I'm not doing this next year!' But that was a big deal because no other film festival has someone who will make them a personal pie."
For the 2015 festival Lynda filled in with making the gift bags. She ended up making 148 brownies and Tim Blake Nelson gave her special recognition for Lynda and her brownies in his acceptance speech.
Their daughter, Melanie Addington has always been a fan of movies, especially independent films. While in college she was a film minor and did film criticism for the school's paper. When she moved to Oxford in 2003 it was the first year of the Oxford Film Festival, and by year three she was volunteering. "I grew up in San Diego and LA where we had lots of theater and independent films being shown. So I wanted to be very involved in the film festival from the beginning."
Addington's involvement with the festival has grown over the years. She became co-director in 2008 and just this past year she was named executive director. "This is the first time the festival has had a full time paid director," she says."
Over the last dozen years she has seen the Oxford Film Festival expand in its scope and size. "It's been really exciting to watch it grow into something that is talked about no the national level," she says. "For 2016 we've doubled the number of submissions and the number of sponsors. Everything has been growing rapidly for the festival. And it's exciting to be at the helm of that and to help steer it all."
This year they are adding lots of new things to the festival. They have increased the number of parties and the panels. "The panels are free this year," Melanie says. "So people can learn about film making or how to get your kids involved in casting. There are so man topics." Usually the festival has had 75-100 films but this year it looks like they will have 125 to 150 with many of them special screenings.
One particular event Melanie is looking forward to is the kickoff event on Wednesday night at the Powerhouse. "You can watch food documentaries and what what you are seeing on screen," she explains.
Melanie is a film maker herself with Velvet Ditch Productions. "I'm working on a feature documentary right now. I've done narratives. I'm still leaning the craft and haven't found my unique thing yet. I like horror movies too," she laughs. "I'm still figuring it out.
Melanie takes a lot of inspiration for her films from both her reading and real life. "I always have a stack of about eight books I'm reading at once." But it is not only books that give her ideas. "I feel that way about everything. I'll hear a conversation and think, 'That would be a great part of a movie!' Another habit I have is passing by a vacant building and think of how I can turn that into a theater," she laughs.
And through it all she has been glad to see her mom be such a part of the festival. "My mom likes celebrities," she laughs. "So it was an easy way to hook her in. She was proud of all the work I was putting into the festival, and she wanted to support it however she could. Mom and Dad are both retired so they have some time to help out."
Melanie has had to call her dad on some last minute duties too. "If someone doesn't show up to take someone to the airport I can call my dad at five in the morning, and he will take them to Memphis." And she remembers Lynda making the huge batch of brownies. "Mom adds an extra touch of hospitality to everything."
And she loves knowing that her film-making friends enjoy her mom too. "I travel to lots of festivals, and sometimes you're on your own. Sometimes there are nice volunteers, but you're meeting new people every time. It kind of makes people feel warm and fuzzy when they're embraced by my mother year after year and she makes them feel welcome."
And Lynda loves seeing her daughter doing what she loves. "I'm such a proud mom," Lynda says. She remember last year when the festival was going through some changes and the future was uncertain. But the steering committee was formed by Wayne Andrews of the Arts Council and soon Melanie was named executive director. "This is Melanie's calling," Lynda says. "And she's good at it too. Last year I was crying on the last night because I was afraid I wouldn't see everyone again. And when she got that job I was so proud. She's known in so many places because of the film festival. Now she gets to run with her ideas. She's going to make it grow."
If you are interested in the Film Fest next month you can buy tickets at the various venues, but the easiest way is to purchase them online at OxfordFilmFest.com. There is loads of information about both the festival and the monthly events you will be able to attend.
Film Makers of the Oxford Film Fest
As a supplement to the story on Lynda Addington and the Oxford Film Fest I reached out to a few of the regular participants about their experiences with the festival and their interaction with Mrs. Addington.
From Kim Voynar, Seattle based film producer. You can find her at kimvoynar.wordpress.com.
First maybe a bit of background. I've been involved with Oxford FF since 2006 ... 2007? Melanie's second year of the fest. At the time I was Film Festivals Editor for Cinematical/AOL and Melanie Addington and Michelle Emmanuel reached out to me to ask if I'd serve on a jury and do a panel. I ended up helping them connect with quite a few industry folks that first year to bone up the professionalism of their juries and panels .And then I came to Oxford and fell in love with the town and the people and with what their staff was trying to grow.
All of the staff who started this fest were passionate and dedicated and committed, and like all successful fests Oxford FF is blessed with equally passionate and dedicated volunteers. But I knew from the first day I met her that Melanie had a fire and an ambition burning under the surface and it was my intuition that first year that she would be integral to the fest growing beyond Oxford and that she'd be running it within a decade, unless she decided she wanted to do something else.
Over the past eight years I watched Oxford FF evolve from a very small-town fest that first year I was here - they were still just figuring out how to even work professionally with industry juries at that point, and the quality of the films was very typical of an early iteration of a regional film festival. The quality of the films has grown every year, and this is in part because Melanie has made a point of traveling extensively to other regional festivals, networking with other fest programmers and filmmakers and making the connections that you need in order to attract both the quality of films you need to continue to improve a festival and the level of industry expertise you can bring in for your juries at panels.
It's a bit of a chicken and egg thing, and I could write an entire piece on how I think Oxford is a great model for how to grow a regional film festival into something that the industry takes note of. It's hard to get filmmakers, even new ones, to submit and commit their film to an emerging fest. The first year I came Oxford FF had zero reputation outside of the town itself. I sent out emails to some of my closest industry friends, film critics and bloggers who had national and international reputations, and literally begged some of them to jury and panel with me that year. I'm a persuasive person I guess, because many of them did. But once I got them here, the festival staff and the town itself - led in part by Lynda Addington - did the rest.
What Oxford has done really well is play to its core strengths: friendliness and Southern hospitality. This fest takes better, more personal care of its guests that almost any fest I've gone to, and I've traveled the fest circuit extensively for decade as a critic, juror and panelist. The parties at Oxford are intimate and friendly and the FOOD! There is always food at this fest and since most of us don't live in the South, we come here and gorge ourselves for a few days. I really can't emphasize what a difference the level of hospitality at this fest makes. Indie filmmakers have to travel around to support their films on their own dime, after wiping out their bank accounts to get their film even made. When a fest takes great care of its guests, it's a way of showing the deep respect the fest has - both for the work these artists put into their films, and of making industry guests feel the time they are giving up to watch films and jury, to come to Oxford for four days and watch more films and talk on panels, is not just worth the time, but something desirable that they want to do again.
Once we persuaded folks to come that first year, they spread so much love about Oxford FF that it's become a competitive thing among critics and bloggers to come out to the fest to jury and panel. That positive buzz, in turn, spreads to the indie filmmaker circle because it's a small industry - there's a great deal of Venn diagram overlap there. And that makes it easier for the fest to up the ante with their programming slate because when you have better filmmakers submitting their films to your fest, you just have a better batch to choose from. And now we have a lot of filmmakers and actors who've been to Oxford and had a wonderful experience submitting films every year. They want to come back! All this has allowed Oxford FF to emerge over the past eight years into one of the key smaller regional festivals on the Southern circuit.
And while there are many wonderful volunteers and patrons of the fest I could also spotlight, Lynda Addington, Melanie's mom, has emerged over that same time period into Festival Mom. She's the one who nurtures the filmmakers and industry guest, talks to them, tsks over them, makes sure they have their coats on when it's blustery, gives them rides. When you're on the road a lot, one of the things you miss is those kinds of personal connections. Lynda makes Oxford feel like a second home to festival guests, welcoming them with a big hug. I understand popular film blogger Eric D. Snider and actor Jason Ritter have developed quite a friendly fest-brother rivalry for the title of "Lynda's Favorite Festival Son" and the homemade banana bread that comes with said title.
Lynda's also fiercely proud of her daughter, as she should be. I think it's cool that over the years they've been able to work together for the festival as mother and adult daughter. Having lost my own mom to cancer last year, I find I really appreciate those "mom" things in others that make me feel nurtured in the space where that loss lives.
Don Lewis: Film maker from Northern California. His website is HammerToNail.com
I think the Oxford Film Festival is a perfect example of a smaller, regional fest done perfectly. Each year there's more interesting people brought in to help get buzz for the festival and every year it seems to get bigger in terms of attendance. I love OFF because the community really shows up to see the films and panels plus, everyone who runs the festival really goes out of their way to make you feel at home. Plus, Oxford is fantastic!
Mrs. Addington and I became fast friends at my first fest, oh, maybe 5 years ago. She's just a sweet lady who is so proud of what Melanie has helped accomplish. And she should be! Melanie is a smart and exceptionally talented film programmer and a lovely person as well. Lynda has always been incredibly kind to me, even above and beyond the norm.
A great example is the year before last fest (so, 2014) she was discussing her baking skills...or maybe she had baked something for a fellow out-of-towner. I jokingly started playing hurt and said I wanted a baked good and, she said she'd make me a pie. It became kind of a running joke for the rest of the festival.
Cut to last festival and I had just arrived in my hotel room and sat down. There was a knock at the door and when I answered it, the gal from the front desk had a freshly baked chocolate pie from Lynda to me! It was AMAZING and it was still warm. I'm not a real big sweets guy, but that pie was among the best I've ever had! It was an incredibly sweet and kind gesture that I'll never forget.
The festival overall has a real hometown vibe to it as well. Oxford is a fantastic town and I truly love coming out every year and plan to do so as long as they'll have me. After last years awards ceremony I gave a little speech about how Oxford and the community of art, music and film fans there are very special to me. When I walked out later, Ronzo (Ron Shapiro) said to me "Hey, welcome home." When an Oxford legend like Ronzo says that to you, he's either saying it to everyone or you've earned it and either way, I felt special. Getting to attend Oxford Film Festival and meeting the people there is also incredibly special.
Eric D. Snider is a freelance writer, critic, and humorist and lives in Portland, Oregon. EricDSnider.com
I've only missed one Oxford FF since 2008, and what's always impressed me is how the festival gets better every year. It hasn't plateaued. Every year they learn from what happened last time, and they improve. The movies are getting better. The organization is getting better. And it was pretty good to begin with!
Lynda is great. Right from the start, she was very friendly to me and all the other out-of-town visitors that her daughter was in charge of shepherding. When I became a repeat visitor, she declared me one of her "children" and claimed I was one of her favorites, although I think she says that to everyone. She's always there with a hug, a smile, a compliment, a ride back to the hotel, or whatever. Her job title should be Oxford Film Festival Mom.
She has offered to let me stay at her home if I ever want to come into town early or stay a few days late. I haven't taken her up on it yet, but I might someday. She's one of my favorite Oxford people.
Michael Williams is a film maker from West Point, MS.
The Oxford Film Festival has always been an amazing film festival creating amazing opportunities for both filmmakers and film fans. Each year, it keeps improving and providing even better opportunities. I’m always recommending the festival in which they should submit and attend.
Lynda is always such a welcoming and supportive presence in Oxford. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing her for more than 5 years. She takes on the role as the Oxford mother to many of us in the Mississippi film community. The main time that we see her each year is at the Oxford Film Festival, and she always makes us feel welcome and support our filmmaking efforts.
Between helping with hospitality, giving some of us places to stay, making treats for us to enjoy, and just being so friendly, she has always added something special to OFF.
I can’t think of any specific stories, but she would always make sure we knew that there was something good at the hospitality tent. That was always a helpful hint!
Skizz Cyzyk is a Baltimore based writer, musician, and award winning film maker. Skizz.net
I am often asked to give advice to young filmmakers, and one piece of advice that I always give is to make sure that smaller, regional festivals are on their radar. I let them know that they are more likely to have a better time at a festival like Oxford Film Festival, than they are at larger festivals like Sundance. I have made a lot of good friends at film festivals over the years, and I can’t say I met many of them at larger festivals.
I was very glad when Melanie got the job, because Oxford Film Fest already had so much going for it, with a real knack for making the most of its resources, that it would have been a shame to see the festival take a few steps backwards if the fest were suddenly in the hands of someone with less experience, particularly less experience at OFF. A complete turnover in staff is rarely a good thing for a film festival. I’m looking forward to seeing how OFF progresses under Melanie’s new leadership, and have no doubt she will only expand upon all of the good qualities the festival already had.
Lynda is like the official Festival Mom of OFF. She is a friendly face that adds more Southern charm to an already charming festival.
Besides just being friendly and being someone guests can pal around with, she has baked pies for some of the visiting guests. That is a personal touch you don’t find at many film festivals. She is always available to give rides and help visitors navigate Oxford.
One of my favorite things in general is having meals with friends. I have had meals with Lynda during OFF; during Sidewalk in Birmingham, Alabama; and during Indie Memphis. Whenever she and I are at the same film festival, if I don’t get to have a meal with her, I feel like my trip isn’t complete. I’m now remembering one meal where, instead of discussing film and film festivals, Lynda and I discussed our mutual fandom for Neil Young.