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The Oak Cliff Film Festival Expands Its Student Program

The twelfth Oak Cliff Film Festival is partnering with the nonprofit For Oak Cliff to help local students write, film, and edit their own short films.
the texas theatre
The Texas Theatre, shown here during the pandemic, is the flagship venue for the Oak Cliff Film Festival. Barak Epstein

In 2022 the Oak Cliff Film Festival (OCFF) hosted its first student workshop in partnership with the nonprofit For Oak Cliff. The two-day event allowed local high schoolers to learn about filmmaking as both an art and career, and also provided them with hands-on experience using film equipment. Students were taught the fundamentals of filmmaking and helped film B-roll footage for a mini-documentary about the workshop. 

Building on the success of this year’s event, the festival’s organizers are hoping to make an even bigger impact with 2023’s expanded student workshop.

Billed as a “filmmaking intensive,” the 2023 workshop will take place over several months rather than one weekend. Participants will be divided into groups, each of which will be assigned a mentor from the film festival. They’ll meet February 25, April 8, and June 3. By the final meeting, each group will have completed a short film that they will screen for their peers. These shorts will also be incorporated into the 2023 Oak Cliff Film Festival, which will take place June 22 – 25, 2023.

OCFF wanted to draw out this year’s workshop over several months to allow the participants more creative freedom and to regularly engage them on the project. The first program was too condensed to make an actual film, so the festival focused on education. This year, each group will drive their short film in a direction of their choosing. During the first two meetings, the OCFF team will help the students understand everything that goes into preparing a short film. That includes writing and storyboarding to filming and editing the final product.

Ashton Campbell, the co-director of OCFF who spearheaded the 2022 student event, and Barak Epstein, the festival’s director and co-founder, are both looking forward to bringing this event back and expanding its scope for the festival’s twelfth year.

“The Oak Cliff Film Festival has always had an education initiative,” said Epstein. Previous iterations of this initiative had targeted different age ranges and involved partnering with local groups like 29 Pieces and the Oak Cliff Cultural Center. The 2022 event was its first time partnering with For Oak Cliff. 

Oak Cliff Film Festival

“One of the reasons we wanted to involve an organization like For Oak Cliff is that the Oak Cliff Film Festival is not just the North Oak Cliff Film Festival,” Epstein said. “People forget how big of an area of Dallas Oak Cliff is and how far south it goes. We wanted to leverage some other zip codes.”

“The expansion of this workshop is what I’m most excited about,” said Campbell. “Not having to cram everything into one weekend and letting it breathe a little bit.” 

In addition to giving the students the opportunity to create their own short films, Campbell also thinks allowing them to screen their shorts for the public will be significant. “When I was in high school doing films, I didn’t have a film festival I could screen them at. That wasn’t an option. We just watched them on my VHS player at my house,” Campbell said. “I think having an audience that’s built into a film festival that’s been around for over a decade…if I was a 16-, 17-, 18-year-old kid, I’d be pretty excited about that. I’m excited to see their reaction to getting their films screened in front of people.”

In addition to the OCFF team, the 2022 event also allowed professional filmmakers to get engaged and give back to the local community. Up-and-coming director Tramaine Townsend (SALLAD) and veteran director David Lowery (Pete’s Dragon, The Green Knight) both participated, and OCFF is planning to have working filmmakers involved again in 2023.

Ultimately, this event is intended to be a positive experience for local students, giving them access to resources they may not otherwise have. Xavier Henderson, chief development officer of For Oak Cliff, acknowledged some of the challenges facing the Oak Cliff community in a statement: “Our zip code leads the state of Texas in incarcerated inmates, a host of households don’t have broadband access so it’s a digital desert as well. There’s a lot of resources we’re lacking here.”

The student response to the 2022 workshop was positive, which was another reason OCFF decided to push things further in 2023. In another quote provided by OCFF, Dallas Alexander, one of the student attendees, said, “To have this opportunity to come over here and use this equipment and have this information for free, especially in an area like this, that’s a big opportunity.” 

The Oak Cliff Film Festival hopes to continue providing that opportunity and more to students with this expanded workshop. 

For additional information on the Oak Cliff Film Festival, including the student workshop, readers can visit


Austin Zook

Austin Zook