Some call it the miracle vine, while others refer to it as a silent killer. This plant, originally from Japan and introduced to the U.S. in the 1870s, covers seven million acres of the Deep South. Regardless of personal opinion, one thing is agreed upon: kudzu is taking over.
Oxford community seems to gravitate toward the latter opinion. Killer Kudzu is the winner of the 2014 Oxford Film Festival community film project. Several films were submitted for the competition and read by the festival directors. The submissions were voted on and Killer Kudzu was chosen as the overall winner.
The film, “tells the story of how a town must come together when a mutant vine tries to take over,” according to the Oxford Film Festival website. Not only does the community film address a local issue, but it also strengthens and brings people together.
The screenplay writer and Oxford native, Felicity Flesher, has always been fascinated by the kudzu plant, which can grow up to one foot per day. She saw the plant as a perfect horror movie villain and a threat to the local community, which must unite and work together to stop it from spreading.
This idea formed Flesher’s script for the film.
“As a born-and-bred Oxonian, I know what a beautiful, proud, and strong place Oxford is and I imagined that if a mutant vine took over town, its people would undoubtedly join together to defend their home,” Flesher said.
“As a sixth-generation Mississippian, it was wonderful to get to work on a film about something as southern as kudzu,” Meaghin Burke, director of the film said. “Felicity Flesher wrote a fabulous script that really highlights some of the charming things about our little city.”
This year marks the 11th anniversary of the festival and the fourth annual community film project. Although the screenwriters did not have to be from Oxford, it was required by all to take into consideration the physical environment and aspects of the local community.
“[For the first community film] Kodak and Panavision were big sponsors of ours,” Molly Fergusson, Executive Director of the festival said. “We wanted to do something to highlight their products. We also wanted to find a way to get more of the community involved with the festival and the film making in general.”
Apart from the cinematographer and some of the crew, everyone involved in the production of the film was local, including actors and craft services. “We felt that if more of the community could see what was involved in making a film, then they would be more enthusiastic about working on other productions that were starting to happen and start making films of their own,” Fergusson said.
Mississippi is becoming a popular location for filmmakers and their productions. The film making community in Oxford is also growing. The community film project presents an opportunity for locals to experience the film making process first hand and determine their strengths.
“It is important that we have locals who can do the work required,” Fergusson said. “I’m not suggesting that working on a community film will train you to get a job in a bigger production, but it is a way to see what making a film is all about and to figure out what aspects you may be interested in, so that you can learn more and pursue other opportunities.”
Participating in the film production not only provides a learning experience for the actors, but for everyone involved.
“As a filmmaker, I’m always looking for new challenges and opportunities to learn,” Burke said. “When the Oxford Film Festival directors asked me if I would be up for helming this project, I immediately knew it would be an amazing opportunity to spotlight Oxford and the tremendous talent we have here.”
Burke added that her favorite part of any film is the enthusiasm of the participants. Sometimes those involved have never been on a film set before, so she hopes that the experience will inspire them to seek other film opportunities.
The Oxford Film Festival begins Thursday, Feb. 6 and continues through Sunday the 9th. Killer Kudzu will have its world premiere on opening night at the Lyric, free of charge. It will play several times throughout the festival.
“By the end of the film, you’ll know the scientific name of kudzu,” Burke said. “And that mutant kudzu is very ill-tempered. You’ll have to come to one of the many screenings…to see how the townsfolk wind up defeating the vine!”
– Joanie Sanders, staff writer, HottyToddy.com, firstname.lastname@example.org