The second annual Circle Cinema Film Festival begins Thursday, July 11, as a five-day celebration of movies with Oklahoma connections that will mark the historic art-house theater’s 91st birthday.
There are three films with Tulsa ties that will have world-premiere presentations at the festival this weekend from filmmakers who created passion projects that they can now watch on a big screen with a hometown audience.
Tickets for all events are on sale at circlecinema.org and at the box office, 10 S. Lewis Ave.
ROBERT BRYCE: ‘Juice: How Electricity Explains the World’
Robert Bryce was born and raised in Tulsa, the son of Walter Bryce (who started a successful insurance company) and Ann Mahoney Bryce, a Tulsa TV pioneer who began hosting “Lookin’ at Cookin,’ ” one of the first shows to air on KOTV in 1949.
So while he has become an acclaimed author and journalist, the 1978 Bishop Kelley High School graduate also learned at an early age the power of visual media.
“I decided to make ‘Juice’ for two reasons. First, it was the next step in my career. I’ve written plenty, and I have a new book coming out next March (also on electricity), but we live in a video age,” Bryce said.
“I knew that I could write another book. But if I wanted my reporting to have a broader reach, and to make the story about electricity more human, more relatable, I needed to make a film.”
He found a filmmaking partner in Tyson Culver, who directed “Juice,” and the pair interviewed more than 50 people from five continents to tell the human story of electricity and those who have it and those who do not.
“We want people to see electricity for the wonder that it is,” Bryce said. “Darkness kills human potential. Electricity nourishes it. Electricity matters to all of the big issues of our day: women’s rights, inequality, climate change, poverty and land use.”
Now, Bryce returns to Tulsa, where “one of my first stops is always Brownie’s for a cheeseburger and a slice of coconut cream pie” and where he’s excited to visit Gathering Place a second time, “which may be the single-most wonderful public space I have ever visited.”
The “Juice” writer-and-producer will also visit Circle Cinema for a Q-and-A following his documentary filmmaking debut, screening at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, July 13, at the theater.
“I know where I’m from. I know who my people are. To be able to share my first movie with them in a world premiere in Tulsa at the Circle, wow. It’s almost too delicious,” Bryce said.
STERLIN HARJO: ‘Terlton’
Tulsa filmmaker Sterlin Harjo has explored the Native American experience through feature films that have premiered at Sundance Film Festival (including “Four Sheets to the Wind”) and through TV programming.
But for “Terlton,” he came to explore a new community in documentary form: the small Pawnee County town of Terlton and the 1985 fireworks plant explosion that killed 21 people.
It all started with his friend Bobby Dean Orcutt telling him a story that “he knew I’d get as obsessed with as much as he was,” Harjo said.
“His dad was from (Terlton), and it’s very much home for him. He took me to meet his Aunt Sally, and she’s one of those people that never met a stranger. ... After meeting her, I was sold. I just wanted to tell a story about this town.
“Really what drew me to it isn’t the tragedy. It’s the fact that the community did their mourning, then turned it into a celebration of life. A celebration to never forget the people they lost that day in 1985. It’s beautiful.”
Harjo will debut “Terlton” and will be on hand to talk about his short film at a program set for 1 p.m. Saturday, July 13, at the Circle with three other short films screening in a program.
“It’s very much about the power and resiliency of community. I like telling stories that I think won’t get told unless I tell them,” said Harjo, for whom the story became meaningful and personal.
“We only live once and it’s like, ‘What do you want to say with the time you have?’ Honestly, all I care about is that the people in Terlton are proud of the film and proud of the fact that they can show the world what a beautiful place Terlton, Oklahoma, is.”
JOSH DOWNING: ‘All We Have is Now’
Filmmaker Josh Downing was born and raised in Tulsa, attending Edison High School. As a general rule, as a writer-director, you should write what you know, and this young man knows Tulsa.
He shot his first movie in the city during 11 days at recognizable spots like Center of the Universe, Chandler Park and Club Majestic. He filled it with music by Tulsa artists including Dylan Golden Aycock.
He left the city to earn a degree in film production at Oklahoma City University in 2016, but “my first film class was at Tulsa Technology Center, and without it, I wouldn’t be doing film today,” he said.
Further writing what he knows, his film, “All We Have is Now,” is a drama about young people living in Tulsa and their relationships, their insecurities and the shaping of identity.
“What we want is for people to watch the screen and say, ‘I’ve been in that situation before, I understand that struggle and I’ve had those feelings before,’ ” said Downing, who co-directed with his friend Luke Wittman.
The pair will talk about their first film after it debuts at the film festival at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, July 13, in a Q-and-A with the audience.
“To be able to show the completed film on the big screen, in the way it was envisioned and intended is a rare gift for any filmmaker,” Downing said.
“To be able to attend and premiere at Circle Cinema Film Festival in not only our home state but my hometown is amazing.”