deadCenter Film Festival laughs it up with short films

Emmanuel “DDm” Williams stars in “F^¢K ‘€M R!GHT B@¢K,” featured in deadCenter Film Festival’s “comedyCenter Shorts” collection.

The 21st annual deadCenter Film Festival returned to in-person viewing at Harkins Bricktown 16 theater last weekend with a variety of new projects from independent filmmakers. While dramas, action movies, and documentaries filled the festival’s programming, a collection of pieces titled “comedyCenter Shorts” held a certain intrigue. At a time in the film industry when serious dramas overwhelm movie theaters like an invasive species, comedies feel more prized: an endangered species, so to speak. 

The event-organized collection delivered more than expected. The individual shorts were diverse in their comedy, speaking to Gen-Z at moments, to early 2000s “Saturday Night Live” fans at others. Every short had considerable laughs, but of course some resonated more than others. Here are my favorites.

The opening short by director Harris Doran, called “F^¢K ‘€M R!GHT B@¢K,” follows queer Black artist Sammy (Emmanuel “DDm” Williams) from Baltimore as he tries to make a break into the music industry. In the meantime, he works at a corporate office with an uptight boss dying to find anything wrong with anyone. While performing a rap show, Sammy accidentally eats an edible, getting high the night before he goes back to work. The next morning he gets a frantic call from his best friend at work. It’s just his luck: random drug testing at the office. The short is perfectly linear and funny, following Sammy through a detox cleanse extravaganza. The poppy, fun colors and graphics gives the viewer a taste of Baltimore. DDm delivers a superb intersection of Black and queer humor that speaks volumes to younger generations. 

Director Richard C. Jones’ “Oh Deer” is the shortest of the “comedyCenter Shorts” with a screentime of five minutes. A father, played by Jones, and his young son (Gideon Jones) take a drive during the night when they hit a deer. Dark and unpredictable, “Oh Deer” delivers an anticipated punchline that made the about 60 person crowd gasp with laughter. Jones said he enjoys dark comedy and working with his own son. 

“I wanted to capture some of the awkwardness of trying to connect with your kid. It’s not always easy and rewarding,” Jones said. 

“Act of God,” directed by Spencer Cook and Parker Smith, was as insightful as it was funny. The short follows Stuart, a disabled man who feels stuck in life, throughout his daily routine. Stuart, played by Cook, resents having to rely on abled people for his needs — getting up in the morning, going to the bathroom. As a disabled person myself, “Act of God” — in both the struggles and humor — resonated with me in a way other films do not. Many people in the disabled community have a stellar sense of humor, often relying on laughter to fill other weaknesses. However, this quality is not represented in a lot of entertainment, or it’s done poorly with various stereotypes. Stuart’s interactions with friends and acquaintances embody the experience of being disabled. A man looking to work as an aid for Stuart displays artificial niceties, but he cannot overcome his own uncomfort. Stuart sees right through this. But a disabled co-worker of Stuart’s highlights that the “disabled experience” is not monolithic. He offers contradicting insight to Stuart’s views on life, and the two do not get along. Stuart has a long road of acceptance in the end, but “Act of God” has shown it already accepts all of him. 

The final short, “Tim Travers & the Time Traveler’s Paradox,” was inspired by a “drunk night” — which is a nice way of saying the short is a satire of science fiction. Samuel Dunning, who plays Tim Travers, said director Stimson Snead got the ideas from some of his friends who happened to be Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduates. 

“They started throwing around really messy ideas about time travel, and just tried to figure out the most convoluted way to kind of troll people who really love time travel,” Dunning said. 

However, even avid Marvel fans will admire the short for its confusing theories and hilarious tests. Dunning is the only member of the cast, playing various clones of himself. He made each character feel like their own, and there was never a dull moment in this one-man show. 

The shorts will go on to be shown at other festivals across the nation. I am truly disappointed I cannot keep streaming them over and over. For more information on these shorts and deadCenter festival, visit

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