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Explore East Texas

About Kilgore

Kilgore is a small city located in East Texas with a population of around 15,000 people. Although it may not be as well-known as some of the larger cities in Texas, Kilgore has a rich history when it comes to film.

In the early 1930s, oil was discovered in the East Texas oil field, which led to a boom in the local economy. As a result, Kilgore became a hub for the oil industry and also attracted a number of filmmakers who were looking to capitalize on the region’s newfound prosperity. 

Kilgore experienced a surge in the number of movie theaters during the oil boom era in the early 20th century. Some of the popular theaters during that time included the Texan Theater, the Crim Theater, the East Texas Theater, and the Kilgore Theater, among others. 

One of the most notable films to be shot in Kilgore is “Boom Town,” a 1940 film starring Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, and Hedy Lamarr that was partially filmed in the city. The film tells the story of two oil wildcatters who strike it rich in Texas and is considered a classic of the era.

In more recent years, Kilgore has continued to play a role in the film industry through events like the REEL East Texas Film Festival. The festival has helped to bring attention to the city and the region as a destination for independent filmmakers, and has also provided opportunities for local residents to get involved in the film industry as actors, crew members, and volunteers.

Overall, while Kilgore may not have the same level of film industry activity as some of the larger cities in Texas, it has a unique history and continues to play a role in promoting and supporting independent filmmaking in the region.

To learn more, visit the Kilgore Historical Preservation Foundation which works to preserve and promote the history of Kilgore.

Cinema and the East Texas Oil Boom

The history of the Texas oil boom is intertwined with the development of the film industry and the growth of movie theaters, particularly in the East Texas region. The discovery of oil in East Texas in the early 20th century had a transformative effect on the local economy and the cultural landscape.

The Texas oil boom, which began with the Spindletop gusher in 1901, brought unprecedented wealth and prosperity to the state. East Texas, in particular, became a major oil-producing region, attracting people from all walks of life in search of opportunity. As the population grew and fortunes were made, the demand for entertainment, including movies, soared.

Movie theaters emerged as popular gathering places, offering an escape from the rigors of oil-related work and a source of entertainment for the local communities. These theaters became essential cultural hubs, showcasing the latest films and providing a platform for people to come together and experience the magic of cinema.

In East Texas, historic movie theaters became iconic landmarks, reflecting the region’s rich history and sense of community. The Texan Theater in Kilgore, for example, stands as a testament to the bygone era of grand movie palaces. Built in 1937, it served as a premier venue for film screenings and live performances, hosting notable entertainers and captivating audiences with its grandeur.

The intertwining of the Texas oil boom and the film industry in East Texas is a fascinating chapter in the region’s history. It highlights the impact of economic development on cultural expression and underscores the enduring significance of film and entertainment in shaping communities.

Today, as we celebrate the REEL East Texas Film Festival, we honor this historical legacy by showcasing independent films, preserving cultural heritage, and fostering community engagement. Through our festival and related initiatives, we pay homage to the vibrant history of East Texas, recognizing the indelible connection between the oil boom, the film industry, and the enduring allure of cinema. 

Things to Do

When visiting East Texas during the REEL East Texas Film Festival, there is an abundance of activities and attractions to enhance your experience beyond the film screenings. Immerse yourself in the rich cultural heritage and natural beauty of the region by indulging in the following:

The East Texas Oil Museum is located on the campus of Kilgore College and offers visitors a chance to learn about the history of the oil industry in the region. The museum features exhibits and artifacts that tell the story of the oil boom, as well as a replica oil derrick and other outdoor exhibits.

The Kilgore City Park is a popular destination for outdoor recreation, with facilities for fishing, picnicking, and hiking. The park also features a variety of sports facilities, including baseball and softball fields, tennis courts, and a disc golf course.

The Kilgore College Rangerettes are a famous dance and drill team based in Kilgore, Texas, and they are an important part of the Kilgore community. The Rangerettes were founded in 1940 and are widely considered to be the first precision drill team in the United States. The museum is located on the Kilgore College campus and admission is free. Visitors can learn about the history of the Rangerettes, see examples of their costumes and performances over the years.

East Texas boasts some of the best bass fishing opportunities in the country. With numerous lakes, rivers, and reservoirs, anglers can cast their lines and REEL in the thrill of catching largemouth bass and other prized fish species. Whether you’re a seasoned angler or a beginner, the serene waters of East Texas offer an unforgettable fishing experience. Some popular locations include Lake Cherokee (approx. 8 miles, 15 minutes), Lake Tyler (approx. 24 miles, 35 minutes), and Lake O’ the Pines (approx. 40 miles, 45 minutes).

Kilgore is located within driving distance of several larger cities, including Tyler and Longview. Both cities offer a variety of attractions, including museums, art walks, parks, shopping, and dining options, that can provide a change of pace from the festival events. 

Step back in time as you wander through the quaint streets of Gladewater, known as the “Antique Capital of East Texas.” Explore charming antique shops and discover hidden treasures, vintage furniture, collectibles, and unique artifacts. With its rich history and eclectic offerings, Gladewater is a paradise for antique enthusiasts and history buffs. Gladewater is located about 10 miles west of Kilgore, making it a short 15-minute drive.

Embark on a wine-tasting journey through the picturesque Piney Woods Wine Trail. This scenic trail winds through vineyards and wineries, where you can savor a variety of locally produced wines. The wine trail covers multiple wineries spread throughout the Piney Woods region. The distance from Kilgore to the wineries can vary, but the average drive time ranges from 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the specific location. Discover the flavors of East Texas as you sip on exquisite wines, enjoy vineyard tours, and engage in conversations with passionate winemakers. 

Experience the legendary Canton First Monday Trade Days, one of the largest and oldest flea markets in the United States. Held on the Thursday through Sunday prior to the first Monday of each month, this sprawling marketplace in Canton offers a vast array of vendors selling antiques, crafts, home décor, clothing, and much more. Canton is approximately 36 miles north of Kilgore, which would take around 45 minutes to reach. Join the throngs of visitors as you browse through the endless stalls and find hidden gems to take home.

Explore the charming town of Mineola, situated approximately 35 miles northeast of Kilgore, and the drive takes around 45 minutes. This small town with a big heart is known for its vibrant downtown area and its special connection to country music star Miranda Lambert. Visit the Pink Pistol, Lambert’s boutique and gift shop, filled with unique merchandise and memorabilia. While in Mineola, take a stroll down the Main Street Historic District and discover antique shops, art galleries, and delightful eateries.

The Texas State Railroad offers scenic train rides through the Piney Woods and operates from Palestine, which is around 78 miles southeast of Kilgore. The drive takes approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes. Jefferson, known for its historic charm, is home to the Historic Jefferson Railway. It’s located about 49 miles east of Kilgore, and the drive takes roughly 1 hour.

Our Three Pillars

Film Festival

Film Festival

We are growing our festival, hosted by filmmakers for filmmakers. We love great films and bringing together audiences, filmmakers and film industry representatives in celebration of artistic and independent spirit.

Film Industry

Film Industry

We are incentivizing filmmakers to produce projects in Kilgore and East Texas, making use of the Film Friendly City designation by the Texas Film Commission, and recruiting from a workforce that’s a quarter-million strong.


Venue Management

We are generating an energetic and vibrant downtown by procuring and investing in Kilgore properties, creating viable spaces for small businesses to rent/lease and for both residents and
visitors to enjoy.

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