A venture to this state park is on the must-do list for many, the park being the only spot in North America where you can dig for diamonds and other gemstones and keep your finds.
While America might not have the cheapest health care system, most people assume that when it comes to something as basic as the blood supply, we’ve got the most rigorously checked system anywhere in the world. But that hasn’t always been the case, leading to more than a few health nightmares. One of those is spelled out in detail in the documentary “Factor 8: The Arkansas Prison Blood Scandal,” which will have a special Little Rock screening at Market Street Cinema on Saturday as part of the Ozark Foothills Filmfest. A tale of blind greed over basic health, “Factor 8” is a terrifying lesson on the lengths the powerful will go to in order to make a buck.
In a nutshell, the documentary is the story of a blood farm set up at Arkansas’s Cummins Penitentiary in the 1980s. More interested in profit than oversight, mostly run by inmates, the program took blood from any prisoner willing to bear the stick of a needle — including inmates who, it turned out, were infected with HIV and hepatits.
While the influx of cash from inmate blood sales changed things drastically within the prison walls, the results were even more pronounced outside. With inmate blood selling to Canadian and European brokers for up to $100 a unit, the profits to be made were tremendous, and the documentary suggests that nearly every politician in the land had his snout in the trough, including then-Gov. Bill Clinton.
Finally, in the early 1990s, the money train derailed as more and more Canadian and European hemophiliacs came forward, saying they had been infected by prison blood. In Canada alone, around 2,000 people who had been given Cummins blood were diagnosed with AIDS, and around 60,000 contracted hepatitis C.
“Factor 8” director Kelly Duda does a fantastic job following the money here, though he hits a brick wall when he comes to the state to try and get to the bottom of things — including his attempts at looking at the gubernatorial papers of then-President Clinton. Though he doesn’t get much further with gaining interviews with the masterminds behind the project, he does score several eye-opening chats with those on the immediate sidelines, including 2nd District U.S. Rep. Vic Snyder (who admits he thought the blood was going to research labs, not human recipients) and Arkansas Times contributing editor Mara Leveritt, who broke some of the first stories about the dangers of prison blood farming at Cummins. As he tries to further connect things to Bill “Teflon” Clinton, however, Duda’s carefully wrought film quickly becomes mired in the same conspiratorial mud that has foundered better efforts than his. Before long, he’s quoting the Whitewater deposition of Linda Tripp, and connecting the blood scandal to the suicide of Vince Foster. You can almost hear the crinkle of tinfoil hats being fashioned all over America.
That turn into the Twilight Zone of Arkansas politics notwithstanding, “Factor 8” turns out to be an important documentary. A true horror story about greed, it’s enough to make you say an extra little prayer for anyone scheduled for an operating table.
Following the film, a panel discussion will be moderated by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette film critic and columnist Philip Martin that will include filmmaker Duda, journalist Leveritt and former inmate and blood donor John Schock. Admission to the film is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors 55 and over and all students, and $3 for Foothills Filmfest Society members.
Ozark Foothills Filmfest
Little Rock screenings and events
Thursday, March 29
“An Evening With Tish Hinojosa.” Cross-cultural, Latin-folk music. 7:30 p.m., Stella Boyle Smith Concert Hall, UALR, $10 admission, $7 seniors 55 and over, $6 all students and KUAR and Foothills Film Society members. (Concert preceded by lecture by Hinojosa beginning at 6:15 p.m.)
Friday, March 30
“Fairy Godmothers of the Ozarks.” Noon, Cox Creative Center, River Market district. Free. Director Lenore Shoults will attend.
“Accordion Dreams.” The birth of Conjunto music. 3 p.m., Market Street Cinema. Free. (Narrated by Tish Hinojosa.)
“You Did What?” Award-winning comedy by first-time writer and director Jeff Morris. 4:30 p.m., Market Street Cinema. $5 adults, $4 seniors and students, $3 society members.
“Dirt” and “Go Fast, Turn Left: Voices From Orange County Speedway.” 6:30 p.m., Market Street Cinema. $5/$4/$3.
“Swedish Auto.” Dramatic study of voyeurism, unexpected love and the possibilities of escape in a restored Volvo coupe. 9 p.m., Market Street Cinema. $5/$4/$3. (Composer Josh Robertson in attendance.)
Saturday, March 31
(All at Market Street Cinema)
Indie Showcase, Experimental: “Big Red Ball,” “Le Mis Popote,” “Ancient Rhythm,” “Battle Brigades,” “Thunder on the Farm.” 11 a.m. $5/$4/$3.
“Cabin Field.” An exploration of a mile-long stretch of farm land in Georgia. 1:30 p.m. Free. (Director Laura Kissel in attendance for post-screening discussion.)
“Just the Two of Us.” Autobiographical drama about a single father raising his baby daughter. 3 p.m. $5/$4/$3. (Filmmaker Keenon Nikita in attendance.)
“The Garage.” A young auto mechanic comes of age. 5:30 p.m. $5/$4/$3.
“Factor 8: The Arkansas Prison Blood Scandal.” 7:30 p.m. $5/$4/$3. (Panel discussion follows film.)
“Not a Photograph: The Mission of Burma Story” and “The Temple.” Film about band followed by music video. 10:15 p.m. $5/$4/$3. (Filmmaker Wesley Martin in attendance.)
Sunday, April 1
(All at Market Street Cinema)
Indie Showcase, Narrative: “Billy,” “Beer Hunter,” “Twitch,” “The Offering,” “Shiner,” “Give Me Ducky.” 1 p.m. $5/$4/$3. (Filmmakers Wesley Martin and Hans Stiritz in attendance.)
“The Old Gray Lady: Arkansas’s First Newspaper.” The story of the Arkansas Gazette. 3 p.m. $5/$4/$3. (Director Kevin Clark in attendance.)
Arkansas Premiere of Phil Chambliss, a Retrospective: “Shadow of the Hatchet Man,” “The Devil’s Helper,” “The Mr. Visit Show,” “The Pastor and the Hobo,” “To Hell With Lead Poison.” A look at the Locust Bayou, Ark., born filmmaker. 5 p.m. $5/$4/$3. (Chambliss and cast members in attendance.)