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For the second year, the Little Rock Film Festival will kick off the summer with a full weekend of film-related events. Whereas last year's festival-goers were treated to a more passive weekend, sitting back and watching treasures like “Offside” and “Little Birds,” this year promises to be much more interactive, with plenty of workshops, panels and collaborative events.
In co-director Brent Renaud's words, “Most of the first year, what we concentrated on was developing a program that would be respected critically and put ourselves on the map with distributors very quickly,” but this year they “concentrated a lot more on trying to become a community event.”
Sticking close to the LRFF's firm commitment to supporting films made in Arkansas, the festival opens Thursday, May 15, with “War Eagle, Arkansas.” Shot on super-35mm, a rare luxury for an independently financed film, the film looks gorgeous, especially given its setting in the Ozark Mountains. Cast and crew will be at the screening and at an opening night reception.
This year's semi-formal gala event, taking place at the Grand Hall of the Clinton Library and serving as the primary fund-raising vehicle for the festival, looks to be another highlight. Gov. Mike Beebe will attend and introduce the night's keynote speaker, Harry Thomason. A close associate of Bill and Hillary Clinton, Thomason is an award-winning producer and director of television series such as “Designing Women” and “Evening Shade.” Most recently, he won acclaim for his screenplay for the heralded documentary, “The Hunting of the President.” His keynote address will cover aspects of Arkansas film history and filmmaking in the '70s.
Thomason's address will undoubtedly cover the work of Arkansas native and cult director Charles B. Pierce, whose earliest, all Arkansas-made films, “The Legend of Boggy Creek,” “The Town That Dreaded Sundown” and “Bootleggers,” will screen as a retrospective at the festival.
Pierce began his career as a maverick independent by borrowing $150,000 from a local trucking company in Texarkana to make “The Legend of Boggy Creek,” one of the highest grossing films of the '70s. Thomason, who worked with Pierce early in their careers, helped organize the screenings and gather the memorabilia that will be on display at the theater. On Saturday, he and Pierce will sit down for a talk about Pierce's career in film.
Like last year, the festival again will feature a series of panels aimed at getting Arkansans more involved with filmmaking. Renaud is thrilled about the screenwriting panel, which includes Graham Gordy (“War Eagle, Arkansas,” “The Love Guru”), Ray McKinnon (“The Accountant,” “Chrystal”), Jeff Nichols (“Shotgun Stories”), and Steve Marshall (“Revenge of the Nerds 2”).
“Almost all of them are from Arkansas or living in Arkansas,” says Renaud. “It'll be an exciting opportunity to hear them and let them talk among themselves about the process.”
Renaud has been struck by the amount of people in Arkansas writing screenplays and hopes to draw from that “wealth of experience.” The panel is a step in the direction of even more collaborative events next year, when the organizers will unveil a statewide screenwriting competition.
Again this year, the festival will host a panel dedicated to discussing tax and economic incentives for filmmaking in Arkansas. This year's panel will be much more in depth, with newly appointed state film commissioner Chris Crane on hand, as well as a new addition to the state's filmmaking community. Judge Reinhold, who married a woman from Little Rock, is in town and determined to make his next film in Arkansas. He's reportedly halfway to raising the money he needs, and he'll sit on the panel to talk about the benefits and drawbacks of making a film in Arkansas.
Two of the films that Renaud is most excited about are “Lioness,” about an all-female unit in Iraq, and “Mr. Conservative: Goldwater on Goldwater,” about one of the firebrands who sparked the resurgence of the American conservative movement in the 1960s. One of the soldiers from the unit in “Lioness,” Shannon Morgan from Mena. [see “Anew soldier story” on page 15], will be present at the screening. CC Goldwater, the politician's granddaughter, will also be in attendance at the screening of “Mr. Conservative.”
Both films achieve an early goal set by Renaud and his fellow organizers when putting together the festival: to “give attendees a chance to talk to people and interact with people that they wouldn't otherwise meet.” This year, with directors accompanying the majority of featured films, there'll be plenty of opportunities.