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By now, the third annual Little Rock Film Festival should be the talk of the town. It kicked off Wednesday with two screenings of Arkansas director/producer Ray McKinnon's film “That Evening Sun” starring Hal Holbrook. Today through Sunday, some 75 films — from international narrative features to Arkansas-made shorts — will screen at venues throughout Little Rock, most of them downtown (see the complete schedule, page 11).
The event has grown larger every year, adding more rings to the circus and staying hot on the tongues of cinephiles in Arkansas and the region. Co-founding documentarians Craig and Brent Renaud's commitment shows.
“We're constantly expanding,” Craig said. “It's fine if we expand, but we can't get sloppy. You can't knock the foundation from under you.” That foundation is a mix of quality cinematic fare, the scheduling of filmmakers and panels throughout the event, and parties and galas each night.
This time around, there's more of everything, and all winning entries in this year's festival will receive encore presentations on Sunday, stretching the festival to five days. Technologically, they've upped their game with two full-sized HD screens, providing more than satisfactory picture quality for fans and filmmakers alike.
The film festival's organizers had no problem filling the docket for the festival, having received more than 400 submissions this year alone. How to choose? “It's a combination of looking at submissions and seeking films that have been successful at other festivals,” Brent said. The LRFF presents a significant number of world premieres this year, but that's not what drives the line-up.
“We don't worry much about premiering [films],” Brent said. “Instead, we focus on Arkansas premieres.” The board of directors likes films that Arkansans aren't likely to see anywhere else, such as “Downloading Nancy,” a star-studded but controversial suspense film that isn't likely to garner wide release. Content, Craig said, is key.
Roughly 80 percent of the featured filmmakers will be on hand for the film festival, fulfilling a central aspiration of the co-founders. That's a pretty good batting average for such a young film festival; it helps that organizers pay their way, from airline tickets to hotel rooms.
“One of the things that was very important from the beginning was to make this a filmmaker's festival,” said Brent. At larger festivals like SXSW, filmmakers are in the balcony and the focus is on the movies. The LRFF shines the spotlight on the filmmakers.
Most of all, the Renauds say that they want to create an experience that has the whole town talking, a week that is dominated by the various goings-ons surrounding the festival. That shouldn't be hard. Every day, there's a full and diverse line-up of films, workshops and panel discussions. Nightly, there are after parties around town, including one at 9:30 p.m. tonight, at the Peabody Hotel, featuring a fashion show by Korto Momolu and a performance by Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase winner Velvet Kente. On Friday, at 8:30 p.m. at the Clinton Library, the annual LRFF gala, sponsored by the Times, features music, food, an awards presentation and a keynote address by Phil Donahue, who's coming to the festival with his Iraq War film “Body of War.” Saturday sees the return of the Arkansas Music Video Competition and concert at Revolution at 8 p.m. (see page 27 for more).
While the films, panels, workshops and some events are free, with lines forming beforehand on a first-come first-served basis, the festival pass assures entry into the most popular films, as well as each night's parties and events. “We want to keep this as open as possible, but buying a festival pass [$30] makes certain that you can see 4 to 5 movies a day,” said Craig.
“A film fest should be an experience,” said Brent. “You could be going from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. every day of the festival if you'd like.” The LRFF website, littlerockfilmfestival.org, has a “my festival” interactive feature that lets festival-goers schedule their films down to the minute as well as post reviews. That should make the festival the talk of the town on-line.
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