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All good things must come to an end, so there will be a gaping hole in the Arkansas film festival scene this spring. Last October, Brent and Craig Renaud, founders of the Little Rock Film Festival, announced on the festival website that the LRFF — which had brought hundreds of filmmakers and actors to town since 2005, showcasing both Arkansas-made films and flicks that would go on to win major awards — would be closing up shop after nine years.
"There's nothing that happened," festival co-founder Brent Renaud told the Arkansas Times in October. "We have no debt, we don't have any major issues. What we do have is a core staff of people getting older, getting married, careers taking off, and increasingly we saw more people each year with less time to volunteer. Because it wasn't a paid staff and we put all the money earned back into the festival experience — which included flying filmmakers in from all over the world. The staff was on board with that from the beginning. That was increasingly difficult. The politics with studios and agents, the fundraising — as much as we brought on more staff, even paid staff, all that stuff still ended up being on Craig and I. And we just thought that wasn't sustainable long-term."
Onward and upward, however. There's still plenty of film in the Natural State this spring, starting with the Ozark Foothills Film Fest in Batesville. The 15th installment of the festival will be held over two consecutive weekends, April 1-2 and April 8-9. The oldest narrative film festival in the state, the Ozark Foothills Film Fest is run by executive director Judy Pest, who took over some years back from her husband and co-founder, Bob Pest. Last year, the festival screened 28 films in all genres at venues around Batesville, with specific emphasis on Arkansas-made films. The festival is accepting submissions at its website, ozarkfoothillsfilmfest.org, and Pest said a schedule is forthcoming. Tickets for screenings are $5 for general admission, $4 for students or seniors, or $25 for a pass that allows admission to all screenings.
Next up, chronologically, is the Bentonville Film Festival, May 3-8. Co-founded by Oscar winner Geena Davis and backed by big-wheel sponsors Walmart, Coca-Cola and AMC Theaters, the BFF's goal this year is to champion female and minority voices in the media. The first year of the festival lent hope it can fill the gap left by the demise of the Little Rock Film Festival, with BFF organizers screening over 75 films, offering panel discussions and bringing a raft of Hollywood A-listers to town for screenings, including Bruce Dern, Rosie O'Donnell and Robert De Niro.
Festival marketing director Gina Allgaier said this year's event will be full of surprises. Festivalgoers will be able to download an app that allows them to buy tickets, browse the schedule of events and screenings, and see a map of the festival grounds. Allgaier said the footprint of this year's festival will be condensed, with action centered on the Bentonville town square. She said instead of fixed screening locations, the festival is bringing in three "cine-transformers" — 18-wheelers that transform into movie theaters, each with a 91-seat capacity. Allgaier said the festival is also planning a country music concert, screenings of family films, a grilling event sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society, and a softball game that will reunite cast members from the 1992 film "A League of Their Own," starring Davis. The BFF is accepting both feature and short film submissions at its website, bentonvillefilmfestival.com. Tickets for screenings and events last year were $8 each for films, and $15 each for panel discussions. Allgaier said passes for this year will be on sale in early March, with single passes available April 1.
Last but not least, especially in the hearts of those who loved the Little Rock Film Festival, is the Little Rock Picture Show, the sci-fi, horror and fantasy film festival that once existed under the LRFF umbrella. The Little Rock Picture Show got a reprieve when it was made part of the River City Comic Expo. This year's expo will run June 11-12 at the Statehouse Convention Center, with the LRPS opening the night before, on June 10. Little Rock Picture Show director Justin Nickels revealed that there will be a special screening of the 1994 cult classic "The Crow," with James O'Barr — creator of the graphic novel on which the film was based — on hand to introduce the film.
Nickels said the festival, now in its fifth year, will feature more fantasy and sci-fi than before. It will continue a favorite from last year: a screening of a classic silent film with live accompaniment. Nickels said tickets to the River City Comic Book Expo are $15, with admission including entry into both the Expo and any films being screened by the Little Rock Picture Show. For more information, visit rivercitycomicexpo.com.