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Little Rock Film Fest 2011 recap 

Another great festival.

This is starting to become a familiar story: As it has in previous years, the Little Rock Film Festival outdid itself again in 2011. Attendance was up slightly from last year, according to executive director Jack Lofton. More filmmakers than ever before attended. In fact, all but a small handful of the more than 100 films that screened were accompanied by a director, producer or star (or some combination thereof). The quality of Arkansas films, particularly short narratives, seems to have risen dramatically. And for those who like to talk film until the wee hours, once again there was an exhausting slate of parties and after-parties all across town.

Our complaints might sound familiar, too. Crowds often overwhelmed the relatively small Riverdale 10 Theater, where the majority of the screenings were held. Which meant that finding the line for a certain movie could be frustratingly difficult. Ditto for figuring out the complicated three-tiered pass structure, which afforded a gradation of "unlimited access" to — as best we could figure — films, films and parties and films, parties and VIP areas in parties.

Still, if you bought the lowest tier pass for $40 and managed to navigate the lines, you had access to the entire program. Even at a price $10 higher than last year, that's an outrageously good window into modern international film.

Prize winners and more

"The Last Mountain," a documentary about the catastrophic effects of coal mining that we sadly didn't catch, was presented the $10,000 Oxford American Southern Film Award at the Arkansas Times Festival Gala on Sunday night. (See a complete list of winners below.) Our preview coverage of the festival gave a heads up on the other films that won major awards.

"Natural Selection," which took home nearly all the major prizes at SXSW, won the Golden Rock Award for Narrative Feature. Tonally, it fits somewhere in between "Harold and Maude" and "Napoleon Dynamite" — it's a highly stylized, oddball character study. But unlike those films and much to its credit, it doesn't keep the quirk from letting in real human emotion.

Large credit's surely due to Robbie Pickering, the young debut director who spoke, charmingly and confessionally after the screening about making the movie. (It took him six years to get it made. His mom and, more metaphorically, birth theory inspired the film.) But it's the acting that really sells the film. Rachael Harris, whose name you probably don't know even though you've seen her in dozens of roles, is absolutely fantastic as Linda White, the dutiful, Christian wife of a man who thinks it's a sin to spill his seed into her barren womb. And Matt O'Leary kills as Raymond, the loveable junky who Linda believes was born from her husband's artificially inseminated sperm.

Yeah, it's pretty wacky, and the first half of the movie plays like a drunk live-action version of "Looney Tunes," with Pickering hilariously beating the hell out of Raymond, who thinks he's escaping, but is really always pursuing, Linda's chirpy, oblivious Road Runner.

Don't Google Golden Rock Winner for Documentary "Marathon Boy." Don't Google "Budhia Singh" and for godssakes don't even type "Biranchi Das" into your search bar lest you ruin one of the strangest, most provocative and debatable documentaries in recent memory.

Director Gemma Atwal spent five years following the complex relationship between Budhia, the Slumdog Steve Prefontaine who became the most famous toddler in India by running six half-marathons by the age of four, and his foster father Biranchi, the trainer-turned-national controversy.

What begins as a heartwarmer of a story about a precocious boy plucked out of the slums to become a national icon takes a slow turn into troublesome territory as Budhia is pushed into performing increasingly radical runs in front of thousands of admirers lining the streets and hordes of media cameras, all lassoed in by Biranchi, a born PR wizard embraced by the people as an inspiration and labeled by the government's child welfare agencies as a possible child exploiter.

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