Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
“War Eagle, Arkansas” (2007)
“War Eagle,” the festival's opening film and the latest big indie feature to come out of Arkansas, has a plot that's the stuff of Hallmark specials: Best friends since childhood, Enoch and “Wheels” are teen-agers living in the Ozark burg of War Eagle, struggling not only with same sorts of things teen-agers living in rural anywhere battle — the confines of a small town, overbearing family, girls, the future — but also debilitating conditions. Enoch, a high school baseball star with a chance for a scholarship, is a chronic stutterer, and cerebral palsy keeps the always-wisecracking “Wheels” in the wheelchair for which he's nicknamed. They're inseparable, it seems, because they're only fully functional when they're together. But despite a few bumps, the film never gets mired in sentimentality. Give large credit to the young lead actors, Luke Grimes and James McDaniel, who infuse their roles with plenty of pathos and awkward charm. Screenwriter Graham Gordy, a Conway native, helps, too, with casually hilarious teen-age dialogue. LM.
“Lord God Bird” (2008)
“Lord God Bird” never locates the wacky ornithology nuts one might expect from a film about a fruitless quest for a rare bird. Instead, we meet a series of recognizable human beings who have devoted much of their lives to tracking down the famously elusive Ivory-Billed Woodpecker. Arkansans who've seen the bird on countless license plates over the last few years can be forgiven for not apprehending the draw of such a quest. However, “Lord God Bird” has a mystifying effect on the viewer. The level-headed testimonies of the scientists and simple enthusiasts who populate it belie the frustrating nature of their pursuit. When each of them tromps into the woods to sit still and watch for hours at a time, you can't help but be on the edge of your seat. Every stray movement could be a discovery that, during the course of the film, has taken on a proportion you would never have guessed. DJ.
“Blood Car” (2007)
Ah, sex and violence. Pity the film fest that ignores the cornerstones of any good exploitation flick. Thankfully, Alex Orr's $25,000 blood-soaked B-movie fills the void in the LRFF this year. Here's the set-up: It's the near future. Gas is at $38 a gallon, so no one drives. Vegan kindergarten teacher Archie Andrews spends his free time experimenting with wheatgrass as an alternate fuel. Nothing doing. But then he accidentally cuts himself and discovers the solution: BLOOD. Things gradually devolve from there. A car-loving “slutty, sex-crazed, sex slut” comes onto the scene, and it's not long before Archie is murdering innocents by the trunk load. Campy, hilarious (and starring “My Girl's” Anna Chlumsky), “Blood Car” has cult class written all over it. LM.
“Silhouette City” (2008)
One of last year's most startling films was “Jonestown,” the tragic story of the notorious cult. This year, audiences might be likewise riveted by another depiction of homegrown religious fundamentalists run amok. “Silhouette City” examines the rise of religious militarism in the United States. Trotting out a series of clips from evangelical ministries may seem tiresome to anyone who has ever set foot into a mega-church, but slowly, the various footage accrues a dreadful weight. Just as the church services on display employ music and lights to grease the wheels on their emotional message, the film soundtracks its images with a haunting industrial score that induces both claustrophobia and near-panic. The festival organizers have put together an enticing panel to supplement the film, “Apocalyptic Christian Nationalism: From the Margins to the Mainstream.” A calm discussion of the hysteria on display will go a long way toward quelling alarmism and digesting the message of this powerful film. DJ.
Remember that tragic-but-kind-of-funny story about the lady who hit a guy with her car, got him lodged in the windshield, and then drove home and kept him in her garage? You probably thought that would make a good movie, and horror film writer/director Stuart Gordon thought so, too. The result is “Stuck,” starring Stephen Rea as the crashee and Mena Suvari as the crasher. “Stuck” is played as a straight-on survival story, with Suvari desperate to keep her secret and Rea even more desperate to make it to safety. It moves slowly from banal to tense to brutal, and while the story could use some thickening, overall it plays as a nice, taut little thriller with a satisfying big-bang ending. MR.
There's an early bit in the new documentary “Crawford” in which an old, nearly toothless codger gets subtitled. “Carpetbagging exploiters!” I yelled at the screen. But hang on. In a film ripe for caricaturizing and politicizing, filmmaker David Modigliani rarely falls victim to the easy route. Instead, he gives equal time to a broad sampling of the west-central Texas town, just a spot in the road before George W. Bush set up shop there in 1999, just as his presidential bid started to pick up steam. There are the supporters, like the wild-haired preacher who chides his flock not to spend Sunday morning with “pastor pillow” lest the president decide to make a surprise visit, and there are the agginers, like the wild-haired teen-ager who gets accused of being a “terrist” for his look and casual rebellion. Better yet, Modigliani sticks around for awhile, capturing the gradual disaffection of a small town tired of being in the spotlight. LM.
“Mr. Conservative: Goldwater” (2007)
The most important thing you need to know about “Mr. Conservative,” a retrospective documentary on Barry Goldwater, is that it was produced by CC Goldwater, the firebrand senator's granddaughter. That means the film is partially a vanity project, and one of the filmmaker's goals is to make her divisive grandfather more sympathetic than history has generally portrayed him. We learn, for example, that Goldwater was a fine photographer and had an abiding interest in Native American culture. But what most people will care about is Goldwater's public career. Those who know him only as the man whose 1964 presidential run helped kick off the conservative movement might be surprised to hear him railing against contemporary Republican causes like abortion bans and faith-based government. Political junkies should be pleased by interviews about Goldwater with a number of well-known public figures, including Walter Cronkite, Hillary Clinton and Sandra Day O'Connor. A panel discussion, featuring Goldwater and director Julie Anderson, will follow a 5:30 p.m. screening of the film Friday at the Clinton School. JW.