Spring is nearly upon us, cinephiles, and while the jonquils' bloom signals the Big, Dumb Summer Blockbuster Extravaganza is not far away, it also serves as the unofficial kickoff to what has become a few very active months in the Arkansas film festival scene. There's plenty of excitement to be had around the state for lovers of film.
First out of the blocks this year is the third annual Little Rock Horror Picture Show, the horrid thing that festival parent Little Rock Film Festival keeps in its basement, where it survives solely on bitter tears and an occasional bucket of fish heads. The LRHPS kicks off on Thursday, March 20, and runs through March 23. Not only does the festival have a new day-pass system for 2014, the LRHPS will also be the first festival under the Little Rock Film Festival umbrella to take advantage of the Central Arkansas Library System's spanking-new 315-seat Ron Robinson Theater in the River Market District (don't get any gore on the upholstery, kids).
Justin Nickels with the LRHPS said the new digs give Horror Picture Show attendees an experience they won't get anywhere else. "It's exciting," he said. "The digital projection there, with the big films we're bringing in, it'll be the clearest projection of these films you'll see anywhere in the state of Arkansas."
Nickels said that this year the festival went a little broader with its choices, accepting not only submissions of horror, but also sci-fi, fantasy and animated flicks. The festival will include 40 films this year. The result is a more eclectic mix, with the goal of morphing the LRHPS into a festival that appeals to more people.
Nickels said that one of the coolest things this year is a Saturday night showing of director Fritz Lang's silent sci-fi masterpiece "Metropolis," to be accompanied by a live, original score performed by 2013 Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase winners Sound of the Mountain. There will also be actors, directors and crew from several of the films in attendance, including the lead actress from the opening night film, "All Cheerleaders Must Die," and the Arkansas-made film "Steal Kill Destroy," which was shot near Texarkana.
Day passes ($20) will allow horror fans with limited time or funds to pick their poison by the day. The full festival pass ($50) allows the holder access to every event at the festival and grants priority seating privileges. You can buy passes at eventbrite.com. Also new this year is a partnership with the Arkansas Food Bank: Attendees receive $5 off a full festival pass or $3 off a day pass if they bring three or more canned goods.
A little further into the calendar is the Ozark Foothills Filmfest, April 2-6 in Batesville. Many of the films will be shown at the historic and recently restored Landers Theater. OFF Director Bob Pest said the festival will feature several new things for its lucky 13th year, including a free day for all showings — April 5 — thanks to a grant from the Arkansas Humanities Council. Pest said another grant, for $3,300 from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which sponsors the Academy Awards, allowed the festival to bring in four films, along with some of the filmmakers who created them, that focus on foreign cultures in the U.S.
"On Saturday," Pest said, "we're going to have the filmmakers for the films from the AMPAS grant. They're going to be on a panel in the morning and then we're going to show all four films on Saturday and have a reception on Saturday night." The four films on the panel will be: "Sweet Dreams," by Lisa and Rob Fruchtman, a 2012 documentary about Rwanda's first ice cream shop; "I Learn America," a documentary about the immigrant students of Brooklyn's International High School at Lafayette; "Detroit Unleaded," a romantic comedy about Arab-Americans struggling for the American Dream in Michigan, and "Fambul Tok," a documentary about discussions between former enemies who fought in Sierra Leone's bloody civil war.
A Sunday program of international animated films is also new this year. For more information, visit ozarkfoothillsfilmfest.org.
"This year's festival has a wider range of things," Pest said. "The animation and the international films are a big part of that, but then there are a lot of the kind of usual narrative films and documentaries that you're used to. This year, I think we're going to open up some doors to people about what's really out there in the film world."
The big daddy of spring cinema is the Little Rock Film Festival, which will run May 13-18. Festival spokesperson Mallory Nickels said that plans for what will screen are still firming up.
The big news for the Little Rock Film Festival this year is the festival's new home at the Ron Robinson Theater. Nickels said that the theater — from sound, to seating, to projection, to ambiance — is "amazing," and should add to the experience of everyone in attendance. "Just having a central location from which everything will occur is pretty exciting as well," she said. "In the past few years, the festival has been growing, and [venues have] changed every few years ... . So to have something we know is going to be consistent for years to come is pretty exciting."
Speaking of the Ron Robinson Theater: While it's not quite a film festival, the programming there sure has felt like something close. Recent screenings have shown the promise of the place, with free or reduced-cost showings of great films, including a three-night tribute to the late Philip Seymour Hoffmann, a screening of "Stripes" in tribute to the late Harold Ramis (with cast member Judge Reinhold participating in a post-screening Q&A), this weekend's "Bolli Holi Day" screenings of Bollywood flicks, and more.
Upcoming films include "Fruitvale Station" on March 30, "Mandela" April 4-6, "Inside Llewyn Davis" April 18-20, and "In a World," April 11 and 13, a comedy about a woman who does voice-overs for film trailers. Tickets for all are $5. All concessions, including bratwurst, popcorn, soft drinks and fruit smoothies, go for $1. The screenings of "In a World" will be part of a contest in which CALS picks the "voice" of the Ron Robinson Theater. The contest will start on April 1 and end on April 11. Keep an eye on the Ron Robinson Theater Facebook page for more details coming soon.
Angela Stoffer, manager of the Ron Robinson Theater, said that a committee meets every other Friday to decide what should play during the next few weeks. "We sit and talk about what's coming up, what's coming out, what we currently have scheduled," she said. "As many things that we do that we charge for, because we're associated with the Central Arkansas Library System we have to do as many free [screenings as possible]. The committee tries to get together and find that balance."
While programming films in response to events in the news isn't what you'd expect from a regular movie theater, Stoffer said, "We don't want to be a regular theater. We just want to be: 'You never know what they're going to do.' "
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