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With more movies than ever before and a new $10,000 prize, the Little Rock Film Fest has a new clear direction.

'HOW TO FOLD A FLAG': War doc plays Thursday at Riverdale.
  • 'HOW TO FOLD A FLAG': War doc plays Thursday at Riverdale.

The Little Rock Film Festival has, in past years, framed itself as "a filmmaker's festival," "a community experience" and an "event" augmented by parties and special guests that keep the city atwitter. It's still all those things, according to festival director Jack Lofton, but in its fourth year, it's landed on a motto that seems to have staying power: "an international festival with the Southern experience."

The new focus is already on display. On Wednesday, the five-day festival kicked off with a screening of "Winter's Bone," the Ozarks-set Sundance Grand Jury winner that's competing for the LRFF's new Best Southern film award, a $10,000 prize sponsored by the Oxford American. Pair that award with what Lofton describes as the festival's "Southern hospitality" — that it pays for filmmakers' travel and accommodations and hosts nightly parties for them with free food and booze, largesse not usually extended by a festival of its size — and there you go, the Southern experience.

The "international" side of the formula remains unchanged from years past. The programming remains thrillingly diverse, with everything from a documentary about Chinese cab drivers to an Arkansas-made narrative short about a crazed hot sauce magnate among the line-up. Some 100 films will screen today through Sunday (that's up from 85 last year) at venues throughout Little Rock, mostly at Riverdale 10 and the Clinton School (see page 13). They'll be accompanied, more often than not, by their filmmakers. Near 60 will travel from far and wide to join 40 or so from Arkansas. There'll be panel discussions and workshops and most screenings will be followed by questions and answer sessions.

Plus, there's a gang of special events. Among the highlights: Thursday, the annual Movies in the Park series hosts a special free sundown screening of "O Brother, Where Art Thou" at Dickey-Stephens Park. On Friday at 10:30 p.m., there's a late night river cruise on the Arkansas Queen, where Bear Colony, Chase Pagan, Stella Fancy and DJ Cameron Holifield will perform. "Project Runway's" Anthony Williams hosts a fashion show at the Peabody on Saturday at 9:30 p.m.; DJ Cameron Holifield provides the soundtrack. Also on Saturday, the Arkansas Music Video Competition returns to Revolution at 9 p.m., with performances by Ace Spade and the Whores of Babylon, Brian Frazier, Michael Witham, Floor Plan, The Winston Family Orchestra and DJ/VJ g-force. The Arkansas Times-sponsored gala moves to Sunday this year. Awards will be presented there at 5:30 p.m. All of the parties require either a ticket or a party pass, which also affords access to all films. The party pass does not, however, provide entry to the gala, which costs $75.

The LRFF website, littlerockfilmfestival.org, offers a handy interactive feature that lets you plan your schedule. You'll need the help. This year's lineup is easily the festival's best.

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