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Fests in Little Rock, Batesville and Harrison offer riches.

'FOR A FEW MARBLES MORE': At the Ozark Film Festival.
  • 'FOR A FEW MARBLES MORE': At the Ozark Film Festival.

Film festival season is upon us, and Arkansans have a lot to look forward to. Eagerly anticipated by native cinephiles are the very successful Little Rock Film Festival, now in its third year, and the singular Ozark Foothills Film Festival, which is closing in on a decade. There's been a boom in Arkansas film, and the festivals likely can take the credit.

Last year, the Little Rock Film Festival traded an emphasis on programming for an emphasis on community involvement. This year, however, attendees can expect more of everything. The festival is expanding to five days, May 13-17, with opening night on Wednesday and Sunday committed wholly to re-screening the event's winning entries. In between, there will be plenty of films and things to do.

“Our unofficial motto is ‘Film lovers expected, party-goers welcome,' ” says co-founder and Artistic Director Brent Renaud. The organizers are attempting to dominate the social calendar of that week with barbecues, happy hours and after-parties where fans can mingle with like-minded people and filmmakers. “A film festival is about an experience,” Renaud continues. “It's about not only watching a great film you might not get to see elsewhere, but also interacting directly with the artist who produced the work.” A gala celebrity event will take place May 15 in the ballroom of the Clinton Library.

The film lineup has a distinctly Arkansas flavor. “Our dedicated Arkansas program is something we are really proud of,” says Renaud. “In each of our first three years we have received more films, of higher quality, from Arkansas filmmakers than the year prior. Local filmmakers are planning their production schedules around the festival deadlines. As a filmmaker myself I know how important these kinds of deadlines can be to help focus a project and bring it to completion.”

In addition to the Charles B. Pierce award, introduced last year and given annually to a native filmmaker, the festival will encourage local involvement by again holding its regional music video competition. Housed at Revolution, the event has proven an enticing opportunity for Arkansas musicians and filmmakers to collaborate and get seen.

The LRFF also continues to make good on its promise of educating and encouraging local aspiring filmmakers, having recently hired Jack Lofton as its executive director and Casey Sanders as its youth programs director. The festival will again bring Texas' Mobile Film School to town for pitch sessions, workshops and special screenings. Year-round youth programs are also in the works, and attaining a permanent space will be a priority after the festival.

Perhaps the biggest development of this year's festival will be the unveiling of the “Golden Rock.” Designed by local artist Kevin Bell, the award will go to films voted best narrative feature and best documentary feature. A full lineup of films will be posted online the week of April 10 at www.littlerockfilmfestival.org.

A different kind of festival has been taking place in Batesville for eight years running. Inventively and tirelessly programmed by Bob Pest, the Ozark Foothills FilmFest is usually characterized by its well-planned special programs and under-the-radar hidden treasures. This year, however, the docket includes an extraordinary number of Arkansas films, including one world premiere in Zac Heath's “The River Within” and another regional premiere in Alex Karpovsky's “Woodpecker,” as well as many short films you won't see anywhere else. Running from March 25-29, the program is just riddled with local product.

“We spend so much time talking about incentives for bringing other filmmakers into Arkansas when there's a lot of good filmmakers right here,” says Pest. As a genuine film-lover, Pest supports the continued efforts of Little Rock Film Commissioner Christopher Crane to secure tax incentives for filmmakers working in Arkansas, but he's also in a unique position to gauge the productivity of native filmmakers, and has witnessed a recent boom. Pest sees himself and the festival he directs as a nurturing influence on such developments.

But the programming here isn't entirely insular, and filmmakers will be traveling from as far away as Israel for the event. Pest says filmmakers are willing to trek to Batesville to the OFFF because the festival has “developed a reputation for treating people well. Short filmmakers get the same hospitality and resources as feature filmmakers.”

From the Arkansas production “The River Within” to the Israeli “Dolls and Houses,” from musical docs like “Johnny Cash's America” to coincidentally musical historical docs like “Fauberg Treme: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans,” the festival offers a feast of riches.

Up north in Harrison, the Spark International Film Festival is only in its second year, but the short film showcase seems off to a wonderful start. Organized by North Arkansas College instructor Dusty Domino and Ozarks Arts Council Director Rachael Prevatte, the festival began from a conscious decision to play host to films from all over the world.

Housed in the historic Lyric Theater, which is also home to the Ozark Arts Council, the festival has what Prevatte calls a “one-of-a-kind venue.” The theater, built as a state-of-the-art movie house in 1929, boasts six lovingly restored hand-painted murals that span two stories. Though still hammering out details about this year's event, Spark expects up to 60 entries and has recently extended its deadline to April 20. Last year, the festival screened films from as far off as Spain and Argentina. This year, Prevatte hopes to attract a similarly wide swath of filmmakers, as well as encourage Arkansas artists by holding a workshop for “those who have an interest but not a lot of experience.”

 

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