In 2007, Nichols was invited to Ebertfest in Champaign, Ill. to screen his debut film Shotgun Stories, starring Michael Shannon. Of all the film festivals he's attended across the globe in promotion of his work, the modest and unorthodox brainchild of the late Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic resonated the most.
"I was really taken with it," Nichols said. "What was so cool about Ebert's festival was it wasn't competitive. There was no cross-programming. Basically there's one big, beautiful theater that he helped renovate, and pretty much everybody would just go see the same movie during the day. So they'd have one in the morning, one in the afternoon, one in the evening, and maybe a midnight screening—all separated by meals. Roger was actually sick the year I was there for Shotgun Stories, but if he was there, he would sit on stage with the filmmaker and discuss the film. But what you got was this sense of Roger Ebert reaching out to you saying, 'Pay attention to this. Look at this film,' and in some cases, 'Look at this film again.' He'd tell you what to focus on and what makes it different from other films or what makes it worthy of a second look."
With Little Rock's population more than doubling that of Champaign, the yet-unnamed ACS festival may one day take the form of a more souped-up Ebertfest—albeit with one central difference emblematic of the Arkansas Cinema Society's greater mission.
"We'd like to have an Arkansas Program that might be curated or might be submission," [Society director Kathryn] Tucker said. "It's very important to us to support the films being made in Arkansas."