by John Tarpley
Arkansas is on the ascent as an unexpected, Southern mecca for movie appreciation. The Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival is still going strong in its 18th year, even expanding: Festival Director Dan Anderson is curating the Arkansas Underground Film Festival (ARKUFF!), a three-day celebration of the cinematic fringes with entries traversing the space from Locust Bayou's Phil Chambliss to the early works of David Lynch. Up the road, the Little Rock Film Festival is rapidly becoming a heavy hitter on the film festival circuit, drawing not only national praise but 25,000 guests into the seats in this, its fourth year. To put things in perspective, that's 10 times as many people as were in attendance for its inaugural year. The Ozark Foothills Film Festival in Batesville remains a staple for cinephiles in the northeast chunk of the state, as does its counterpart in Fayetteville, the Offshoot Film Festival. Festivals aside, even libraries are getting into the mix. This year saw the emergence of Conway's new Faulkner County Film Society, which takes to the Faulkner County Library monthly to highlight notable directors with a double-feature in their honor. Recently, it's screened films by Jane Campion and Jim Jarmusch. Central Arkansas saw the bright lights this summer as Hank Williams biopic "The Last Ride" began shooting with local Harry Thomason at the helm. The film, distributed by Fox, is expected to hit theaters in 2011. Now, if Pine Bluff could bring back its yearly film festival and Little Rock could support a dedicated repertory movie theater in our empty downtown, we'd be in serious business.