Improbably, as it has for the last nine years, Batesville, a town of
10,000 that's never exactly screamed “tourist hotspot,” will become a
destination for cinephiles across the South this weekend as the Ozark
Foothills FilmFest presents easily its most impressive program to date.
The formula for success and longevity has never been about big names, according to founder Bob Pest, who runs the festival out of his house with his wife Judy.
“As a film festival, we're not always looking for big glamorous features and stars as much as we're looking to build the film culture and film economy.”
This year, in addition to longstanding local partners Lyon College and the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville (UACCB), which serve as the festival's venues, he's got a national partner to help with his mission. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has provided the funding for “Finding Your Audience” (Friday, 1-4 p.m., Room 103, UACCB), an indie film marketing workshop led by filmmaker Heidi Van Lier, the author of “The Indie Film Rule Book” and a past winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Slamdance.
Better yet, Pest has a number of new partners. The National Endowment for the Arts helped him secure a showcase of Cajun music that includes three artists who might not enjoy name recognition within the mainstream, but who, within documentary film and Cajun music circles, respectively, are giants.
Especially Les Blank. The 73-year-old documentarian, who'll be in attendance on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at UACCB's Independence Hall to screen and discuss two of his Cajun music films, “J'ai Ete au Bal” and “Marc and Ann,” is one of film's most decorated. He's one of only three documentary filmmakers to have multiple films selected for inclusion in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. His work, which isn't easy to find without purchasing it or catching it on the festival circuit, explores American subcultures, with special emphasis on music and food.
The subjects of “Marc and Ann,” Cajun music stars Marc and Ann Savoy, will be on hand later on Saturday, with their sons Wilson and Joel, for a concert at 8 p.m. in Independence Hall.
Blank might be interested to see the Southern Succulents Food Film Showcase, a collection of short documentaries by Joe York of the Southern Foodways Alliance. The program begins at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday in Independence Hall and includes a film about the Big Apple Inn in Jackson, Miss., famous for its pig ear sandwiches and “Saving Willie Mae's Scotch House,” about the efforts to revive the New Orleans home cooking landmark post-Katrina.
“It's really interesting what they do,” said Pest of the Foodways Alliance films. “It begins about food, but it ends up being about people and regions and culture. I've been really impressed by their films. I hope we can have a longstanding relationship with them.”
Another, more unexpected, partner Pest hopes to foster a relationship with is the French cultural attache in Houston, who programmed two French film showcases, an animated program on Wednesday and another live-action one scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday in Independence Hall. Beatrice Moore, Arkansas's honorary French ambassador (who knew?) and one of Pest's friends, put him in touch with the attache, who happened to be a film buff himself. This year's films are accessible to those unfamiliar with French film in hopes that audiences might welcome French features in the coming years, Pest said.
And as always, the festival features a number of Arkansas films throughout the weekend. Notably, there are Matthew Rowe and Dixie Kline's “Dogpatch USA,” which chronicles the often bizarre history of the now-abandoned theme park in Northwest Arkansas, and “The Funeral Center,” the latest from twisted auteur Phil Chambliss, who's a cult hero on the film festival circuit. The former is part of an Arkansas documentary showcase that shows at 6 p.m. Friday in Independence Hall, while the latter screens at 1:30 p.m. Saturday as part of a short narrative showcase in Room 103 at UACCB. All three filmmakers will be in attendance.
In fact, 26 Arkansas filmmakers will be in attendance, according to Pest.
“Nine years ago, I don't think there were that many filmmakers in the whole state,” he said. “Today, their work is better, too, and it's getting better every year.”
Ozark Foothills FilmFest
Various locations, though mainly on the campuses of Lyon College and the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville.
Noon Thursday, March 25, to 7:30 p.m. Sunday, March 28.
Various prices, though most screenings are $3-$5.
See a complete schedule at ozarkfoothillsfilmfest.org.