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Little Rock Film Festival expands

Aims for year-round programming.


'MARATHON BOY': The Winner of the documentary prize at the Little Rock Film Festival is part of the Argenta Film Series on Oct. 7.
  • 'MARATHON BOY': The Winner of the documentary prize at the Little Rock Film Festival is part of the Argenta Film Series on Oct. 7.

On Monday, organizers of the Little Rock Film Festival launched the Argenta Film Series, one of several ambitious initiatives they've undertaken to extend the reach of the annual festival.

A nearly full house filled the Argenta Community Theater to see "Foot Soldier," "Pillow" and "The Orderly," the three short films that won "Made in Arkansas" prizes at this year's LRFF (for Best Actor, Best Director and Best Picture, respectively). After the screenings, local filmmaker and Times columnist Graham Gordy moderated a panel discussion with the filmmakers that stretched on for 45 minutes as members of the audience asked questions.

That's the formula going forward, according to Brent Renaud, co-founder and artistic director of the festival. At least once a month — but more frequently as schedules allow — the series will host a filmmaker or an actor who'll screen a film and then discuss it. All events, with the sponsorship of the Argenta Arts Foundation, will be held at the Argenta Community Theater or, for family-geared events, outside in a nearby parking lot. Much of the slate will draw from the national and international festival community, with some local work like Monday's program in the mix.

"The idea is to bring the kind of programming we do at the Little Rock Film Festival year-round," Renaud said. "As the local filmmaking scene has boomed, we want to offer another place for people to come together and network with other filmmakers from around the country and even around the world."

Despite spending much of their time working on their own films, Brent and brother Craig Renaud remain committed to expanding the local film infrastructure as quickly and broadly as possible. (The Renaud brothers' hour-long doc on gun trafficking in Juarez, Mexico, will air on "Vanguard," a Current TV series that leads into Keith Olbermann's new show, on Oct. 30.)

That the LRFF lost part-time director Jack Lofton soon after this year's event ended won't hamper any of the organization's progress, Renaud said. Lofton's position was funded by a grant, and according to Renaud, the LRFF knew for a year that when the grant ended, Lofton would leave the organization. His departure was "mutually beneficial," Renaud said, adding that Lofton was not involved in programming. The LRFF's new model is focused on a core group of volunteers who are branching out to coordinate new projects. For instance: Levi Agee headed up the recently completed 48 Hour Film Festival, which came under the LRFF's umbrella this year, and, along with David Fowlkes, will steer the programming of the Argenta Film Festival. Spirit Trickey will manage the Reel Civil Rights Film Festival, which comes under LRFF supervision this year. Justin Nickels is coordinating a new LRFF horror festival tentatively called Little Rock Horror Picture Show, which is slated for two nights sometime in February.

Renaud is also busy trying to launch the Arkansas Motion Picture Institute, an advocacy and fundraising initiative that he said will do everything from helping other Arkansas film festivals strategize and organize to trying to raise money for Arkansas film infrastructure to helping filmmakers find resources. The board of the AMPI will be a mix of business, film and government members from across the state; its membership will be announced later this fall, Renaud said.

Next up for the Argenta series is another Little Rock Film Festival winner, "Marathon Boy," a documentary about an Indian marathon prodigy snatched from poverty who, before he turns 5, competes in 48 marathons and becomes a celebrity in the Indian state of Orissa. The film took home the documentary prize at this year's festival, is likely to be nominated for an Oscar and "may be one of the best documentaries of the decade," according to Renaud. It plays at the ACT on Oct. 7, a few weeks before the doc airs on HBO. Director Gemma Atwal will come from London to the screening.

On Oct. 25, director Neil Osam will screen his short "The Unknown Citizen," which considers giving back to military personnel and veterans, and talk about his Feed A Soldier project that he hopes can grow into a national movement.

LRFF volunteer Agee, who is programming a lot of the national part of the series, said he's targeting films that premiered at SXSW or Sundance or another big festival that the LRFF wasn't able to get for this year's festival, especially "edgier" fare. "Bellflower," which will play in November, seems to fit that bill. It's a narrative indie about a pair of friends who spend all their free time building flame-throwers and creating other "Mad Max"-style weapons in anticipation of a global apocalypse.

Three-time Emmy-nominated actor Robert Walden ("Columbo," "Lou Grant"), who currently stars in the TV Land sitcom "Happily Divorced," will show film and TV clips and talk about his career as an actor sometime in late November.

Sometime in December, Renaud plans to bring boxer Kassim Ouma back to Little Rock with the documentary "Kassim the Dream," (which also screened at the LRFF) the story of how he was kidnapped and forced into service as a child soldier in Uganda and then went on to become a professional boxer. Jermain Taylor, who defeated Ouma in a fight in Little Rock that appears in the film, will participate in the post-screening Q&A.

A documentary called "Just Like Us," about Arab-American comedians touring the Middle East, is also scheduled for December.

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