I didn't get to experience as much of the second annual Little Rock Film Festival as I would have liked, but I'm sure nobody else did either. There was simply too much to do and see. The organizers made good on last year's success, upping the ante to make the festival a community-wide event that all but took over the state capital's weekend. Almost immediately upon arrival, I felt something in the air. (Full disclosure: I hosted a screening of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” with an incredibly gracious Judge Reinhold to kick off the festivities on Tuesday.)
The Chamber of Commerce, something of a ghost town last year, was brimming with moviegoers. The festival featured a nice array of panels, the most successful of which were housed at the chamber. Arkansas native Matthew Wilson and his wife, Natalie Zimmerman, brought their new film, “Silhouette City,” to town and packed the house. Small wonder that Arkansans would turn out for a film that covered such intimate material as the CSA standoff of 1985. The standing-room-only screening was followed by a well-attended panel on “Apocalyptic Christian Nationalism,” and it was hard not to feel that this is exactly how movies should be watched — first the screening, then an engaging discussion. Move over, France.
Arkansas filmmakers, both native and transplant, all turned out to support the event, whether sitting on panels, presenting Q & A's or showing off their latest work. Jeff Nichols, Ray McKinnon, Judge Reinhold, Harry Thomason and Graham Gordy all displayed an admirable commitment to the enterprise, one that transcended what might have been an opportunity to preen. Brent Renaud is right to prize this aspect of festival-going: Arkansans wouldn't really feel in the thick of it if the movies were left on the screen.
The single most striking development in the second year of the festival had to have been the inclusion of Charles B. Pierce. The cult favorite is an Arkansas treasure and there couldn't be a more appropriate namesake for the festival's Arkansas award. He seemed truly touched by this honor, and I hope his spirit can wiggle its way into the hearts and minds of all Arkansans. If Christopher Crane and the “Keeping it Natural” panel can make good on their plans for an incentive package aimed at encouraging a native industry, there'll be plenty of room for people like Charlie Pierce within our borders.
If I can voice one concern about this year's festival, I might question the programming. Whether culled from submissions or sought by name, as a whole the films on this year's docket didn't quite live up to their predecessors. I'm a greedy moviegoer, and I like having to make hard decisions about what I'm going to see. I didn't have to make any hard decisions this year. I was sure about which film I wanted to see at any given time. And I couldn't help but notice some holes in the line-up. For example, where were the Katrina pictures? I know of a number of documentaries and features that would have been fine additions. Also, where was last year's distinctly international feel?
These are minor complaints, easily explainable and easily addressed. This year's emphasis on panels and events likely overshadowed programming, or at least drained a little energy from it. The next step is fully integrating the strengths of both years, combining the programming quality of the festival's debut with the buzzing atmosphere of its sophomore outing. The promise of festivals to come is enough to keep me going.