Daniel Campbell took the first film he ever made to the Little Rock Film Festival in 2010. He didn't expect much. He hoped maybe people would laugh in a few places. It turned out he aimed low. That film, "Antiquities," won the festival's inaugural Charles B. Pierce Award for Arkansas Film and not only connected him with Central Arkansas's burgeoning film scene, it gave him entree to heavyweights with local connections like Joey Lauren Adams, Graham Gordy and Ray McKinnon.
"If anything ever happens with me and I get to make feature films for a living, I owe it all to that festival," Campbell said. "It's helped me get into the door with people."
"People" include a financer who paid for him and Gordy to spend months expanding "Antiquities" into a feature-length script. A producer who worked on HBO's "Enlightened" is currently shopping it. His second film, "The Orderly," won the 2011 Charles Pierce Award. While waiting for a script to hit and writing new ones, Campbell worked crew for "Mud" and he's currently doing the same on the Brandon Burlsworth movie, "Greater," now shooting in Northwest Arkansas.
He's back in the film fest this year with another short, "The Discontentment of Ed Telfair," starring Jeff Bailey ("Daddy and Them," "Walk the Line") and frequent collaborator Roger Scott (of local radio fame). Campbell said he was inspired by his favorite film, "Raising Arizona."
"I wanted to do something dark — somewhat of a comedy, but mostly dark. It's about a mundane middle-aged man who's dealing with a lot of insecurities in his life until he takes matters into his own hand."
Other promising Arkansas films: Musician/filmmaker Amman Abbasi's "Bad Water" stars Barlow Jacobs (who played Kid in Jeff Nichols' "Shotgun Stories") and appears to have a Terrence Malick vibe. "The Van" is a profile of Little Rock homeless outreach advocate Aaron Reddin. The trailer for Nolan Dean's romantic comedy, "Last Shot Love," makes the film look funny — it certainly appears to be beautifully shot.
I can vouch for "Bump," the short documentary on this year's Arkansas Living Treasure, 95-year-old chairmaker Dallas Bump of Royal, because I've seen it (and my wife is a producer on the film). Joe York, whose films on Southern food done in conjunction with the Southern Foodways Alliance are second to none, directs.
Unlike in years past, when the Arkansas program was dominated by short films, this year's festival includes a number of features. Juli Jackson's narrative feature "45RPM" has good buzz. It's a road movie about an artist (Liza Burns) who's trying to find a connection between her art and her estranged father's music. Her search takes her on a hunt with an obsessive record collector (Jason Thompson) for a rare 45 from the Arkansas garage-rock scene.
Nolan Richardson narrates what's sure to be another Arkansas film that draws big crowds, Matthew Wolfe's documentary "The Identity Theft of Mitch Mustain." The former Arkansas high school football star, who spent a year at the University of Arkansas before transferring to the University of Southern California, is apparently now a back-up QB for the San Jose Sabercats Arena Football team and struggling with life outside of the spotlight.
Mark Thiedeman's narrative feature "Last Summer" tells the story of two high school sweethearts, Jonah and Luke, who live in a rural Southern town. Pamela Uzzell's "Unearthing the Dream" takes on the integration of Malvern schools in the '60s from the perspective of black students. The documentary "Breaking Through" isn't an Arkansas film per se, but local audiences will likely flock to it since former state Rep. Kathy Webb has a prominent role in it. The film profiles openly LGBT elected officials at all levels. Larry Foley's "Up Among the Hills" tells the history of the city of Fayetteville with narration by one-time resident Bill Clinton.