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Ten to watch at the Little Rock Film Festival

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'Lola Versus'
Directed by Daryl Wein

Five reasons to see this indie comedy: 1) You might remember director/writer Daryl Wein and writer/star Zoe Lister-Jones from "Breaking Upwards," the 2009 film they wrote and starred in (and Wein directed), which won the audience award at the LRFF. 2) While the premise of "Lola Versus" may sound tired — jilted woman (Greta Gerwig) tries to navigate single life in New York as she approaches 30 — the execution, based on the 3-minute trailer and early reviews, promises to be stronger than the rom-com norm, particularly thanks to snappier-than-usual dialogue. 3) Greta Gerwig, already beloved by indie film fans, is supposedly the next big thing, or at least the best candidate to supplant Zooey Deschanel as the object of affection of that subsection of mainstream culture that appreciates "quirk." "Lola Versus" marks Gerwig's first starring role in a studio film. 4) For those who appreciate seeing actors play against type: Joel Kinnaman, who looks (and sometimes talks like) a white Snoop Dogg to great effect on "The Killing" and will take on the title role in the "Robocop" reboot, plays the jilter. 5) The flip side to number two: If your film tastes tilt more towards traditional fare, this will probably look and feel like the movies you enjoy. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Riverdale. LM.

'America's Parking Lot' 
Directed by Jonny Mars

This documentary, which opened the festival on Tuesday, focuses on a pair of subjects that will be familiar to Arkansans: Dallas Cowboys super-fans. And not just super-fans who own every piece of Cowboys merchandise and apparel and lead their face-painted brethren in cheers, but super-fans whose lives truly revolve around the Cowboys. Super-fans like Stan "Tiger" Shults, who has a daughter named Meredith Landry and says when his first wife asked him to choose between her or the Cowboys, the choice was obvious. "I hate to say this because I love my children and my wife, but I think I probably think about the Cowboys more than I think about my kids and my wife. And that's nothing against them," he tells director Jonny Mars. You've seen obsessives like Shults in documentaries before, but Mars separates his film from the pack both by avoiding caricature and deftly pivoting from the super-fans' perspective to a broader look at the callousness of professional sports, where owners, like the Cowboys' Jerry Jones, are gouging fans who attend games in order to pay for massive new stadiums, built partially with taxpayer dollars. 3 p.m. Thursday, Riverdale. LM.

'Pilgrim Song'
Directed by Martha Stephens

"Pilgrim Song," which premiered at SXSW, is a well-crafted study in being. It's contemplative, graceful and sparse. Tim Morton plays James, a middle school band teacher whose job just has just fallen victim to budget cuts. He's been in the same relationship for years, he's bored with his life, he's numbly searching for anything more. So he sets off on a two-month solo journey, hiking the Appalachian Trail. He has a few chance encounters with locals, including a single father and his young son, who live in a camper in the woods. After spraining his ankle, James stays with them for a few days. That's when he begins to reconnect, both with others and with long ignored aspects of himself. It's like Kelly Reinhart's "Old Joy" (which, director Martha Stephens acknowledges, was an influence), but with (slightly) more plot. The characters are believable and the acting is suburb. Stephens co-wrote the film, her second feature, with one of its stars, Karrie Crouse. Stephens will be around to answer questions after the LRFF screenings. 5:30 p.m. Thursday, 11:45 a.m. Saturday, Riverdale. CF.

'Future Weather'
Directed by Jenny Deller

"Future Weather" is a dreamily shot, if occasionally heavy-handed, drama, about a 13-year-old eco-activist named Laduree (stunningly played by Perla Haney-Jardine) and her incongruously tawdry guardians. When her young mother (Marin Ireland) disappears to L.A. to become a "make-up artist to the stars," she leaves Laduree $50 and instructions to call Greta (Amy Madigan), her grandmother. Instead, precocious Laduree chooses to fend for herself in their trailer in the woods, and she manages commendably — until she doesn't. This is a coming-of-age story, with a quiet plot and a near overdose of sentiment. Like all bildungsromans, the ultimate theme is survival. But in "Future Weather," Laduree's individual survival is set against the broader concepts of familial and planetary survival. Stellar cinematography and fantastic acting make this an engaging watch, and the inclusion of the loblolly pine, Arkansas's state tree, as a plot element, may enhance local appeal. "Future Weather" premiered at Tribeca earlier this year, and writer/director Jenny Deller will be around after the Thursday night screening to talk about her debut feature. 6:15 p.m. Thursday, 3:50 p.m. Saturday, Riverdale. CF.

'Beasts of the Southern Wild'
Directed by Benh Zeitlen

I missed the film festival last year to go to a bachelor party in New Orleans, where, after a long night of crawfish eating and bar hopping and shirtless dancing, my crew ended up in an ancient swimming pool behind a dilapidated, termite-ridden mansion in the Bywater. A "half-feral" girl was asleep somewhere in the bushes by a distant pool house, we were told. In a hedge maze near the pool, I almost tripped over a sleeping pig that looked like a small buffalo. The next morning one of our group asked if he'd hallucinated the end of the night. Six months later, I recognized our host's picture online. It was Benh Zeitlen, director of "Beasts of the Southern Wild," a film that has, itself, been described as hallucinatory. Which seems fitting considering the premise: a 6-year-old girl named Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) lives in a mythological part of southern Louisiana named The Bathtub, a ramshackle Delta community where a small band of people live by their own rules. When an environmental catastrophe releases a herd of prehistoric creatures called aurochs (which, at least in the trailer, look a lot like the pig from the hedge maze) and threatens to wash away The Bathtub, Hushpuppy lights off on a quest to find her mother. Few indie films in recent memory have been as well received. The New York Times' Manohla Dargis said it was among the best films in two decades to play at Sundance, where it won the Grand Jury award. And last week, the French went bonkers for it at Cannes and judges awarded it the Camera d'Or for the best first film in competition. That "Beasts'" filmmakers elected to screen for the third time in Little Rock is a feather in the LRFF's cap, especially considering "Beasts" won't play New Orleans until July 4. 8:30 p.m. Thursday, 4:15 p.m. Friday, Riverdale. LM

'Bay of All Saints'
Directed by Annie Eastman

"Bay of All Saints," the winner of the audience award for documentary at SXSW, is among the most anticipated LRFF offerings. It was shot and directed by Annie Eastman, who worked with disenfranchised populations in the Bahia state of Brazil for a year and a half in 1999, and then went back more than a dozen times, from 2004 to 2010, to document the impact, or lack thereof, of a major housing project funded by the World Bank. The project was supposed to move thousands of people — largely single mothers and their children — from the shacks they've constructed on stilts in a bay-cum-landfill to a freshly constructed apartment complex on land. We meet a handful of water dwellers — a single mom who work in pizza cafes and doubles as an activist, a grandmother supporting her family through trash-picking, a pregnant 15-year-old and her mother, both waiting on rescue from an elusive Prince Charming. These women defy the stereotypes. They're not prostitutes and drug addicts. They're determined and charismatic, and they're actively struggling for change. More than anything, this film is a well-crafted anthropological study. It doesn't deeply probe what was or wasn't accomplished with the World Bank's $49 million. Instead, it focuses on documenting a unique, slowly disappearing community. It's the kind of film that inspires questions, and luckily, Eastman will be around to answer them after the screening. 2:30 p.m. Friday, 8 p.m. Saturday, Riverdale. CF.

'Gimme the Loot'
Directed by Adam Leon

In Adam Leon's SXSW winning feature debut, Bronx teens Malcolm (Tysheeb Hickson) and Sofia (Tashiana R. Washington) are a mini graffiti crew, teen-aged friends trying to establish themselves in the culture by tagging rooftops and bridges across the city. Dispirited after a rival crew writes over their art, they resolve to up their game by tagging something everyone will see — the big apple that rises in center field of Citi Field when the Mets hit a home run. To get access, they'll need to raise $500 to pay off a security guard. In another filmmaker's hands, such a plot might yield a message movie, a portrait of disaffected youth searching for transcendence from the mean streets maybe. But we've seen that movie. Instead, and without sacrificing any of the grittiness, Leon's made an endlessly charming comedy that feels like a truer reflection of a certain part of New York adolescent life than we've seen in years. Low-level criminality lingers in the background throughout, giving the film a caper feel, but Malcolm and Sofia's rapid-fire dialogue moves the film along. Their charisma and the way in which Leon lets their innocence peak through makes this the sweetest movie about street culture you've ever seen. 6 p.m. Friday, Riverdale, 8:15 p.m. Saturday, Riverdale. LM.

'The List'
Directed by Beth Murphy

Tens of thousands of Iraqis worked side-by-side with Americans during the Iraq war and the reconstruction efforts that followed. That makes them and their families targets for retaliatory killings by al Qaeda-affiliated groups, who view them as collaborators with the enemy. "The List" follows the efforts of American Kirk Johnson, who spent several years working for USAID in Baghdad and Fallujah alongside Iraqis, to help resettle U.S.-affiliated Iraqis in the United States. According to the website of The List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies, the organization has helped 1,500 Iraqis resettle in the U.S. and currently has 250 lawyers working on behalf of 3,000 active cases. Testifying before Congress, Johnson said conservative estimates placed more than 40,000 U.S.-affiliated Iraqis in harm's way. Murphy's film gains extra heft by following people on the waiting list in Iraq and throughout the region as they await word on their resettlement. A scene in which a group of U.S.-affiliated Iraqis goes around in a circle telling of how long they've waited and how many family members they've lost is particularly chilling. Murphy will be on hand to talk more about this important film. 8:15 p.m. Friday, 3:50 p.m. Sunday, Riverdale. LM.

'First Winter'
Directed by Benjamin Dickenson

"First Winter" was among the most anticipated films at Tribeca, and in Little Rock, it should deeply appeal to its target audience — local examples of which you might find drinking at White Water or slurping tofu curry bowls at The House. Shot on 16mm for under $100,000, the film takes place in a New York farmhouse and on the surrounding grounds. Paul Manza, a 34-year-old Brooklyn yoga teacher, plays himself (to some degree), and he's convinced a handful of friends and students to spend the winter on his "yoga farm," eating vegetarian food, practicing yoga and having orgies. Early on, the farmhouse loses power, and the yogis see ominous smoke billowing from the distant city. We never learn what's happening in New York, but the group on the farm becomes embroiled in a struggle that channels "Into the Wild," but as a cult experience. This includes splitting wood, eating condiments and ultimately, felling and dressing a deer (which the actors do for real, on camera, without a permit, and now a few of them are facing criminal charges). Visually, the film is poetic — lots of pale, twilight blue rhythmically interspersed with dramatic, flickering orange. It's Ben Dickenson's first feature, and he'll be available for a Q&A at both screenings. 8:05 p.m. Friday, 3:20 p.m. Sunday, Riverdale. CF.

Directed by Bill and Turner Ross

No matter how many times you've stumbled down Bourbon or partied on Frenchmen, this cinema verite portrait of the Crescent City will still feel like a revelation. Initially conceived as the story of one night in New Orleans, the Ross brothers, Bill and Turner, felt like their footage wasn't cohering. Then they spotted three young brothers — Kentrell, Bryan and William — walking past their house in New Orleans and found, they told the Wall Street Journal, their "surrogates." With the brothers as the main characters, "Tchoupitoulas" (say it together now: "chop-ih-TOOL-us") became a child's perspective of the adult playground that is the French Quarter. That perspective, with the youngest brother, William, often taking the lead and steadily babbling to hilarious effect — "If you could bring back anyone from the dead, who would it be? Michael Jackson! Michael Jackson! Michael Jackson!" — fits nicely with the Rosses' dreamy photography and languid pacing. Like the films of Terrence Malick or Frederick Wiseman, this is an immersive experience. The conflict is light, forgettable. But the sights and sounds — of strippers casually singing "Iko Iko" backstage; of bluesman Little Freddie King coolly walking down the street; of a burlesque dancer taking heaving breaths backstage after an aerobic performance; of William's eyes going big as a street-performer, a woman dressed as an angel, shows him how to play the flute — will linger. This film, produced by the same guys who produced "Beasts of the Southern Wild," could be a dark horse candidate for the Oxford American prize. 8 p.m. Saturday, Oxford American, 1:35 p.m. Sun., Riverdale. LM.

Five more to see

'Teddy Bear'

dir. Mads Matthiesen

A Danish character study of Dennis (Kim Kold), a super-heavyweight bodybuilder, who lives with his suffocating mother and can't overcome his crippling shyness to find love. After an uncle suggests that women in Asia are less standoffish, Dennis travels to Thailand, where he begins a flirtation with a widowed owner of a gym. Matthiesen won a World Cinema Directing Award at Sundance for the film. 2:15 p.m. Thu., 12:30 p.m. Fri., Riverdale.

'Booker's Place: A Mississippi Story'

dir. Raymond De Felitta

A documentary about Booker Wright, a black waiter in Greenwood, Miss., who dared tell a documentary crew for NBC News in 1966 how he felt when white customers treated him cruelly. For that comment, Wright lost his restaurant job, which he'd held since he was 14, and was beaten by a local police officer. De Felitta, whose own father directed the 1966 documentary, explores what Wright's story, and his own, say about the legacy of intolerance. 3 p.m. Thu., 12:10 p.m. Fri. Riverdale.

'Journey to Planet X'

dir. Myles Kane, Josh Koury

A documentary about a pair of mild-mannered scientists — Eric Swain and Troy Bernier — who live to make elaborate, DIY sci-fi movies. A trailer suggests that there is some humor to be found in the tension between their earnestness and the films they produce. LRFF audiences will have a chance to find out. The documentary filmmakers and the sci-fi filmmakers will both be in attendance and the latter's "Planet X: Part II — The Frozen Moon" will screen after the doc. 8 p.m. Thu., 1:20 p.m. Sat. Riverdale.


dir. Matt Ruskin

A beautifully shot and strongly acted crime film about a professional shoplifter who's pushed towards higher-stakes crimes after his older brother is arrested for armed robbery. Recommended if you liked Ben Affleck's latest projects as a director, "The Town" and "Gone Baby Gone." 8:30 p.m. Thu., 1:50 p.m. Sat., Riverdale.

'A Sister's Call'

dir. Rebecca Schaper and Kyle Tekiela

A personal documentary that programmers hail as deeply affecting, "A Sister's Call" tells a 14-year story of Schaper's relationship with her schizophrenic brother Call, who she's trying to help confront the pain of his hallucinations and past homelessness. 4:45 p.m., 11:20 a.m. Sun., Riverdale.

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