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The Arkansas Cinema Society broadens its offerings in year two

With Filmland, the sequel.

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A SNEAK PREVIEW: On Sunday, Filmland goers will get to see an advance screening of "Operation Finale," starring Oscar Isaac (standing), Melanie Laurent and Nick Kroll 
(to Isaac's right).
  • A SNEAK PREVIEW: On Sunday, Filmland goers will get to see an advance screening of "Operation Finale," starring Oscar Isaac (standing), Melanie Laurent and Nick Kroll (to Isaac's right).

Like its inaugural year, the Arkansas Cinema Society's annual Filmland event has just about everything an Arkansas film lover could want: drama, comedy, overlooked gems, a preview screening of a likely future Oscar contender and a large slice of the best of homegrown cinema. The event runs from Thursday, Aug. 23, to Sunday, Aug. 26, at the Central Arkansas Library System's Ron Robinson Theater. Find tickets at arkansascinemasociety.org.

To kick things off Thursday night, acclaimed director Richard Linklater will show one of his more overlooked films: 1998's "The Newton Boys," starring Matthew McConaughey, Skeet Ulrich, Ethan Hawke and Vincent D'Onofrio as bank-robbing brothers. After the screening, ACS co-founder Jeff Nichols will discuss the film with Linklater.

It's a fitting way to start the event. As a filmmaker, Linklater is who fellow filmmaker Nichols points to as his definition of success. "Success isn't necessarily box office or critical reviews — obviously those things are important — success is the impact that you have on culture and the conversation at large," Nichols said, noting the varied number of times Linklater has made that sort of impact with films like "Slacker," "Dazed and Confused," "Before Sunrise," "Bernie" and "Boyhood." "To have someone who multiple times has entered the stream of that conversation — the zeitgeist — is what I call ultimate success."

Last year, when Nichols and co-founder Kathryn Tucker announced the creation of the ACS, Nichols said he wanted to model the new venture on the Austin Film Society, founded by Linklater in 1985. The AFS hosts regular screenings, provides grants to filmmakers and teaches people how to make movies. When Nichols moved to Austin in 2002 with no money and no movies under his belt, the AFS was where he found his community. Nichols said he plans to let Linklater "talk about Austin Film Society's creation and where it's gone, so people can look into the future of what [the ACS] could be with the right kind of community and support."

NICHOLS: The ACS co-founder sees the programming in year two reflecting the organization's "bigger, broader goals."
  • NICHOLS: The ACS co-founder sees the programming in year two reflecting the organization's "bigger, broader goals."

Nichols and Tucker have grand visions for the ACS, but already in year two it's broadening its focus. "This is only our second August event, and I see it as a progression from the first in terms of starting to reflect the bigger, broader goals of the Arkansas Cinema Society," Nichols said. "Part of that is seeking out the work of Arkansans and providing a platform for it. It's about kicking off the idea of this Homegrown series."

That's what ACS is calling its plan to host screenings of local films throughout the year. At Filmland, four of the highest profile features will screen along with a handful of top Arkansas short films (in full disclosure, I was on a committee that selected the Arkansas films). The features screening Aug. 24 are "The Revival," the debut feature from Jennifer Gerber, the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival's executive director, about an illicit love affair between a Southern Baptist preacher and a drifter; "Dayveon," the debut feature by Amman Abbasi (see Q&A), about a 13-year-old boy who falls into a rural gang; and "Antiquities," the feature adaption of Daniel Campbell's award-winning short (see feature), featuring Mary Steenburgen. On Sunday, there'll be an encore screening of "Antiquities," an Arkansas shorts program and a showing of "All the Birds Have Flown South," the debut feature from Josh and Miles Miller, starring Joey Lauren Adams.

The Saturday slate is another change of pace for Filmland. It's all comedy during the day and documentary at night. Nichols credits Steenburgen, an ACS board member whom he describes as "a colossal figure" in the industry (see Q&A), for securing the lineup, which includes actors and writers she worked with on the acclaimed Fox comedy "The Last Man on Earth": Will Forte, Kristen Schaal, Rich Blomquist and John Solomon. Forte and his writing partner Solomon will also screen their SNL action-comedy "MacGruber," which they co-wrote with director Jorma Taccone (of "The Lonely Island" fame), who'll also be in attendance. Nichols will get a post-screening interview assist from Steenburgen and her husband, Ted Danson, after the "MacGruber" showing. Saturday night, Matthew Cooke's documentary, "Survivor's Guide to Prison" explores the U.S. prison system through the eyes of two wrongly convicted men. Cooke and producers David and Christina Arquette will talk about the film afterward (Christina Arquette's maiden name is McClarty; she's a Hope native; see Q&A).

Filmland closes Sunday with its first premiere screening. "Operation Finale," about Israel's pursuit of Adolf Eichmann (Ben Kingsley), the Nazi mastermind of the Holocaust, plays a few days before its limited release. Producers Fred Berger and Brian Kavanaugh-Jones will participate in a post-screening discussion with Nichols. Berger was a producer for "La La Land" and the one onstage at the Oscars who told the audience, "We lost, by the way." He's got a number of high-profile projects in the pipeline. Kavanaugh-Jones, along with Sarah Green, is one of Nichols' producing partners. "He's the reason 'Shotgun Stories' got finished and the reason 'Take Shelter' got off the ground," Nichols said of Kavanaugh-Jones. "To be able to hear these two guys talk, I just want people to understand, you're not talking to the producer who did amazing things in the '80s, you're talking about two guys who are going to change things now."

'NEWTON BOYS': Richard Linklater will screen and discuss his 1998 Western "Newton Boys."
  • 'NEWTON BOYS': Richard Linklater will screen and discuss his 1998 Western "Newton Boys."

Nichols, who hosted a special seminar on writing for film last year for ACS and plans to host one on directing sometime in December, wants to schedule an event geared toward producers down the line.

As a bonus to eventgoers who stick around on Sunday, before "Operation Finale" Nichols will show his new short film, inspired by Lucero's "Long Way Back Home," from the band's recently released ninth album, "Among the Ghosts." Nichols' brother Ben Nichols is Lucero's lead singer. Like all of Nichols' movies, this one stars Michael Shannon, who here plays a shady, slick-haired man who returns to Memphis looking for his two ne'er-do-well brothers (played by Scoot McNairy and Garrett Hedlund). The Nichols brothers will discuss the film, too.

For an event that's all about getting people together to talk about film, the after-parties are a key element. They're all downtown and all feature music. Ticketholders get in free; each party has a $15 cover otherwise. Of special note, Ben Nichols plays a rare solo show at Stickyz on Sunday and Phoenix, which headlines the Saturday after-party at Revolution, is an in-demand classic rock cover band from Las Vegas, not the French indie pop band led by the guy who's married to Sofia Coppola.

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