Film festivals put Arkansas cinema in the spotlight


A growing number of film festivals are attracting the attention of filmmakers in northwest Arkansas and could create more jobs supporting the state’s creative economy, organizers say.

“What’s so interesting about cinema is that it’s not just an art, it’s business, it’s economic development, it’s tourism,” said Kathryn Tucker, Director executive of the Arkansas Cinema Society.

The company is a Little Rock-based nonprofit organization with a mission to build a film community in Arkansas. It seeks to connect moviegoers with each other and nurture new and existing cinematic talent within the state through increased exposure to filmmakers and their art. The creative economy includes artistic and cultural places and activities that contribute to the global economy.

Arkansas is home to approximately 15 annual film festivals, including several in Northwest Arkansas: the Fayetteville Film Fest, which began in 2009; the Ozark Media Arts Festival in Springdale, which began in 2013; and the Bentonville Film Festival, which began in 2015. A 16th festival, the Rogers Short Film Festival, will debut on August 21 with the intention of being an annual event.

The weeklong Bentonville event wrapped up on Sunday, as Fort Smith prepares for its inaugural festival Friday and Saturday.

“Having these festivals here helps raise awareness of Arkansas and what is possible in Arkansas,” said Brandon Chase Goldsmith, co-founder of the River Valley Film Society and executive director of the Fort Smith International Film Festival. .

The festivals operate independently, Tucker said, but all contribute to the state’s creative economy through featured events and by raising awareness of filmmaking opportunities in Arkansas.

“It’s not just the festival itself, it is interested in all the veins that come out of the heart of our festival in the river valley but also in Northwest Arkansas and overall. state, ”Goldsmith said.


The Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival will celebrate 30 years of programming October 8-16 and is North America’s oldest documentary film festival, said Jen Gerber, executive director.

The festival champions non-fiction storytelling by providing a platform for storytellers to entertain, educate and broaden perspectives, according to the festival’s website.

Diana Michelle, 46, of West Fork is currently filming “It’s No Secret” in Northwest Arkansas. She describes the film as a near-autobiographical docudrama about acute mental illness, deep healing, and the triumph of a life of struggle. The film follows the life of Paul Summerlin, a local musician and yogi, she said.

His film “Westland”, about reclusive artist Tim West, premiered at the Hot Springs Festival in 2014.

Attending local festivals helped bring attention to her career as a professional photographer and filmmaker, she said.

“There is more interest, there is more support and places to show our work,” Michelle said. “Things are looking up for the independent filmmaker. I want to embrace all of that.”

The impact of the Hot Springs Festival on the city’s economy is evident when the approximately 2,500 people who attend the event each year visit the city, Tucker said.

“Most of the hotels end up getting pretty full during our festival. The restaurants are really, really busy,” said Gerber. “We love it, we want it to happen. We love our city. We exist because of our city, so we want to be in this partnership with our city.”

The Bentonville Festival began in 2015 after the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art opened in 2011.

“It was as if the entire industry across the region in terms of the creative economy had taken off,” Ashley Edwards, festival programming director, said of the time.

The 2021 festival featured around 78 films focusing on the underrepresented voices of various storytellers, said Nicole Kerr, event publicist.

Some 30,000 people attended the festival’s in-person and virtual events in 2020, she said.

“With the exception of 2020, which saw the world grapple with a health pandemic, Bentonville has hosted more and more events each year, which has been extremely beneficial to all of our local sites and businesses,” said said Kalene Griffith, President of Visit Bentonville.

Bentonville’s Skylight Theaters, which opened in 2017, has six screens and a capacity of 365 people, said Scott Gordon, general manager.

“The Bentonville Film Festival has always been an exciting time around downtown Bentonville and the great community of northwest Arkansas,” Gordon said, adding that festival film screenings usually sold out. closed.

Goldsmith said he expects 800 people to attend the inaugural Fort Smith Festival, which will feature more than 130 films celebrating the artistic expression and diverse experiences of Native Americans and people of color. Filmmakers from all over the world will come for the festival, he said.

“It’s a way to bring the world to the river valley, but at the same time, we get to showcase our regional talent to the world,” Goldsmith said.


The festivals create opportunities for filmmakers visiting the state to experience filming potential in Arkansas, Tucker said.

The national film and television industry generates $ 253 billion, provides 2.5 million jobs and contributes an average of $ 250,000 per year to the local economies of regions presented as filming locations, according to “The American Motion Picture and Television Industry: Job Creation, Trade Around the World, ”a report released by the Motion Picture Association of America in April.

Arkansas’ film and television industry is directly responsible for more than $ 150 million in wages and about 3,300 jobs per year, according to the report. Recent productions include films such as “Ghosts of the Ozarks”, https: // “Freedom’s Path “and” 12 hour shift. “

Martin Lawrence, an actor who starred in films such as “Bad Boys” and “Blue Streak”, and Melissa Roxburgh, a “Star Trek Beyond” actress, were filming the movie “Mindcage” in Springdale and Fayetteville last week, said a representative with United Talent Agency.

The financial rewards of shooting a major movie in Arkansas can be attractive to filmmakers, Tucker said.

Film, television and other forms of production are eligible for a 20-30% discount on all production expenses if at least $ 200,000 is spent in the state or $ 50,000 is spent in the state. State for post-production within six months, according to the Arkansas Production Alliance website.

Georgia has a minimum spending of $ 500,000 for tax breaks for production filming, Tucker said, bringing some $ 80 billion to the state’s creative economy each year.

Marvel’s “Black Panther” was filmed in Georgia and involved more than 3,100 local workers who took in more than $ 26.5 million in wages, according to the Motion Picture Association of America report.

However, the smaller films that are getting a lot of national attention are low budget Oscar contenders such as “Nomadland” and “Minari,” which are well within Arkansas’ ability to support. she declared.

“We have the ability to claim some of these low budget projects while still keeping our local talent employed,” Tucker said. “I think we could fill this void for the domestic market.”

Part of that effort will continue to develop an experienced workforce in the state capable of meeting production demands, Edwards said.

“The number of jobs available to work as a team and behind the screen is just exponential, as long as we can bring these film productions here,” she said. “I just want the people of Arkansas to be able to work in the cinema and not have to move.”

The Bentonville and Fort Smith festivals both offer year-long programming to invest in local workforce development, organizers said.

Fort Smith is working with local stakeholders such as the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce to develop high school education programs and a business competition for high school and college students to promote local businesses, Goldsmith said.

“We can build a pipeline from high school to college to careers,” he said.

The Bentonville Festival is also working with the University of Arkansas and Northwest Arkansas Community College to develop film production programs to further pave the way for careers in film in the state, Edwards said.

Northwest Arkansas Community College offers a Certificate of Proficiency in Film Studies, according to the college’s website, with support classes that introduce students to theoretical, historical, and critical approaches to films.

Bentonville also created a production branch to produce films locally, Edwards said.

“We have 10,000 former filmmakers that we are going to be looking for,” she said of previous festival contributors and attendees. “We’re going to make movies here.”

Diana Michelle from Fayetteville keeps her eyes on her camera while recording Paul Summerlin from Fayetteville as he performs yoga poses on Wednesday July 28, 2021 at Wilson Park in Fayetteville. (NWA Democrat-Gazette / JT Wampler)

Diana Michelle from Fayetteville is getting ready to record Paul Summerlin from Fayetteville as he performs yoga poses on Wednesday July 28, 2021 at Wilson Park in Fayetteville.  (NWA Democrat-Gazette / JT Wampler)

Diana Michelle from Fayetteville is getting ready to record Paul Summerlin from Fayetteville as he performs yoga poses on Wednesday July 28, 2021 at Wilson Park in Fayetteville. (NWA Democrat-Gazette / JT Wampler)

Diana Michelle from Fayetteville sets up her camera to record Paul Summerlin from Fayetteville as he performs yoga poses on Wednesday July 28, 2021 at Wilson Park in Fayetteville.  (NWA Democrat-Gazette / JT Wampler)

Diana Michelle from Fayetteville sets up her camera to record Paul Summerlin from Fayetteville as he performs yoga poses on Wednesday July 28, 2021 at Wilson Park in Fayetteville. (NWA Democrat-Gazette / JT Wampler)

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Tickets and passes for the Bentonville Film Festival are available at

Fort Smith International Film Festival tickets are available at

Both festivals offer in-person and virtual programming.

Source: NWA Democrat-Gazette


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