The Made in Arkansas Film Festival: It’s Not Just for “Movie People”

This past weekend in Little Rock, the first ever Made in Arkansas Film Festival was held. It was amazing, and not just for people who are “into” movies.
Used with permission from Made in Arkansas

This past weekend in Little Rock, the first ever Made in Arkansas Film Festival was held. Over three days, 2 feature-length movies and 45 short films, all created by Arkansans or people connected to Arkansas, were screened downtown at the Ron Robinson Theater. And it was amazing. And not just for people who are “into” movies.

I know what you’re thinking: you’re clearly a movie person. And it’s true. I love cinema. There’s nothing that thrills me more than sitting down in a theater and surrendering myself to a story. But even if I wasn’t film-obsessed, I would have found a lot to like about this festival. Here’s why:

Watching a bunch of short films is the perfect night out

Dinner and a movie is a date night ritual as old as cinema itself, but instead of going to the same old movies as everyone else in the country (or watching Avengers: Endgame again and again), why not branch out and see something that few others have ever laid eyes on? There’s something really exciting about discovering a hidden gem that isn’t widely available to people—it creates a sense of community in the theater akin to what is commonly felt at stage productions. That feeling alone is well worth the (five-dollar!) admission.

Director Whitney Butler on the set of As Sisters, As One. Photo by Hannah Hall.

There’s also nothing like sitting down to a movie that you know nothing about—going in totally blind. If you have zero expectations, you’re almost always going to be pleasantly surprised. If you attended the Made in Arkansas Film Festival on any given night, you may have seen as many as 18 different films (or even more if you went all afternoon Saturday), giving you that cinematic thrill 18 times over. There’s little more disappointing than paying for an expensive movie ticket at a traditional theater and then realizing you don’t like the movie. At a festival like MIAFF, that’s a non-issue; if you aren’t crazy about one of the films, just give it about 10 minutes and a new one will be starting.

Director Austin McEuen and actor Michael Lewis in horror short Deer in Headlights. Photo by Donavon Thompson.

And there will certainly be something that strikes your interest. Not into horrific stories of serial-killing hitchhikers (as in the superb Deer in Headlights)? Well, how about a heartwarming and hilarious short about two elderly women trying to break out of a nursing home to attend a rock concert (Matriarchs)? Or a chilling story set in the cutthroat world of a sorority house (As Sisters, As One)? Or maybe absurdist comedy is more your thing? There was a surprising quantity and quality of it in the “Experimental/WTF” short films block (much of it from 2007 Productions). Truly something for everyone, and all this variety played within a single night.

There’s no better way to support local artists

MIAFF was created in part to fill the void left by the Little Rock Film Festival, which had to shut down a few years ago. Made in Arkansas is one of a handful of organizations that have taken up the torch to champion local film in its absence. And there’s so much to champion. Little Rock is no Los Angeles, but when it comes to film communities, Arkansas is a serious up-and-comer and one of the premier hubs in this part of the country when it comes to new and emerging filmmakers. Perhaps that’s why the University of Central Arkansas’s film department proudly calls itself “The Film School of the South.”

Director Rachael Asherman on the set of Matriarchs. Photo by Brittany Leigh Taylor.

Plus, where else can you go to the movies and see an iconic Hot Springs location onscreen? Or watch people holed up in a popular bar in Fayetteville, waiting out a zombie apocalypse (Last Call)? The more people support these artists, the more films they can continue to make. It’s a win for filmmakers and moviegoers alike, plus it supports our beautiful state both financially and culturally.

It’s important to encourage young talent

I’ve heard athletes talk fondly about memorable experiences that involve engaged crowds. A friend of mine who fights MMA described a state championship semifinals match as one of the greatest moments of his life because people were watching and appreciating his craft— the crowd was going wild.

This production photo and the header image are from the set of Gift Horse, directed by Amy Hale.

It’s the same for young and emerging filmmakers—you can send your friends Vimeo links and get positive text messages back all day, but it’s not the same as seeing your film on a huge screen with an audience that’s gasping at the shocking moment in the script you wrote, or laughing at your jokes, or responding to your specific song choices or the breathtaking close-up you captured of an actor’s face.

Made in Arkansas Film Festival: a welcome new force for good in our state

For Arkansans, whether cinematically inclined or not, there are lots of opportunities to engage with local film these days, especially for those in the Little Rock area. There was a wealth of talent on display at the Made in Arkansas Film Festival this weekend and it’s encouraging to think that most of these filmmakers will be making more down the line. I can’t wait to see what’s in store next year.

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