The first night of the LRFF felt true to the atmosphere of the opening film, *America’s Parking *Lot–there was plenty of meat cooking, beer chugging, and arguing about football. The opening reception was packed, easily a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd, with delicious h’ors d’oeuvres from Ben E. Keith circulating by hungry hands. Once everyone was seated, Craig and Brent Renaud thanked all of the sponsors that make the LRFF possible, and introduced the director of *America’s Parking Lot*, Jonny Mars. He stepped onstage and immediately led the crowd in applause for the Renaud brothers making the LRFF one of the most exciting up-and-coming film fests in the world. Despite some brief heckling and crowd banter, which Mars handled expertly (things were already a little rowdy, you see), he mentioned that the screenings of his documentary always began with a ceremonial beer-chugging contest, and passed out cans of Bud Light to the Renauds and cracked one for himself. It’s safe to say that Mars was the champion.
The film itself is a lively, heartfelt tale of fandom through the eyes of two principal tailgaters, Cy and Tiger. As things were already a little giddy, the theater regularly swelled with laughter at the antics and protestations of the film’s two protagonists. Afterwards, as Cy Ditmore himself sauntered onstage, clad in the same blue button-down shirt and cowboy hat he sported in the movie, he called out, “How ’bout them Cowboys!” Unlike question-and-answer sessions where the actors materialize onstage as regular folk, seeing a real-live person from a real-live documentary doesn’t offer that disconnect–Cy was as boisterous, shrewd, and engaging a character as he was on screen. He even debated back and forth with Mars in response to some of *Arkansas TImes *editor Lindsey Millar’s questions about how these Cowboy superfans justify spending the astronomical amounts they do to secure season tickets at the new stadium. The after party was delicious. Crowds waited in lengthy lines for Whole Hog barbecue and Bonnie Montgomery dazzled with her country tunes. Folks gathered around Cy, who stood near his tailgating trailer (featured prominently as a backdrop in the film) and, as the party wound to a close, I watched him dismantle the jacks and take down his long string of, ahem, female undergarmet decorations, which also felt disarmingly real: Here he was, this character, actually a real person, doing what he does and has done every Dallas home game for nearly three decades.
As for today’s festival options–choose wisely, as we’ve got a lot of great films and events. Be sure to check out the latest by another Texan filmmaker of some renown, *Bernie*, screening at 7 PM, directed by Richard Linklater (*Slacker*, *Dazed and Confused*) and starring Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, and the late Arkansas actor, Rick Dial. It’s a cast of small-town Texas characters who feel as stirringly familiar as anyone you’ve encountered living in and around Arkansas. At 7:30, we’re thrilled to feature the new offering by LRFF alum Daryl Wein, whose debut film *Breaking Upwards *showed here two years ago–he’s since garnered serious critical acclaim and has now released *Lola Versus*, starring the omnipresent and immensely talented Greta Gerwig. And, for our biggest Arkansas-centric to-do of the evening, we encourage you to come to the Arkansas Arts Center for a special event with Arkansas-born director Jay Russell, who has since gone on to work with luminous actors on high-grossing projects. *Democrat-Gazette *film critic Philip Martin will lead a discussion with Russell, showing choice clips from his oeuvre and charting the path of his career. A reception begins before at 7:30 PM, the discussion begins at 8, and an after-party with Russell will take place afterwards around 9:30. This is just the beginning of a lot of incredible screenings, talks, and events at this year’s festival. We look forward to seeing you out and about! Plus, remember to check back here for recaps and photos of festival shenanigans and LRFF buzz!