The special events of Day 2 of the LRFF offered some truly unique screening experiences. For starters, yesterday afternoon we gathered at the Little Rock Zoo to meet Jewell, an Asian elephant who, in her old age, has been outfitted with a prosthetic boot to correct the pain and discomfort she was experiencing in her gait, similar to the elephants in Windy Borman’s documentary, The Eyes of Thailand, who are given prosthetic legs after they’ve suffered serious injury from landmines. Zookeeper Justin spoke to the crowd about Jewell’s history and the process of creating the boot for her. In fact, Melissa Snell of Snell Prosthetic and Orthotic Labratory, the company who devised the boot for Jewell, was even in the crowd and mentioned the struggles and all the tiny adjustments they had to make to find the perfect fit. Filmmaker Borman was also on hand to ask questions—she expressed pleasure that Jewell was allowed to roam on the sloping grassy garden instead of having to adjust to her prosthetic on concrete.
After the screening of her compassionate documentary, Borman answered audience questions about the elephant hospital in Thailand, how she came across her subject, raised the money to return, and how, unfortunately, the elephant hospital is currently struggling financially. It’s a new film, only out since April, and Borman hopes to screen the film at the elephant hospital to raise money to keep it and the courageous efforts of founder Soraida Salwala and her team going strong.
The evening discussion with Arkansas-born director Jay Russell at the Arkansas Arts Center was postponed just for a bit due to technical difficulties—Russell joked at the beginning of the talk, “This is straight out of filmmaking; anything that can go wrong, does”—but by the time we got into the theater after having some drinks and finger foods, the crowd was warm and enthusiastic about hearing Russell’s witticisms and fabulous anecdotes. Philip Martin of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette led the audience on a tour through highlights of Russell’s career, which, despite making big-budget films and traveling to exotic locations like New Zealand for filming, Russell expresses an obvious and passionate connection with his home state and Southern culture. Of course, his first film, End of the Line, was made in Arkansas and largely centers on details from his own biography. But, also, Russell revealed that his second film, My Dog Skip, was a project he stumbled onto after being in Jackson, Mississippi, and interviewing the great Eudora Welty, which incidentally led him to meet and interview another Southern bard, Willie Morris, who mentioned he was writing a memoir about his childhood. It was merely this connection with Morris that initiated what would later become the highest-grossing film for Warner Bros. in the year of its release.
If you missed the Russell talk, or would like to have a chance to see this Willie Morris classic, the LRFF is offering a special screening of My Dog Skip tonight at 6 PM, followed by another brief talk with Russell. As for other treats on today’s agenda—and there are many!—be sure to check out Teddy Bear, a curious Danish film about an awkward bodybuilder looking for made-to-order love in Thailand, screening at 2:15 PM. For more on the Southern tip, Pilgrim Song is a beautifully composed rite-of-passage tale about a musician in rural Kentucky who embarks on a hike down the Sheltowee Trace to conquer his existential crisis. There’s alsoFuture Weather, which centers on a thirteen-year-old girl in a rural town who navigates a flawed relationship with her young mother and pours her energy into environmental science experiments. At 6:30 PM, there’s The Mayor, a touching documentary about a charismatic playboy in a Dallas-area retirement home that actually offers a stark portrait of aging. (Note: For these last three mentioned, the filmmakers will be on hand for post-screening discussion!) And, straight out of Sundance and Cannes wrapped in critical buzz, we have the coming-of-age adventure story, Beasts of the Southern Wild showing at 8:30 PM—this one is sure to sell out, and it’s only one of two chances to catch it.