The Final Day of the sixth annual Little Rock Film Festival was one bustling with special events and filmmaker comradery. In addition to the many excellent screenings of the final day, there were two amazing talks. First off, the Women in Film panel featured the lovely Lea Thompson moderating a discussion with several of the women filmmakers whose films were featured in the festival. Thompson starred in and produced the film The Trouble with the Truth, which was talked about by festival goers throughout the weekend. Also featured were Martha Stephens, director of Pilgrim Song; Jenny Deller, director of Future Weather; and Renee O’Connor, star of the short film Infinity, as well as former television star of Xena: Warrior Princess. Over all, it was an upbeat panel—Thompson was charming as ever, admitting excitement over how independent film is giving women more opportunities to work on and create films despite the mainstream film industry’s failure to include more female personnel and directors. Though directors Deller and Stephens did explain that sometimes on set they can sense resentment when they have to be firm with male cast and crew, they never feel like it’s an obstacle they can’t handle. All panelists confirmed that despite occasional snags in adjusting to being in roles of power in filmmaking, they typically feel like it’s a professional world becoming more hospitable to prominent female roles.
Immediately following the Women in Film panel was a discussion moderated by Tim Basham of Paste Magazine with Little Rock–native and rising directorial star, Jeff Nichols. Nichols, fresh off of a Cannes screening and eighteen-minute standing ovation surrounding his latest feature (that was shot entirely in Arkansas), Mud, starring Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon, recounted the magical time he had at Cannes in great detail, even highlighting it frankly as “the defining moment” of his career. The discussion covered not only his profound emotional relationship to Mud—it’s essentially his great classic American film, in addition to being the ultimate love letter to his home state of Arkansas—Nichols spoke candidly about how tightly he runs a set, his experience working with the superhumanly talented actor Michael Shannon, and the precarious steps of his scriptwriting process. It was nothing short of inspiring to hear Nichols speak passionately, honestly, and intelligently about his art. He even expressed pleasure at the amount of filmmakers in attendance for the talk, as if he knew that would be the prime audience for his anecdotes and advice.
The closing night Awards Gala took place in the gorgeous Great Hall of the Clinton Presidential Center. Most everyone dressed nattily and the evening sun pierced through the high palatial windows while guests arrived and snacked on the delicious finger foods. As the awards, honorees, and special programs like LRFFYOUTH were introduced, attendees grew more and more excited. It should be said that this is a festival of love: Countless times everyone stood in ovations for award recipients, film festival founders and directors, honorees, etc. It was like everyone was mostly there to celebrate each other. There were some touching moments when the director, cast, and crew of Wolf took the prize for the audience award, when young Kim Risi won the Made in Arkansas prize for her short, Man in the Moon, and Dean Marcial took the prize for Best Short for his film The God Phone, thanking the LRFF for wanting to include a film so strange. Beasts of the Southern Wild won the Golden Rock Narrative Award and Stephen Maing won the Golden Rock Documentary Award for High Tech Low Life. Democrat-Gazette columnist Philip Martin introduced director Jay Russell as a special honoree. Russell spoke lovingly of his home state and film community and dedicated the award to his parents. Fellow honoree Jeff Nichols was introduced by Tim Basham of Paste Magazine, and after speaking a few heartfelt thanks, Nichols also sweetly dedicated the honor to his parents.Oxford American editor and founder Marc Smirnoff introduced the nominees for the Best Southern Film Award, and revealed how impressed he was with all of the selections. Smirnoff also mentioned that he believes the success of the LRFF is mostly due to the passion of the co-founders, the Renaud brothers, whose films themselves express a penetrating love for cinema, and that love infects everyone involved with organizing and putting on the festival. The Best Southern Film Award, which comes with a $10,000 cash prize, went to Martha Stephens for her beautiful film, Pilgrim Song.
Festival co-founder and executive director Craig Renaud thanked everyone for their participation and dismissed us into the night, where filmmakers attended the Bon Iver concert, and later met for one final time at the Crush Wine Bar Wrap Party, back where the whole festival kicked off, in the quaint streets of the Argenta Arts District.
Thanks for coming out, guys. You, as attendees, filmmakers, honorees, staff, and community, all helped to make a spectacular celebration in Little Rock. See you next year!