Made in Arkansas Film Festival Goes Virtual to Showcase Regional Talent

Whether you like horror films or comedies, this coming week will bring a unique opportunity to enjoy movies together online with your friends, near or far. The Made in Arkansas Film Festival 2020 is going virtual and interactive!

After the Little Rock Film Festival ended its run in 2015, Arkansas filmmakers had fewer opportunities to screen their work for the general public and to meet to exchange ideas or work together.  Stepping into the gap, several enterprising filmmakers founded the Made in Arkansas Film Festival in 2019 to provide a networking venue and showcase for the Arkansas filmmaking community.

Coming soon to your home theater, May 26-30

This year’s festival will be hosted from May 26-30 by the CALS Ron Robinson Theater. The festival will take place online rather than in the state-of-the-art theater, due to public health guidelines for the pandemic. But the virtual festival will continue to offer opportunities for interaction and conversations between the filmmakers and the public, thanks to the Kosmi online platform. The festival will screen 60 short films and 4 feature films beginning at 7 p.m. each weeknight and at 6 p.m. on Saturday. Viewers can click into Kosmi to watch through the Facebook link.

2019 Festival with Johnnie Brannon

Last year, the qualifying guideline for films was that 75 percent of each film should be shot in Arkansas. This year, festival organizers wanted to expand the submission guidelines to include neighboring states.

“We wanted to widen the net to create opportunity for Arkansas filmmakers, which also increases regional filmmaking opportunity in general,” said organizer Kerri Michael. “Interfacing with regional filmmakers invites collaboration for everyone involved, as people see each other’s work and get to know each other.”

Michael is glad for the continuing partnership with the CALS Ron Robinson Theater for this virtual version of the Made in Arkansas Film Festival. “Our partnership with CALS is something that we truly appreciate. Even though we can’t show on the beautiful theater screen this year, the interactive features of the Kosmi platform give filmmakers and the audience the ability to chat and reach out through the ‘virtual lobby,’ which preserves many of the festival’s benefits.  We hope that we might be able to do an in-person screening of the festival in the fall, if it’s safe to do that. But this year’s virtual festival allows us to keep up the drumbeat for AR filmmaking and to help CALS in its mission to provide meaningful content that supports the local community.”

Filmmaker sees benefits of virtual, interactive festival

Robert Kirkpatrick on set

Robert Kirkpatrick is entering this festival for the first time but has entered several other local and national festivals. In the past few years, he has made film shorts, corporate films, and local commercials.

“The Made in Arkansas Film Festival is pretty all-inclusive,” Kirkpatrick said. “Because it doesn’t select films based on genre or by budget level, it gives a voice to all local filmmakers and lets them get together and work as a community. That allows us to get a grasp on what all the filmmakers are working on. Also, getting audience reactions from a general audience really helps you develop as a filmmaker.”

Kirkpatrick sees potential advantages to the virtual format, “Since this is a virtual festival, I’m hoping that people will find it even easier to attend. You don’t have to find parking or buy tickets, you just click a button to attend. And any word of feedback or encouragement through the interactive platforms will help, as will checking out filmmakers’ profiles. The more engagement the filmmakers get, the more beneficial the festival is.”

The festival still includes plenty of Arkansas filmmakers. “The vast majority of the 2020 festival entries are still either from Arkansas or have a connection to Arkansas, such as a filmmaker who either grew up here or went to college here,” Michael said.  “But just because there’s an Arkansas connection doesn’t mean the film is necessarily about Arkansas. It could take place on the moon, but as long as it’s made in Arkansas or one of our neighbor states, it qualifies.”

Festival promotes collaboration, increases visibility

Brooklyn Nicole Alexander, winner of last year’s “Best Arkansas Short”

Brooklyn Nicole Alexander won last year’s “Best Arkansas Short” category with her film “Bingo Night” and has two films entered this year. She currently lives in El Dorado, her hometown, due to the pandemic shutdowns that interrupted her employment at Disney in Orlando.

“I’m really glad they decided to create this festival and host it in one of the best theater venues we have in the state,” Alexander said. “What I love most about this festival is that it is mostly comprised of Arkansas-made films (with a few other southern states in the mix), and while this year is virtual, we will still have the opportunity to network with filmmakers from around Arkansas and the south. This gives Arkansas filmmakers the chance to collaborate on future productions, as they can see a project and say “Hey, I really like the way this director told this story, I want to work with them,” or work with a certain actor they see from a film, or even find a location from our state that was shown in the film. This festival really showcases all the beauty of the Natural State, along with all the talent that we have here, and gives Arkansas filmmakers and artists a chance to shine.”

Genres to please every audience

Opening night feature THE ROCK OF GIBRALTAR, set in 1940s Arkansas

The festival includes many entries from experienced filmmakers to first-timers. A stimulating collection of genres covers all the bases: romance, comedy, thriller, horror, experimental, drama, sci-fi, post-apocalyptic, documentary, mockumentary, and any hybrid you can imagine.

Joey Cole, manager of the CALS Ron Robinson Theater, is looking forward to the festival, as well as the last remaining retrospective of films from last year that will play Saturday, May 23.

“The organizers have done a great job of realizing their mission to bring together and showcase all the diverse filmmakers,” Cole said. “It’s a great contribution to Arkansas arts and culture, and it’s also fun to watch and discuss. So bring your friends, because you can have a virtual get-together at the Festival that will give you food for conversation and laughter for days.”

To find the Kosmi link to the Festival (playing May 26-30) on the CALS Ron Robinson Theater Facebook page, click here.

Can’t wait? Click here for the link to watch a retrospective of last year’s films on Saturday, May 23 at 7 p.m..


Feature by Rosslyn Elliott