My full time profession is being a producer-writer-director in the entertainment business. I live and work in Little Rock, Arkansas. I also spend a considerable amount of time in Los Angeles where I’m privileged to have an office in which to hang my hat during the day and a bed on which to lay my body at night. Little Rock is a city of just under 200,000 people. It’s my home and I love it. Los Angeles is a city of nearly 4 million. I love L.A. and the Industry that calls it home.
L.A. (and NYC) may be a cinephile’s paradise — offering the widest variety and most opportunity to sample films from the U.S. and around the world, but having seen what else is out there, I can tell you that Little Rock is a unique and vibrant oasis for people who love movies. There are no U.S. cities of comparable size and only a few major markets outside LA/NYC that can compete pound for pound with this town’s love for film and opportunities to experience film.
It’s gratifying to be in a market this small and know that on the day I’m typing these words I could buy a ticket to see the Sundance darling, THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL, the sure-to-be-nominated documentary, BEST OF ENEMIES, and the widely praised, THE END OF THE TOUR. I saw MR. HOLMES in a full theater at 3PM the Tuesday after it opened. It was the smallest theater in the house but just about every seat was taken.
There are 49 movie screens within 10 miles of my house in Little Rock. Our neighborhood theater (Regal 12) is one of the finest places in the United States to see a movie. That’s not hyperbole. The sound and projection are stellar and every seat in the place is a leather recliner with a scandalous amount of personal space in front, behind, and in-between seats. It’s clean and well managed. My family sees about 25 movies a year there. Riverdale 10 is a first run arthouse/studio hybrid that’s working. You can catch the latest tentpoles there but they dedicate half the screens to more challenging fare and great docs. (I was thrilled to check out THE WRECKING CREW there during its original run.)
Ron Robinson Theater is a state of the art theater built and operated by the Central Arkansas Library System. Screening movies there wasn’t an afterthought – the place was designed for it. The venue runs a great program. THE GREAT GATSBY (1974) with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow screens this week. Robinson also hosts premieres and film panels. I recently saw the work of two high school students who screened their short documentaries for a packed house. The place is also home court for the Little Rock Film Festival.
The LRFF has been rated three times by MovieMaker as one of the Top 25 Festivals “worth the entry fee.” The Festival will mark its 10th year in 2016 and in that short time it has become one of the most popular festivals in the country with filmmakers. Two of the festival’s founders are the Peabody Award winning documentary filmmaking brothers – Brent and Craig Renaud. The festival programs a deep and wide variety of films. Its great reputation for Southern hospitality coupled with over $10,000 in cash prizes for winning films draws filmmakers from all over the world.
At this point I need to say that because of time and space I know I’m leaving people and places out of this conversation who deserve to be here. And I’m not even opening the lid on the conversation about filmmakers who make their home in and around Little Rock — or all the production that takes place in the State. That said, I can’t wrap this up without mentioning one person and publication that make the whole topic of Little Rock being a cinephile’s oasis a real chicken and egg conversation. Which came first, a great film culture or great writing about film?
As more and more larger markets are giving up on keeping a local movie critic at their daily newspapers, Little Rock still has one of the best in the country. Philip Martin is an award-winning film critic with an impressive breadth of experience, interests and talent. He’s been president of of the Southeastern Film Critics Association and he’s one of RottenTomatoes Top Critics. The (Movie)Style section of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette that he writes and edits for each Friday’s edition is one of the best collections of film criticism and information available in the country. Period. (Philip blogs at blood, dirt & angels.)
So those are just a few of the reasons I never feel deprived when it comes to seeing movies or talking about movies when I’m home in Little Rock. And those are a few of the reasons I am surprised when I’m on the road and find a major city newspaper that only runs wire service movie reviews. Or when I attend a less than stellar film festival in another city that’s had a lot of years to get it right. Come on up, down, or over to Little Rock and check it out for yourself. Drop me a line if you do.