LITTLE ROCK FILM FESTIVAL Preview

The ninth annual Little Rock Film Festival (LRFF) kicks off on Monday, May 11th and for the first time in the history of this site I will be attending and reporting on as much of it as I can. The downside to this is that May is probably the busiest month of the year for me without including attending and writing about the films I see, but because it is the month of graduations, weddings, numerous other city festivals and many other kinds of events not to mention the global movie releases that continue to ramp up in volume due to the summer movie season officially kicking off last weekend. All of that said, I will be attempting to see as many films, Q&A's and other interesting presentations at the LRFF this year as well as bringing write-ups of each to this site as promptly as possible. Given Little Rock is generally regarded as something of a smaller market and doesn't always get the chance to see many of the smaller, indie releases until much later in their staggered release dates and sometimes not even at all it will be a genuine treat to have the opportunity to see some truly independent films on the big screen, the way they were intended to be seen rather than having to catch them months down the road at home or on a computer screen. You can check out the full schedule of events by clicking here as well as my tentative schedule after the jump.

The festival officially begins at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, May 11th with a screening of King Jack followed by a Q&A with writer/director Felix Thompson and star Charlie Plummer. This film marks Thompson's feature directorial debut and is already picking up buzz after winning the Audience Award at this years Tribecca Film Festival. Jack follows a fifteen year-old delinquent who is stuck in a run-down small town. Trapped in a violent feud with a cruel older bully and facing another bout of summer school, Jack's got all the problems he can handle. It is when Jack's aunt falls ill and his annoying younger cousin is forced to stay with him for the weekend that Jack reaches his limit. Described as being set over a single, hazy summer weekend, King Jack is intended to be a tough and tender coming of age story about friendship and finding happiness in bleak surroundings. Naturally, the films at this festival will largely deal with the region in which the festival is based and this seems like a perfectly fine film to kick things off. With enough buzz around it to create some real anticipation, I'm looking forward to not only getting the opportunity to see a Tribecca winner, but hearing the creative force behind it and the face on the front of it discuss how it came to be all they imagined.

King Jack Review

That will do it as far as Monday is concerned while it looks like I won't make it back to the Festival until Wednesday evening. First up on the docket for that night is an 83-minute drama titled Krisha. The synopsis describes something of an unsettling portrait stating, "when Krisha returns for a holiday gathering, the only things standing in her way are family, dogs, and turkey." While this doesn't give much away and, if anything, sounds oddly intriguing if not the strongest of hooks what makes my anticipation for this one rather high is the fact it was the winner of the Grand Jury Award for narrative features at SXSW (as well as an elaboration of Shults’ prize-winning 2014 short of the same title). Per the Variety review out of SXSW their chief film critic, Justin Chang, described the film as being about, "an especially fraught Thanksgiving holiday brings a woman’s troubled, booze-soaked history into blistering yet compassionate focus." Going on to describe it as, "an intimate and unnerving character study that marks a ferociously impressive feature debut for 26-year-old multihyphenate Trey Edward Shults." While I don't typically like to read reviews for films prior to viewing them and forming my own opinion it is only necessary when making out a schedule for a festival and from all I'm gathering about this one, I can't wait to see if it lives up to the hype.

Krisha Review

I will also be checking out Uncertain on Tuesday night which is a documentary about the multifaceted, complicated and sometimes hilarious relationship between man and nature. Described as something of a kind of character-driven, environmental tone poem Uncertain won the Albert Maysles Award for Best New Documentary Director at the Tribeca Film Festival. A Q&A with filmmakers Ewan McNicol and Anna Sandilands as well as select members of the cast is scheduled to follow the screening.

Uncertain Review

I will be moderating the Q&A after the 3:00p.m. screening of God Bless the Child on Friday, May 15.
Moving on to Friday I will have my biggest day of the week. It begins at 10:30 a.m. with writer/director Bob Byington's 7 Chinese Brothers starring Jason Schwartzman and Stephen Root. The film follows Larry (Schwartzman), an inebriated sad sack who rides a tide of booze onto the shores of an undiscriminating Quick-Lube. The only bright spot is probably his boss, Lupe (Eleanore Pienta). This screening is followed by a Q&A with Byington which will then be followed by my screening of God Bless the Child at 3 p.m. God Bless the Child comes to us courtesy of filmmaking duo Robert Machoian and Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck (Forty Years from Yesterday) and centers around five siblings who are left on their own and wind up turning a summer day into one full of fantasy and chaos. I will be sitting down with directors Machoian and Ojeda-Beck for a Q&A following the screening. In light of this I've been doing some research on the duo's only prior feature film, the aforementioned Forty Years from Yesterday. I found Forty Years to be extremely meditative and very concentrated on its long, quiet shots where much of what the film is trying to say is communicated through imagery rather than dialogue. What this technique allows the filmmakers to do is to highlight the technicalities, the small touches and details of situations in order to bring out the truth in them. Some of our actions don't make sense in the broad scheme of the world, but when brought down to individual situations, the details are key and those little caveats of truth shine through in Machoian and Ojeda-Beck's work.

God Bless The Child Review

Depending on what time everything going on around God Bless the Child wraps up I may or may not get the chance to squeeze in a screening of Applesauce. While I don't know much about the film at the moment, the premise on this one sounds really promising and is something that could go several different ways. Written and directed by Onur Tukel (Richard's Wedding, Summer of Blood) the story tells of radio talk show host Stevie Bricks who, every Tuesday night, invites his listeners to call in and share their stories. When one night he asks people to share the worst thing they’ve ever done, high school teacher Ron Welz can't resist. What he reveals sets off a chain of uncontrollable events adversely affecting his marriage and another couple. And when someone starts sending him body parts, his life really begins to fall apart. There will be a sit down with director Tukel for a Q&A following this screening as well. Immediately after Applesauce I will move on to my last film of the day in Uncle Kent 2 which is scheduled to begin at 8:00 p.m. While I haven't seen the first Uncle Kent, it was directed by Joe Swanberg who I'm a moderate fan of if not more in awe of how he constructs and directs his films. In an attempt to create a follow-up to Swanberg's 2011 flick, the titular Kent Osborne travels to a comic book convention in San Diego where he loses his mind and confronts the end of the world. Osborne will also be on hand for a Q&A following the screening.

Finally, while I won't make it out to the Festival Saturday I would love to try and at least make it out to the final screening on Sunday. This will all be up in the air at the moment given my brother-in-law is graduating from high school on Sunday with the ceremonies commencing at 3 p.m. in Hot Springs (about an hour from Little Rock if you're not from around here). This will most definitely exclude my only chance to see the 2014 Un Certain Regard Cannes Film Festival Prize winner, White God, about a thirteen-year-old named Lili who fights to protect her dog Hagen despite her father eventually setting Hagen free on the streets. Lili, who still innocently believes love can conquer all, sets out to find her dog and save him. While it's unfortunate I will not have the opportunity to see this supposedly beautiful film on the big screen I do hope to try and make it back in time for the 7:00 p.m. screening of Turbo Kid. Turbo Kid premiered to rave reviews at the Sundance Film Festival this year and carried its good will on through to SXSW. Seeming to fit perfectly into this current rush of 80's inspired cinema (You're Next, The Guest, It Follows) with full synth soundtracks Turbo Kid tells the story of THE KID, a young solitary scavenger in a post-apocalyptic future who is obsessed with comic books and must face his fears and become a reluctant hero after meeting a mysterious girl named APPLE. While there are a few other films screening at the festival including Sundance award-winners Cartel Land and How to Change the World  as well as the National Lampoon documentary Drunk Stoned Brilliant and Dead that I'd like to see, they are screening at the same time as some of the aforementioned films I do plan to see. Still, I like to think I have a solid line-up ready to go and hope you stick with me as I'll be posting reviews for all the films I see throughout next week.