After a nine year existence, the Little Rock Film Festival announced on its website Wednesday that it will not be presenting another event. The festival was known for attracting local, regional and national filmmakers who were able to connect and embark on later collaborations.
Matt DeCample, communication director for the 2015 festival, cited a lack of funding and an overwhelming workload for festival staff, who often have full-time jobs aside from their roles in organizing the event. He says one problem organizers faced was the inability find enough sponsorship to fund the hiring of a full-time executive director for the 2016 festival.
“[The organizers] didn't have a current executive director at all. They just had a very big hill to climb just to get it together at all, let alone something they would want to for what would have been the tenth annual film festival,” he said.
Listed as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the festival's struggle to break even often served as a source of frustration for organizers, DeCample said.
“We know a lot of people love this festival and we all love this festival and who knows what the future will bring. But the numbers weren't adding up. And the time from the people who needed the time to put into it just wasn't there”
DeCample said he did not have information on the festival's operating budget, number of sponsors or the number of staff involved with the 2015 festival.
The Little Rock Film Festival was founded in 2006 by documentary filmmaking brothers Brent and Craig Renaud, as well as filmmaker Owen Brainard and real estate investor Jamie Moses. It had been named by MovieMaker Magazine as one of 25 festivals “worth the entry fee.” Normally held in late spring, the festival recently expanded its schedule into a week-long event, with screenings and panel discussions taking place at several locations in downtown Little Rock and North Little Rock. The festival's website indicates that it attracted 20,000 attendees on an annual basis.
In addition to the main event, the LRFF had hosted other, smaller events, including a regular series at the Central Arkansas Library System's Ron Robinson Theater and the Little Rock Picture Show, a weekend festival featuring horror movies.
Responding to an emailed inquiry, festival co-founder Brent Renaud said the role the festival played in fostering a film-producing community may not be easily filled by another festival.
“The one thing that will be difficult for another festival to do, is maintain an environment where local filmmakers are presented on the same level as the best filmmakers in the world. That interaction was a big part of our mission, and very difficult and expensive to maintain. I don't see anyone else in the state at this time, even attempting it on a serious level,” he said.
Renaud pointed to the the revamped Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival as possibly carrying the torch of promoting local filmmakers' work. But he acknowledged that many Arkansas movie-makers are “much more interested in scripted filmmaking.”
Christopher Crane, director of the Arkansas Film Commission, which provides production resources and oversees the state's film incentives program, said he believes the demise of the festival would have economic and touristic implications, as well as ramifications for the creative community.
“I think it deeply impacts the film community. First of all, it was a tremendous networking avenue for Arkansans and local filmmakers to interact and to discuss and creatively combine with national filmmakers,” Crane said.
But Crane said he believes that something will take the LRFF's place.
“I'm guardedly optimistic that perhaps it will rise from the ashes. I think Little Rock's too big of a community not to have a film festival,” he said.
The end of Little Rock's festival comes as a couple of upstart film festivals gain traction in the state. The El Dorado Film Festival recently concluded its second annual event this month, with screenings of more than 30 state, national and international films. The Bentonville Film Festival, which held inaugural events in May, recently touted 37,000 attendees, with 80 percent of its 45 feature-length films securing distribution.
10/1/15 Clarification: Brent Renaud sent the following emailed message saying the above article "significantly overstates the role finances played in the decision to close down the festival."
"...The LRFF is debt free, and last year we had our best fundraising year ever. The fact that we did not have an operations director this summer had nothing to do with finances, and only to do with the fact that the festival staff takes the summer off and regroups in the fall. Had we continued with the festival a new director would have started in late fall as has been the norm in previous years.
We have a large number of generous sponsors and supporters--of course we could always use more--but they provide us with enough resources to upgrade the festival each year; we understand that most arts organizations are not so fortunate. The festival has grown every year in terms of the number of films screened, the number of staff and volunteers working, the amount of money raised, and the critical acclaim of the programming. Had there been a big bucket of money we could have tapped into in order to hire a professional staff with experience working in a major National film festival, we might have done so and continued, but we discussed it and came to an agreement that at this point we all have other things we need to do professionally and personally in our lives. We are proud of what we have accomplished at the LRFF, and the service we have given to the city of Little Rock for almost a decade. We decided that it was time to step aside, and let someone else take a go at it."