The 14th annual Ozark Foothills FilmFest begins this weekend in Batesville. KUAR's Chris Hickey spoke with some of those involved about how it has fostered community in a remote, rural area of the State.
Judy Pest founded the Ozark Foothills FilmFest with her husband Bob more than a decade ago with the hopes of creating a cultural and artistic dialogue among the sparsely populated communities of North Central Arkansas.
“The basic concept is cultural equity,” she said.
Even as online streaming services expose people living in remote regions to a variety of media, Pest is convinced that people are always hungry to come together and talk about what they experience.
“Certainly for any kind of artistic or cultural activities that involve live human beings showing up someplace, that's historically been something that people in remote areas haven't had the opportunity to take advantage of,” she said.
So, as with previous years, the two-weekend FilmFest has invited filmmakers from around the country and the state to display and discuss the process and motivation behind their movies, which range from shorts and documentaries to feature length fictional narratives.
FilmFest crowds, which once numbered in the handfuls for certain events, have grown since the early years. Pest says funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. The Independence County Recreation Fund and the Mid-America Arts Alliance has kept the FilmFest's programming solid.
Jay Craven is an independent filmmaker from Vermont and was one of the first filmmakers to present at the FilmFest when it was just getting off the ground. He says he was first contacted by Bob Pest, who had found a “kindred spirit” in Craven. He says he spent much of his career “barnstorming” different New England communities showing independent and foreign films.
Craven's film, Northern Borders deals with life in rural Vermont in the mid-20th Century and will show on opening night. He notes the Ozark Foothills Filmfest's unique spot among other festivals around the country.
“For one thing, it's in Arkansas,” he said “And another is that it's in rural Arkansas. I mean, most film festivals around the country are in cities or they're in resorts or they're in heavily traveled places.”
Craven strongly identifies not only with the Filmfest's commitment to expose lesser-known worlds to rural communities, but also to displaying unique portraits of rural life in ways Hollywood often falls short of doing.
“I think that the festival is committed to the idea that there are authentic voices of independent filmmakers in rural areas that speak much more directly to rural people,” said Craven.
Among this year's FilmFest screenings that deal with those rural themes is Woke Up this Mornin' in the Arkansas Delta. It was Written and Directed by Missouri Filmmaker Benjamin Meade, who traveled throughout that region examining its people, cultural legacy and ongoing hardships.
And while the small, largely rural audience may benefit from greater exposure to their own surroundings and to the outside, longtime Filmfest board member Jane Parker says it's also the filmmakers who benefit.
“Arkansas does not have the highest reputation in the United States, and neither do rural areas in general. So Arkansas has a double whammy. It's rural and it's kind of expected to be backward. So I think that bringing in filmmakers from big cities...it gave them a glimpse of what we are,” said Parker.
And FilmfFest co-founder Judy Pest says she hopes that developing reputation will keep leading to a brighter future.
“I know how difficult it is to do what we're doing today and if we can continue to it as well as we currently are, but continue to be innovative in terms of our programming and our outreach efforts, I think we'll be doing fine,” said Pest.
Ozark Foothills FilmFest runs Friday April 3rd, Saturday April 4th and Friday April 10th and Saturday April 11th.