An Arkansas town with a population of about 10,000 will once again be host to one of the nation’s smallest but most enduring film festivals. The 16th annual Ozark Foothills FilmFest is kicking off Friday in Batesville. Screenings are happening on two consecutive weekends, April 14-15 and April 21-22, at the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville.
Co-founder and executive director Judy Pest says this year’s slate of about 30 short and feature length films continues the festival’s somewhat challenging mission of showcasing depictions of rural life.
“It has been hard through the years to even find movies that don’t take place in an urban setting. We kind of feel like this is a niche that’s appropriate for us,” she says.
Pest says that one of the missions of the festival is to bridge the rural-urban cultural divide by attracting attendees from cities like Little Rock and the local communities around Independence County. This is accomplished in part, she says, by choosing to show authentic portrayals made by filmmakers who know and understand rural life.
“I think that movies that are created in rural areas by folks who have grown up and experienced that lifestyle are just by definition going to be more accurate depictions of what that kind of approach to the world might be like,” she says.
A schedule of events can be found here. The first screening is Friday at 7pm of a Japanese film, Tatara Samurai. On Saturday, April 22nd at 11am, a group of filmmakers will participate in a panel called “Reel Rural: Rural America in Independent Film.”
Another potential challenge for the festival on the horizon: dealing with the possible lack of funding now threatened under President Trump’s proposed budget. Pest says about 40 percent of the festival’s cash expenses are paid with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, which the Trump administration has proposed eliminating. Pest says the festival would “simply cease to exist” without the $10,000 in annual grant money it receives from the NEA’s Challenge America program.