Icon (Close Menu)


Film Festivals Highlight Arkansas Culture, Put Cities in Display

3 min read

In the last decade, the film industry has garnered increasing interest in Arkansas, as evidenced by the number of film festivals taking place across the state.

Last month marked the ninth annual Little Rock Film Festival and the first Bentonville Film Festival.

Festival organizers say the events draw crowds to local businesses and venues, casting a positive light on their respective communities and creating a measurable economic impact.

The Bentonville Film Festival took place May 5-9, and organizers are already planning next year’s installment.

An estimated 35,000 people attended the festival over its five days, according to Kalene Griffith, president and CEO of Visit Bentonville. She said the event meant an extra $300,000 to $400,000 to the city, an estimate she called “conservative.”

“I thought it was a huge success,” Griffith said. “We offered something new to our area … the film industry was a new concept for us and we were learning more about it.”

The Bentonville festival is the newest among 30 that Griffith said takes place throughout the state each year. Among them are better known, long-standing events like the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, now in its 24th year, and upstarts like the El Dorado Film Festival, which holds its second installment in September.

Many Arkansas festivals haven’t been around very long, Griffith said.

Matt DeCample, a spokesman for the Little Rock Film Festival, said that despite the abundance of festivals in Arkansas, he doesn’t think there is competition among them.

“I think it’s complimentary,” DeCample said. “It’s just showing that there can be that kind of cultural draw within the film industry and within the state. As the years go on we’ll see how the dynamic builds. I think it’s more evidence that, as a state, Arkansas is becoming a good place for the film industry.”

DeCample said the Little Rock Film Festival helps to “show off” the area. He said the festivals are a chance for the city to create good word of mouth about itself as well as provide local filmmakers a place to debut their work.

“I think that, as the festival has grown, its reputation has improved throughout the film industry,” DeCample said. “We had more Arkansas-produced film this year than we ever have before.”

The Bentonville Film Festival, co-founded by actress Geena Davis and supported in part by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. of Bentonville, made headlines nationally, including a feature in The New York Times and mention on “Entertainment Tonight.” But the event was a long time in the making, according to Griffith.

“In the blueprint for our city, one of the things they recommended was to get involved in the film industry,” Griffith said. 

Getting In

Another appeal of some of these festivals is the low or nonexistent cost of admission. 

This weekend, the Ron Robinson Theater in Little Rock will host the Czech That Film Festival, a two-day event presented by the Little Rock Film Festival, the Central Arkansas Library System, the Arkansas Film Commission and the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. The event, which will screen five films from the Czech Republic, is free, although attendees must reserve tickets through Eventbrite.

Lenka Horakova, honorary consul of the Czech Republic in Arkansas and AEDC’s business development director for Europe, moved to the U.S. 18 years ago. She said there have been several Czech film festivals around the country since 2012, but this is the first time Little Rock will host the event.

“Things in Little Rock and Arkansas, I can see a big difference between when I arrived 18 years ago and now,” Horakova said. “There are more things to do and a growing interest in culture and the city is becoming more vibrant.”

Being able to offer a multitude of niche film festivals says a lot about Arkansas urbanity, according to Scott Hardin, the director of communications for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.

“The Czech ambassador to the U.S. has traveled to Little Rock and they were so impressed with it that they thought it would be a great location,” Hardin said. “Culturally it’s a great spot to have a film festival.”

Send this to a friend