Little Rock Film Festival Shines

By Vic Fleming

The latest version of the Little Rock Film Festival was the best yet. Ask anyone who gathered at the Old Statehouse Sunday, May 18, for the Awards Gala. The enthusiasm of the filmmakers was infectious.

Though a disproportionate number of local directors are thirtysomethings, in the mix is retired circuit judge David Bogard. His short narrative, “A Matter of Honor,” depicts Confederate and Union soldiers being neighborly to each other between battles. Ed Lowry received the Best Performance Award for his role. Grats, Ed, and thumbs up, David!

John Hockaday won Best Director of a Made-in-Arkansas film. I missed “Stuck,” also a short, but the clips made it look funny. The Best Made-in-Arkansas Film went to “Sacred Hearts, Holy Souls,” a 40-minute film I also missed.

“Stop the Pounding Heart” won Best Southern Film. I saw it, and am baffled by its success. It’s “cinematic nonfiction,” which means “not a documentary.” A large family of home-schooled goat farmers intermingle with a family of bull-riders, as they act out the work and play of a normal day in rural Texas.

Best Short Film went to “The King of Size,” a documentary about a 40-year-old bodybuilder’s 17-year quest to reclaim the coveted “Mr. New York” title. Didn’t see it; wish I had.

Best Narrative went to “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter.” It’s about a Japanese woman who chases her dream to America. Having found a VHS of “Fargo” in a treasure chest in Japan, she studies the movie and is convinced there’s a briefcase full of cash buried near the Minnesota-North Dakota line. She goes for it.

Best Documentary went to “Virunga,” so titled for the national park in Congo that is home to the endangered mountain gorilla. A British firm wants to exploit the park to drill for oil. Saw these last two, agree fully with their being awarded high honors.

A film that didn’t get any LRFF awards but which impressed me greatly was “I Believe in Unicorns.” Just last month it won the jury award for narrative feature film at the Atlanta Film Festival. Written and directed by NYU grad student Leah Myerhoff, it features Amy Seimetz of Nashville in the lead role.

Davina, a teenage girl, runs away with an older boy. But the themes run deep. And Amy runs away with the show. The unicorn motif is presented through clever animation. Davina’s coming-of-age is truncated in an all-too-familiar way.

I liked it a lot, but … I’d trim a few scenes; the criticism they invite outweighs what they add. I’d change the title to a dependent clause, “Dream of the Unicorn,” say. The full-sentence thing suggests cutesiness, and this film ain’t cutesy. I’d also add seven to 10 minutes, somehow – possibly via narration over scenes on the cutting room floor. Good luck in Europe, Leah!

In conclusion, LRFF officials need to work on the vote-by-text system they used this year for the Audience Award, which went to “Korengal,” the war doc sequel to “Restrepo.” All in all, though, I commend them all for a job well done! Especially the founders: Craig, Brent, Owen and Jamie.

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at