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One way to look at cinema is as a glimpse into the lives of others.

A movie camera is a safe way to gaze at things we mightn't otherwise encounter, be they hostile space aliens with death ray eyes or Tom Cruise hanging off the side of an Airbus A400M. The camera inserts us into the screen, our remote eye, allowing us to witness scenes that make indelible impressions on our minds. Movies simulate experience; they show us worlds that are strange and allow us to identify with characters with whom we might share little other than sentience.

It's no mystery why we've seen such a proliferation of film festivals in recent years. Thanks to digital tools, it has never been easier or less expensive to make a movie. You can get all the equipment you need to start shooting at a big box store. Lots of movies are being made, in backyards and on the weekends, by aspiring commercial filmmakers and people simply experimenting with visual storytelling. It makes sense that people organize events to show them.

Next week -- on Thursday -- the four-day Kaleidoscope Film Festival kicks off at The Studio Theatre, 320 W. Seventh St. in downtown Little Rock. (Some screenings will also be held at Club Sway, 412 S. Louisiana St.) Presented by the Film Society of Little Rock, the festival seeks to "present the beautiful mosaic of the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] experience through film." The website is kaleidoscopefilmfestival.com, and there you can buy individual tickets ($8), a $30 film pass or a $100 VIP pass that allows access to all screenings, panels and the filmmakers lounge.

"Two years ago I read an article about the lineup for Outfest in L.A., one of the largest LGBT festivals in the world," says Tony Taylor, the director of the new festival. "The lineup was terrific. The article pointed out there has been a sea change in LGBT films. The topics of the films had diversified and the overall quality had improved. I remember wishing some of these movies would play in Little Rock. Even though we have entered the [video on demand] era of watching movies ... lots of times it can take a year or two before a film reaches home viewers and by then you may have forgotten about a particular film. And sometimes a film never gets distribution, making festivals one of the best ways to watch some films."

Taylor says that after reading the lineups for Outfest and San Francisco's Frameline, the oldest and largest LGBT film festival in the world, he decided to start an LGBT film festival in Little Rock.

Taylor says the festival will screen 13 feature and 40 short films, including some of the most popular films on the LGBT film festival circuit.

"Game Face won an Audience Award at Frameline in June," he says. "Those People -- won an Audience Award this past Sunday at Outfest. Naz and Maalik premiered at SXSW. The leads won Best Actor at Outfest on Sunday."

I haven't seen any of the films on the schedule except for Mark Thiedeman's exceptional Sacred Hearts, Holy Souls, a 40-minute coming-of-age story that won the Charles B. Pierce Award for Best Film Made in Arkansas at the 2014 Little Rock Film Festival. The film will be presented Aug. 1 and will be followed by a conversation between director Thiedeman and Bruce Hutchinson, professor of digital filmmaking at the University of Central Arkansas.

Sacred Hearts, Holy Souls is beautifully photographed -- a great-looking movie from shot to shot. It's deftly edited, and Thiedeman's use of a classical score and Renaissance religious art is witty, provocative and audacious; one of the things I like best about the movie is the obvious ambition it evinces. Thiedeman is not afraid to invite comparison to enduring works of art.

While the technical values are obviously high, what people relate to is the story. Although the story the movie tells might not seem a remarkable one when synopsized -- it's set in a Catholic boarding school for boys in the not so distant past, and the main character is a young misfit (Harrison Tanner Dean) struggling with his homosexuality -- the writing is deft and the acting is first-rate. (Even if some of the actors are a little old to be playing teenagers.)

On one level this is a genre story, complete with the requisite curmudgeonly priest (played by C. Tucker Steinmetz and apparently based affectionately on longtime Catholic High patriarch Father George Tribou). Yet there's an uncommon sensitivity and empathy that pervades the film, and while one suspects that many of the incidents may be drawn from life, all bitterness has been expiated. In the end, Sacred Hearts, Holy Souls is a testament to friendship that ought to connect with a general audience.

If you haven't seen it, this is your chance. (Or your chance to see it again.) Thiedeman is an impressive talent, and he's developing a feature-length version of the film.

Other promising features include the festival opener Henry Gamble's Birthday Party, which co-stars former Little Rock resident Kelly O'Sullivan; Stu Maddux's documentary The Reel in the Closet; the world premiere of Matthew Doyle's Chasing Pavement, about a gay porn star trying to start a new career as a chef; and the festival's closing night film, S&M Sally, a comedy set in the world of bondage and sado-masochism that activist and critic Richard Propes wrote "not only makes you enjoy its characters but makes you wish you had them in your life."

"We have a great LGBT community with many allies," he says, "so I was certain Little Rock could sustain the festival."

Email:

pmartin@arkansasonline.com

www.blooddirtangels.com

MovieStyle on 07/24/2015

Print Headline: Film festival to be Arkansas' Outfest

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