If you're even a little bit involved with the film community in central Arkansas, you probably know Tony Taylor.
I usually notice his smile first -- he's got a few varieties in his arsenal. There's his beatific beam. And then there's a great wide country grin.
He's around whenever anything is going on; in the past he has worked with the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, the Little Rock Film Festival, the Little Rock Horror Picture Show, the Reel Civil Rights Film Festival, Fantastic Cinema and Little Rock's 48 Hour Film Project. He's the founder and executive director of the nonprofit Film Society of Little Rock and the driving force behind the Kaleidoscope LGBT Film Festival. He's one of the founders of Flokati Films, a vibrant local production company that has produced a number of award-winning shorts including Mark Thiedeman's lovely Sacred Hearts, Holy Souls (2014).
His latest project is the Made in Arkansas Film Festival, which kicked off Thursday night at Little Rock's Ron Robinson Theater. Tony envisions the festival as a way to showcase the work of Arkansas filmmakers -- to give them a venue to present finished and in-progress work and to network and bond with like-minded artists. If you're not doing anything this evening or Saturday, you could do a lot worse than spend $5 for a ticket for a session. (For more information on the program, see the festival's website at madeinark.org.)
Last year Karen and I happened to run into Tony while we were walking our dogs in Little Rock's Heights neighborhood; we got coffee and sat with him for a couple of hours as he enthusiastically described his vision for the festival. He sees it as an opportunity to build and nurture a scene that's been slowly building over the past 15 years or so.
He was positively giddy about the prospects for the inaugural festival, which he saw as a complement to the Arkansas Cinema Society's yearlong programming.
Tony wanted to get the Arkansas Cinema Society on board with his project. He was all about coordinating efforts, having a unified front. (Of course, they signed on.) Tony's always been inclusive.
Films got submitted. The inaugural festival began to come together.
And then, on April 7, Tony suffered a stroke on the left side of his brain.
People close to him describe it as "massive" -- it knocked away huge blocks of his memory. His speech was impaired. He couldn't drive. He (obviously) couldn't work. He would have to relearn the alphabet, relearn how to read.
His friend and partner in Flokati Films Johnnie Brannon and others finished up the work on Made in Arkansas for him.
"I caught up with him last week and he looks and sounds like regular Tony, except he's still trying to put pieces back together," Brannon says. "Right now, he's doing quite a bit of rehab. It's like, he knows what a film projector is, but he can't remember the name of it. He gets his days, weeks and months mixed up and gets people confused. It's mostly re-wiring and how to write and read where he will be working on the most. He wants to come to the festival really bad and I told him Friday night may be the best night. If so, I'll run up ... and bring him down."
According to his sister Nicole Hales on a GoFundMe page she set up to help with his medical expenses, doctors are optimistic about Tony's chances for a full recovery, although they expect it will take between six months and a year. He's still on social media, posting on Facebook by speaking into his phone. After Boyz n the Hood director John Singleton succumbed to a stroke, Tony posted, "This one hurts real bad!" He also posted his reaction to a Game of Thrones episode (Oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my God!!!!!!!!) and decreed BBC America's Killing Eve "sublime."
He "waved" at me on Facebook a couple weeks ago. For the first and only time in my life, I waved back.
Now we've reached the point where I'm supposed to write that Tony is a fighter and I have no doubt that his rehabilitation will be full and complete and by this time next year he'll be back at the helm for the second annual Made in Arkansas Film Festival. But the truth is we don't know that; nothing is guaranteed to any of us.
I think startups of any kind are pretty vulnerable, and that the long-term prospects for any film festival are about the same as a restaurant's. A few will make five years, fewer will make a decade, some will abide for decades.
And it's never easy.
Still, we've got tonight and Saturday night to spend however we see fit.
If you happen to see Tony this weekend, he might not recognize you, at least not right away. But I bet he'll be smiling.
MovieStyle on 05/17/2019
Print Headline: Film aficionado Tony Taylor recovering from stroke