Earlier this year, the Arkansas Cinema Society (ACS) announced its partnership with the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts as a new venue for their future events; I couldn't help but find this change in venue intriguing.
For the past decade, the Central Arkansas Library System's Ron Robinson Theater in the River Market District had served as the go-to destination for all things film. With ACS's move, I eagerly awaited their first major event, curious to see how this partnership would unfold and how it would be received by the local film community. Then, just a few weeks ago, ACS revealed their inaugural event: an evening featuring Academy Award-winning actress Laura Dern and her eccentric, rambunctious mother, Academy Award-nominee Diane Ladd.
Dern and Ladd have been traveling the country, promoting their new book, "Honey, Baby, Mine: A Mother and Daughter Talk Life, Death, Love (and Banana Pudding)." The catalyst for this heartfelt book occurred four years ago when Ladd faced a life-threatening illness and doctors only gave her months to live. Against the odds, with her daughter's unwavering support, Ladd defied medical expectations and embarked on a remarkable journey of recovery. During their prescribed long walks to rebuild lung capacity, Dern and Ladd engaged in earnest conversations that inspired their book.
I arrived at MacArthur Park early to take a look around the newly refurbished facilities. Finding my seat in the museum's performance hall -- middle row, middle seat -- I became a bit nervous, as the vast majority of the people funneling into the auditorium were middle-aged, white women; almost everyone was dressed in summery floral attire. Hell, even I was sporting my pastel blue polo and khakis. The guests of honor were even wearing coordinating white and blue summer dresses, looking like they belonged on a screened-in porch sipping iced tea.
The actresses entered. Dern, latching onto her 87-year-old mother's arm, assisted her to her seat at the center of the stage. Although Ladd may have looked feeble and vulnerable, once she started talking, she came off like a spitfire. Her deep Mississippi accent and casual Southern dialect set the atmosphere for the evening; the audience was treated to one of the best raconteurs I've had the pleasure of listening to in a long time. There was no subject she wasn't willing to breach; she even talked about her illness from being exposed to a toxic pesticide with utter candor, making it nothing short of engrossing and heartbreaking -- especially considering that her dog, Ginger, didn't survive the toxic exposure.
The moderator for the conversation, Jayme Lemons, an ACS board member as well as a producing partner with Dern, shifted the conversation to their acting careers. Dern and Ladd have acted together in well over a half dozen movies, usually playing mother and daughter. They even shot a movie together in Arkansas back in the early 2000s called "Daddy and Them." My favorite moment of the evening was when they discussed their collaborations with director David Lynch. Ladd mentioned the two Lynch movies that she and Dern were both in: "Wild at Heart" (1990) and "Inland Empire" (2006) -- two of my favorite Lynch movies.
I scanned the audience to see if anyone else was excited about this topic, but to my surprise, the majority of the crowd didn't seem familiar with these masterpieces of surreal cinema. I assumed that the demographics for Lynch is a lot different from the makeup of this particular crowd. But Dern did a spot-on Lynch impression that made me laugh.
Among the dozen stories that Ladd weaved on the stage, the theme of the night became clear: "Don't wait until your loved ones are on death's bed to ask questions."
Get their stories now while you still have the chance. This message made me think of my relationship with my mother and my grandmother, who turned 92 this year. Just like Dern helped Ladd across the stage, I too hook my grandmother's arm every time I see her and help her walk at a snail's pace. Perhaps this summer, I'll take my grandmother on some extended walks in the country and listen to her stories.
The night concluded with Ladd leading the audience in singing the chorus of the old folk blues "The Crawdad Song": "You get a line, I'll get a pole, we'll go down to the crawdad hole. Honey, baby, mine."
The crowd was left singing and clapping as Dern and Ladd exited the same way they came in, holding onto each other, embraced as mother and daughter, cherishing these moments.
This inaugural event for ACS and the museum was nothing less than a success. The event sold out within days of the initial announcement, filling the performance hall with nearly 400 people. As of right now, this partnership seems to be a good thing and is just another example of the things that ACS has been getting right since the beginning of the year. They've had several events these past few months that aimed to bring local filmmakers and enthusiasts together. Between the periodic spotlight screenings of locally produced movies and the monthly filmmaker get-togethers, the Arkansas Cinema Society is being proactive in its effort to unite the local film community.