OPINION | FILMSCENE: A guide to fall film festivals in Arkansas

Autumn has finally arrived here in Arkansas. Gone (we hope) are the days of blistering triple-digit heat. The leaves that haven't been burnt by the sun are slowly changing their color. Razorbacks fans have dusted off their red and white paraphernalia in anticipation of another disappointingly mediocre season on the football field. College freshmen have gotten accustomed to the next phase of life without mom and dad, while younger kids toil away in their classrooms, waiting for winter break to hurry up and arrive as soon as possible.

But as local movie fans, we are gearing up for what is the busiest time of year as studios and theaters not only start to churn out movies that qualify as Oscar bait, like Martin Scorsese's "Killers of the Flower Moon" and Ridley Scott's "Napoleon," but it is also the return of some of the biggest film festivals and events for the state. There are so many cinematic events happening these next couple of months that there's pretty much something fun to do almost every weekend as we slowly reach the end of the year. So much so, that I feel overwhelmed just by looking at the white, free spaces on my calendar disappearing and giving way to the black ink that's sealing my fate from now until Christmas.

With so much going on from Hot Springs and Little Rock to Northwest Arkansas, I figured I would create an easy-to-grasp list of most of the forthcoming events for your sake, that way you can better schedule out your weekends, but more so for my sake as I try to figure out how I can possibly attend everything, even if it means finding a way to be in multiple places at once.

SPA-CON, Today-Sunday

The summer season concludes with events like the 48 Hour Film competition and the quaint Cabot Firehouse Film Festival, but the event that brings September to a close is this weekend's comic convention, Spa-Con, which takes place in Hot Springs. I find comic conventions to be rather hit and miss. I didn't really have a good time at the Arkansas Comic Con a few weeks ago, but I will say that I've never had a bad experience at Spa-Con the handful of times I've attended. Their celebrity guest lists have always been impressive. I've met the likes of the great blaxploitation queen, Pam Grier, and "Twin Peaks" cast members Sherilyn Fenn and Sheryl Lee.

This year's lineup includes Annabeth Gish ("Mystic Pizza," "X-Files") and Orlando Jones ("Mad TV" and "Drumline"). The convention offers quite a lot for the price, like free photo ops with the celebrities, a giant laser tag arena, panels, and a massive cosplay dance party. This year it also has the Star Wars-influenced heavy metal band, Galactic Empire, with a special concert tonight. This convention, as opposed to others that I've been to in the past, has a beating pulse and feels alive.


Younger film enthusiasts might be interested in the Ozark Media Arts Fest taking place in Springdale. This event is geared toward local and regional high school students who have the inclination to explore the professional world of film, broadcast television, podcasting, photography, or graphic design. The two-day event appears like it will be jam-packed with workshops and on-site competitions. The event shares some similarities with what the Student Television Network offers on a national level, which is a great thing as it should offer students guidance and advice on how to break into an industry that can be complex to navigate. This is the kind of local event that I wish was available when I was in high school.


Nine days of documentary bliss. The biggest and best film festival in Arkansas returns with another exciting and impressive slate of films. The great thing about its lineup is that there's something for everyone: personal documentaries, the exploration of different cultures, political documentaries, traditional, experimental, student, and short documentaries. But one impressive addition to this year's festival is their new Filmmaker Forum that will be taking place on the 9th and 10th, which includes "panels, workshops, one-on-one meetings with executives, and will offer a multitude of opportunities for filmmakers to connect and foster community."

FILMLAND, Oct. 6-7 and 13-17

One of the best things that the Arkansas Cinema Society offers with its annual Filmland event is giving us an early sneak peek of big movies before they reach wide audiences. Last year it screened the Oscar-nominated "Empire of Light" and the indie horror movie "Nanny" (which will soon be entering the Criterion Collection). This year it is showcasing Jeff Nichols' "The Bikeriders," starring Austin Butler, Jodie Comer, Michael Shannon and Tom Hardy.

It's also nice to see the festival has put an even larger spotlight on Arkansas-produced films this year. There will be at least a half dozen blocks of films dedicated to local students and professionals.


If you're in Northwest Arkansas and can't make your way to Hot Springs or Filmland, you're in luck, as the Fayetteville Film Festival will be celebrating its 15th year, which is incredible as I remember the fledgling years of this festival. There's always a wide variety of narrative, documentary, and shorts at this event. It is never afraid to take chances and make bold decisions. I recall last year it had an outdoor screening of shorts and music videos simultaneously with a block party. But the thing that stands out the most about the festival is the Pitch Prize Competition, where filmmakers can pitch an idea and win a cash prize to help produce their films.


And if you're tired of movies by the end of the month, there are a couple of concerts coming to town that have some film connections. On Oct. 14, Kevin and Michael Bacon will be performing at the University of Central Arkansas. If you're not familiar with The Bacon Brothers, they describe their music as "Forosoco," a combination of folk, rock, soul and country. And on Nov. 5 at The Hall, the band Goblin will be performing a live score to the 1985 Italian horror film "Demons," whose plot is ominously centered around a group of people trapped in a theater full of ghouls. I had the opportunity to catch a Goblin concert last year, and I have to say that if you're a fan of horror, giallo, or synth rock, this is a must-see concert and is a great way to end the spooky season.

So, there's a partial list of everything that's going down over the next month and a half. I feel exhausted just looking at the list, knowing just how many miles I'll be putting on my car and how many nights I'll be spending away from home. As they say, there's no rest for the weary, and at least I can justify all this travel by claiming I'm supporting the arts.