El Dorado Film Festival returns after three-year hiatus

El Dorado, the legendary city of lost gold. A city that was the demise of many adventurous conquistadors in the 1500s. The city of unimaginable wealth and distinction where dreams of riches and fame could come true ....

Or, to Arkansans, El Dorado is simply known as one of the more populous cities in the deep south of the state. But starting today through the weekend, in El Dorado, there will be gold. This weekend the city will bask in cinematic gold, as the El Dorado Film Festival returns after a three-year hiatus.

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In 2014, the El Dorado Film Festival was founded as part of the South Arkansas Arts Center's 50th Anniversary Celebration. One of its founders, Laura Barrow, explains how the festival came about: "I volunteered to be the chair of the film planning committee as I had experience working in the film industry as an actress and producer in Los Angeles in my 20s and loved the idea of being able to bring a little bit of my filmmaking passion to El Dorado. SAAC hired the talented Arkansas filmmaker, Gerry Bruno, and he made us the short '50 Years of SAAC.' That filming process really got the ball rolling for the SAAC Anniversary Film Committee members, Richard Wharton, Beth Compton, and myself to start the discussion on making a film festival in El Dorado. The one issue we all had, which was a big one, we didn't know how to start a film festival! So we did what you do when you are determined. We drove to Little Rock and went to a conference that was literally about starting a film festival in your town."

The perception local filmmakers had about the El Dorado Film Festival those first few years was one of prestige. They only accepted a limited number of films every year. And the ones that made the cut were the proverbial cream of the crop. So what can moviegoers expect to see as they attend this year's festival?


Keeping with tradition, there will be screenings of some of the best locally produced short films. Marc Crandall's short film, "Banana Triangle Six," tells the story of a retiree going through the trials and tribulations of living in a retirement home as well as having to deal with one's own aging cognition. This is Crandall's first narrative short film, which is impressive considering that he is in his 70s. But the film is heartbreaking and well made and has won several awards across the state.

Another excellent short that shouldn't be missed is Johnnie Brannon's "The Book Club." What starts out as a seemingly Hallmark-ian story about a women's book club, quickly turns violent and horrific when the club transforms into something unpredictable. The film was penned by first-time screenwriter Kerri Michael. She does a wonderful job crafting dialogue for the female characters. They are the most natural sounding on-screen ladies that I've heard in a long while. And the last minute of the film is truly disturbing, so much so that it curdled my stomach.

And once again Jordan Mears' "New West" will screen. By my count, this will be the film's sixth screening in the state. This film is vulgar, crude and indecent. The plot is relatively simple: A horse (played by a man in a rubber horse mask) tries to avenge his fallen cowboy who was gunned down by the mob. There's a distasteful mix of sex and violence along with some graphic jokes that make it entertaining and one of the most original things this state has ever produced.


The festival will also screen three feature films. "Tapawingo" starring Jon Heder, Gina Gershon and Billy Zane. I would call this film a spiritual sequel to Heder's "Napoleon Dynamite," as he plays a similar aloof character with that Napoleonic 'duh'-meanor as he attempts to save his town from a family full of bullies. "Shudderbugs," directed by Johanna Putnam will screen Saturday. The film is a Flannery O'Connor-esque Southern gothic tale centering on a woman struggling with grief after her mother's mysterious death. And lastly, the opening night film will be Vivian Kerr's "Scrap," the story of a woman's struggle with homelessness. Years ago, "Scrap" screened at the El Dorado Film Festival as a short film, and now it's back as a full-fledged feature.


Along with a couple of networking parties, the El Dorado Film Fest will offer three workshops for filmmakers over the course of the weekend. There will be a panel about financing and distributing low budget features led by the Indie Spirit award winning producer Summer Shelton. Actor Jamie Costa, who has previously provided voice-over work for Marvel Studios, will lead a discussion on how to create personal content and utilize YouTube as a platform. And Barrow, who has spent the last several years in Los Angeles, will return to her roots in El Dorado as she demonstrates everything she knows about special-effects makeup.

"We are getting to use the beautiful Kyle & Co. Spa in El Dorado for my workshop. I'll be demonstrating a very effective and classic technique I learned while attending Cinema Makeup School. I'll be demo-ing Dick Smith's Stretch and Stipple technique for aging an actor. Dick Smith used this technique on Marlon Brando for the film, 'The Godfather.' It's a very realistic looking old-age technique. It is perfect for film. I will go over products to use and if time permits we will even do a few cuts, burns and bruises as well," Barrow said.

But the biggest difference for this year's festival is its collaboration with the Louisiana Film Prize, a contest that invites filmmakers from across the country to shoot a short film in Shreveport and its surrounding areas for the chance to win $50,000. Several of the films from the Film Prize will be showcased at the festival, allowing local filmmakers to see some impressive short films as well as to let them know that there is a way to make money by producing short films.

And speaking of prize money, there will be gold in El Dorado this year as there will be over $5,000 in cash awarded over the weekend to the best films of the festival. And while this might not be the treasure that the Spanish conquistadors were looking for centuries ago, this much coin could definitely help a filmmaker get a jump on their next short film.

The El Dorado Film Festival runs from Thursday through Sunday. More information and the festival schedule can be found at

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