A new film festival in Fort Smith will not only highlight talented film makers in the Arkansas River valley but, hopefully, from across the world. The River Valley Film Society announced Fort Smith’s first film festival Thursday (Jan. 14).
“Through Their Eyes” is the theme for the inaugural Fort Smith International Film Festival, which will explore the many masks people in society wear and the eyes through which they see.
“The Festival celebrates the artistic expression and diverse experiences of Native Americans and People of Color through film, panel discussions, music, and more,” a press release said.
Film categories include: Narrative feature, people of color, indigenous peoples, music video, student film, documentary, short film, and animation. Film submissions will open Feb. 1 and continue through June through FilmFreeway (filmfreeway.com).
“FilmFreeway is the gold standard for (film submissions). All the major festivals use it for submissions,” said Brandon Chase Goldsmith, co-founder of the River Valley Film Society and executive director of the Fort Smith International Film Festival.
The event will explore “diverse experiences and the way they coalesce on the big screen as cultural, historical, and identifying markers to who we are as artists, and as individuals,” the press release said. Goldsmith said the founding of the River Valley Film Society in 2019 made it obvious Fort Smith was ready for a film festival. The film society had regular showings of films created by local filmmakers. In January 2020, a showing of Arkansas filmmaker Clay Prewitt’s “The 24” brought in around 340 to view the film.
“We were seeing really great turnouts,” Goldsmith said of the film showings.
The film festival committee began the framework for the film festival over the summer with the knowledge that an investment in the arts stands to enrich the local arts and economy. The festival is scheduled for Aug. 13-14. Feature films will be shown at 5 Star Productions; short films at The Bakery District; and music videos at 906 Cocktail and Cigar Lounge. Goldsmith said they could show about six to seven feature length films in a day, 40-50 short films that run between five and 30 minutes and “a lot” of music videos.
“We have made a triangle around downtown Fort Smith to really showcase our downtown area,” he said. “We are hoping to have a dinner break at 906 and have the music videos playing. Doing this will really give people the chance to explore downtown.”
Ticket sales for the event are expected to open in May when festival organizers will have a better idea what type of capacity will be allowed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But before the festival can take place, there must be submissions. Goldsmith said he has already started receiving feedback from interested filmmakers, and scholarships and cash prizes should help recruit high school- and college-age filmmakers to submit. The University of Arkansas at Fort Smith will award scholarships of $2,000, $1,000 and $500 for first, second and third place submissions in the high school category, said Rachel Putman, UAFS associate director for strategic communications. The festival committee is seeking cash awards for winners in the college category, Goldsmith said.
“This is an international film festival, so we are really hoping we receive submissions from around the world,” Goldsmith said, noting he has heard from some filmmakers from Spain considering submitted animated films.
“Fort Smith has historically been a border town. Even now there are many cultures and backgrounds represented here,” he said. “The city borders the Native American Nations right across the river. That’s international in itself. …There are such diverse cultures here. There are dozens of languages spoken in our school districts.”
Now is the time to showcase the diversity the Fort Smith region has to offer and the talented filmmakers in its midst, Goldsmith said. It is also the hope of the festival to pull film submissions from around the world.
“I co-founded the River Valley Film Society to celebrate local talent, to connect filmmakers with film fans, and to build a network that cultivates our local arts community. My goal as executive director of the Fort Smith International Film Festival is to expand the influential scope of our region by inviting the world to witness the unique experiences of our border town, where cultures, nations, and races intersect, forming creative spaces that produce both individual and universal narratives,” Goldsmith said.
The festival should also help the Fort Smith economy, organizers said. According to the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, “America’s nonprofit arts industry generates $166.3 billion in economic activity every year, resulting in $27.5 billion in federal, state, and local tax revenues.”
Success will be measured in many ways, organizers said, including the economic stimulation this festival brings to Fort Smith and the River Valley.
“This film festival will grow and become another important part of the Fort Smith creative economy highlighting the diverse quality of life in our city,” said John McIntosh, vice president of the River Valley Film Festival and development director of the Fort Smith International Film Festival.