Fort Smith film fest receives record open day submissions; seeks volunteers

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 631 views 

Seven days after submissions opened, the Fort Smith International Film Festival already has 86 submissions from 17 different countries. While staff is preparing for the third annual film festival in Fort Smith, they are also busy seeking screening volunteers.

The festival is set for Aug. 25-26 at Temple Live in Fort Smith.

Because volunteer screeners begin watching the entries as they are submitted, the screening tasks have already begun, said Brandon Chase Goldsmith, the festival’s executive director. The goal is that each submission will be seen by “three sets of eyes” to rate each film, said Program Director Clay Pruitt. With a digital login, screeners can watch the films on their own time, or at live watch parties to be held monthly through May at 5 Star Productions in Fort Smith.

Screeners view submissions, mark them with a thumbs up or thumbs down, rate them from 1 to 10 and write two short sentences – one saying what they liked about the film and one saying what they did not. Screeners may earn free tickets, festival merchandise or a trophy for reaching goals of hours watched, Pruitt said.

“The screeners also really help us know what genre the film is,” Goldsmith said.

Festival categories include People of Color, Indigenous, Music Video, Animation, High School &
College Student Short Film, Documentary, Short & Feature length films. But in those categories are different genres including drama, comedy, horror, etc, Goldsmith said.

“What genre is the film is not always an easy question,” he said.

Film submissions vary from a few minutes long to feature length. Submissions close May 25. On June 25, chosen directors will be notified that their films have been selected for competition.

This year’s festival theme is refocused, celebrating a storytelling renaissance by moviemakers who suffered production obstacles posed by the global pandemic.

“Basically, we are dealing with the reality of COVID. The pandemic delayed projects. Some projects died. But now, filmmakers are finishing up those projects. There is a refocus, a getting back to filmmaking,” Goldsmith said. “Everyone is busy again, around Arkansas and around the world.”

The festival is growing rapidly, Goldsmith said. The first year saw 396 film submissions from 43 different countries. In year two, that number grew to more than 50 countries. While there were only 365 films submitted in year two, the number of film hours submitted grew by 10 hours. On the opening day of submission, Feb. 3, the festival received 53 submissions, which was more than the 2021 and 2022 opening day submissions combined.

“We are making creators from all over the world aware of Fort Smith as a center of international cultural encounters,” Goldsmith said. “Film is a universal language, drawing together humans across all geographic and societal borders.”

Organizers want to keep submissions around the 400 range, he said.

Submission fees are waived for high school and college students until May 5. Non-student entry fees are less with the early bird rates that go until April 7, and then progressively increase through May 25. Entry fees start at $10 and go up progressively to a cap at $25.

“We really want to keep the festival accessible to all filmmakers, especially only being in our third year,” Goldsmith said.

To help with that accessibility, Pruitt implemented an alumni program this year. Directors who have participated in the festival in the past have free entry, he said. The festival has already seen more than 40 alum submissions, Goldsmith said. Pruitt said he believes one reason is filmmakers like the experience of Fort Smith.

“We have a great venue (at Temple Live). I heard many of the directors talking about it last year. And it’s a good experience,” he said.

Along with having their films screened, participating directors participate in panel discussions with other directors in their genre and category and have a green room in which to relax during the festival and a VIP room, Pruitt said.

Staffing for the Aug. 25-26 festival is all-volunteer and includes free admission to festival events. Tyler Armstrong, associate festival director, coordinates volunteers who help host the screenings and festival panel talks.

“Entertainment is an art form and an industry and the festival acknowledges both concepts. In the US, according to the Motion Picture Association, the film and television industry supports 2.2 million jobs, pays out $192 billion in total wages, and comprises over 110,000 businesses,” a news release on the event said.

The festival interacts with regional film industry players such as the Cherokee Nation Film Office and Arkansas Cinema Society to identify capable regional directors, actors, film technicians and skilled tradespeople, Goldsmith said. About 600 attended the 2022 film festival in person with more than 200 attending virtually, he said, noting that the economic impact to Fort Smith was over $130,000, Goldsmith said.