Expanded market, distribution promoted by Fort Smith International Film Festival

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 987 views 

For its fourth year, the Fort Smith International Film Festival will make the move from merely showcasing and exhibiting films from around the world to being a marketplace where filmmakers can take their craft from hobby to profession.

The festival, to be held this year from Aug. 22-24 at TempleLive in downtown Fort Smith, will  enter the next frontier of the global movie industry with the launch of the MidAmerica Film Market, the River Valley Film Festival announced Monday (Jan. 29).

The first two years of the festival, which started in 2021, focused on exhibition of films, the River Valley Film Society added distribution to the festival in 2023, adding an economic component and taking the first steps in transforming the film festival into a movie market.

Ret. Sgt. Major Keith L. Craig and Jeff Porter, co-founders of Porter + Craig Film and Media Distribution, were keynote speakers at last year’s event, provided a workshop, and offered licensing agreements to five films from the festival. Those films included two from Arkansas, one from Oklahoma, one from Florida and one from Canada, according to the news release. This year the festival will also include the MidAmerica Film Market.

“We finalized a multi-year agreement making Porter + Craig Film and Media the exclusive distributor for the MidAmerica Film Market,” said Brandon Chase Goldsmith, the festival’s executive director. “Through this partnership we will bring in buyers who work with the major theatrical companies and streaming services around the world. Essentially we are bringing Hollywood to the middle of the United States.”

This will make Fort Smith the only film market within a six-hour radius that includes Dallas, Oklahoma City, Kansas City, St. Louis, Memphis, Jackson, and Shreveport, Goldsmith said. The closest other film market is South by Southwest in Austin.

“This market allows filmmakers to go from a hobby to being in the business of making and selling films,” Goldsmith said. “Of course (filmmakers) want to make films, but ultimately, they want to be able to sell films.”

In recent years, the world of cinema has seen a surge in independent film production. With advancements in technology and the increasing accessibility of filmmaking tools, more aspiring filmmakers are creating unique and thought-provoking stories outside of the Hollywood realm, according to Goldsmith. But, as he noted, getting those films in the hands of distribution companies is difficult because filmmakers have to travel great distances in order to participate in a film market.

This is where Porter + Craig Film and Media Distribution plays a role, serving as a bridge between filmmakers and audiences, Goldsmith said. The MidAmerica Film Market at the Fort Smith International Film Festival will allow filmmakers and those who buy and show those films to be in the same room.

“Porter + Craig Film and Media will identify the best platforms for distribution, whether it be theatrical release or streaming services and tailor your approach according to genre. They will provide an understanding of the intricacies of licensing, marketing, and revenue-sharing agreements, which can be overwhelming for independent filmmakers,” the news release said.

Porter + Craig, a film and television sales organization with offices in Washington, Atlanta, and New York city, specializes in the financing, production, and distribution of commercial feature films. It also represents worldwide sales for both its own slate of films and third-party content with an annual slate of 50 to 100 films, according to its website.

Goldsmith said that not only will the film market help connect filmmakers with those who can purchase and show those films, it will connect buyers with films because of the international nature of the film festival.

“We’re getting the filmmakers and the film buyers in the same room. That’s great for this part of the country,” Goldsmith said. “Usually in order to get connected with international films, (film buyers) have to go overseas. This will give them a chance to meet those filmmakers in Fort Smith.”

Because many of the streaming services want to be able to show series or limited series, this year’s film festival will include an episodic category, Goldsmith said.

Film submissions will be accepted Feb. 2 through May 24, with four deadlines (Early Bird March 1, Regular April 5, Late May 3, and Extended May 24). Three categories, Narrative Feature, Documentary Features and Episodic, will be eligible for the film market and festival. Goldsmith said the most common length for documentaries is 45-50 minutes and the most narrative features are usually about one and half hours.

The remaining categories are only eligible for the festival: People of Color Shorts, Indigenous Shorts, Music Videos, Animation, High School & College Student, and all genres of short film with no date limits on production.

In the first three years, the festival has received 1,213 film submissions from more than 75 countries, nations, and tribes.