Little Rock, Arkansas, became a national focus during the eight years of Bill Clinton’s presidency, but Little Rock has always been a state and regional hub, not only for politics (before Clinton, there was Fulbright, McClellan, and later, Bumpers), but also for the arts and for artful living. Its redesigned riverfront features fine dining, live music, and an upscale marketplace. The city’s Quawpaw Quarter offers living in restored antebellum homes. The Arkansas Arts Center houses a superb permanent collection in addition to its many changing exhibits. And now, a small but growing group of independent filmmakers are busy creating their community, their work, and their identity, centered in Little Rock but extending throughout the state. Like all fledglings, they are energetic, noisy, needy, and ultimately demanding—and deserving—our attention.
Arkansas Independent Film & Video (AI)
This recently-formed, loose affiliation of local film and video artists is a twenty-member mix of independent filmmakers, actors, writers, and anyone in the area interested in learning about or working on independent films and videos. AI was founded in October 2002 based on the principles of three Little Rock-based low-budget production companies Crowfeather Films, Daydreamer Productions, and No Parking Productions. It connects filmmakers with one another and provides assistance for its members’ works. Members range in age from seventeen to sixty years old. “We’re really trying to build a community,” one founder notes, “because even if you can’t help one another, it’s sometimes nice to know that you have other people around that are thinking and worrying about the same things.”
AI’s self-assigned directive is “to encourage as many creative works from the community as possible.” The group meets informally to discuss problems and issues, and support one another. They also collect information on low-budget productions throughout the state and use their website to serve as a virtual bulletin board for members and visitors. Visions and backgrounds vary, but they have energy and commitment in common.
For more information, see www.crowfeatherfilms.com/AI.html
Filmmaker Robert Kirkpatrick, the founder of Crowfeather Films, has taken a long road both to independent film and Little Rock. He emigrated with his parents to the US from Thailand when he was three, and they eventually settled in Little Rock. After leaving Little Rock for Oberlin College in 1989, he and several classmates formed Ominous Zygote, a sci-fi/horror and martial arts films production company. (Their 1992 student film The Undergraduates—recently remastered—can be accessed in the downloads section of the Crowfeatherfilms.com website.) After college, the Ominous Zygote founders went their separate ways, and Kirkpatrick moved to Chicago, where he spent two years “observing rather than participating” in Chicago’s art scene, most notably the Asian-American film festivals. During this two-year hiatus, two things happened: Cameras got lighter and easier to work with, and prices fell to more affordable levels.
When Kirkpatrick returned to Little Rock and resumed his film work, his interest had shifted from the set pieces and special effects that dominated his experience with Ominous Zygote to character-driven films and the actors who enliven them, as well as some serious storytelling. “[In the past] I just told the actors what to do—stand here, say this line,” he says. “There wasn’t any input [from the actors. Now] I’m trying to . . . make the filmmaking much more collaborative.” To that end, he spends time observing performers at work on his own as well as others’ projects.
Kirkpatrick describes his most recent film, a short titled Therapy that wrapped in March of this year, as “warped Twilight Zone-esque,” revolving around a female patient’s therapy session (one of many) where issues arise that the psychiatrist can’t handle.
His commitment is to unconventional stories he has to tell that do not fit the ninety-minute format. “I’m probably going to watch the million-dollar action movie because I know they’re going to give me more of the spectacle. But when it comes to more intimate storytelling, that’s the advantage of this [independent filmmaking],” Kirkpatrick says.
James Morrison, a high school student from north Little Rock, and Nathan Marchese, a student at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, met in the summer of 2001 when Marchese and a couple of friends were working on Natural Benevolence (currently available at www.studentfilms.com), and Marchese was brought on to help. Since then the two have continued to collaborate, and formed Daydreamer Productions together. They work in High 8 and sometimes Super 8, and have spent this past year on various short films, completing Alternative, initially envisioned as a feature and subsequently abbreviated. The division of labor between the two is a trade-off. Says Marchese, “We both just reach in and grab a handful of whatever has to be done.” But most of the time Morrison envisions the idea and writes the initial script, then Marchese gets into the mix and the collaboration goes forward. They share the goal of working in the industry in LA and plan to move to the West Coast after Morrison finishes high school. Until then, they are busy using their talent and energy to create a body of work in Little Rock.
No Parking Productions
Chris Paradis of No Parking Productions has designed and published the Rock & Roll Tarot (it is very cool!), directed several video productions, and most recently was the
cinematographer for Daydreamer Productions’ Alternative. He also produced Madame Sosostris, a silent movie based on a portion of T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, shot in 8mm, and featuring music from the band Remy Zero. Paradis says his strength lies in visualizing the “Big Picture.” “Once I get an idea in my mind, it wants to see the light of day,” says Paradis. “So I guess directing or art direction would be the best answer.” For him, No Parking Productions is about innovation, not staying in one place.
To see Madame Sosostris, or sample Chris Paradis’ Rock & Roll Tarot, go to www.crowfeatherfilms.com/noparking.html.
This zany crew of filmmakers and performers, reminiscent of Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters minus the acid, originated when media student Lenny Highland and friend David Carlisle took their camera and hit the streets after Lenny promised his University of Arkansas media instructor eight thirty-minute segments in eight weeks. That was in 2000. Three years later, Destructo Video still continues to pump out thirty-minute segments, but at the slightly reduced rate of one or two per month. Their mix of improvised scenes shot in their garage/studio Laboratory of Destruction—street theater, guerilla-type scenarios, and studio work—can now be viewed on public access television Channel 62 through the university.
Destructo Video’s performers, musicians, and videomakers have created their videos guerilla-style, shooting themselves interacting with pedestrians in Little Rock shops and on the streets. They developed stock characters such as Julian the Psychic, who parades his otherworldly prowess and tells fortunes on the street, and the Save-the-Butter Man, who takes it personally when people waste butter, patrolling restaurants and surprising customers by retrieving butter from certain oblivion. Their work tweaks social convention, pokes fun, and generally shakes up the so-called status quo.
More than one episode features a sport they devised, “box diving,” which involves setting up a huge pile of cardboard boxes and then diving into them. But context is everything. In one such episode, two of the players are seen swinging on a swing set in a backyard, talking casually as they move to and fro against a backdrop of summer lawn and sky, when suddenly one of them does a box dive, and we see the pile of boxes for the first time. In another episode, the boxes are set up in a large, empty parking lot, and players dive, one after the other, in what appears to be a relentless attempt at self-injury, or an externalization of some inner, psychological dive into the boxes/segments of memory or existence, or—wait—was it all just fun? The episode is cut short when divers get out of control and begin diving off a tall fence at the edge of the parking lot.
They also create, rehearse, and shoot scenes at the Laboratory of Destruction. The lab/studio is equipped with a small sound system and lights, all run off an extension cord. The lab also houses their by-now extensive collection of costumes and props, gathered from a friend’s down-sized flea market, and culled from garbage on the streets.
Participants in Destructo projects over the past three years number fifty-plus, but the core group is small—fifteen to twenty people ages fifteen to twenty-four. Currently they are at work producing “The Best of” Destructo Video series, soon available in video stores in Little Rock. In the words of Tobias, one of the Destructo gang, “Just see if we won’t.” #
For more information on Destructo Video, see www.destructovideo.com