KATHRYN TUCKER, executive director of the newly formed Arkansas Cinema Society, long knew her calling was in art, but it took her some time to find the right medium. A Little Rock Central High School graduate, she earned a degree in photography at the University of Pennsylvania and snagged a job with a celebrity photographer in New York. But Tucker couldn’t help but feel less than satisfied. Then she found film.
After going to work for Miramax producing photo shoots and marketing materials, she fell in love with life on the set, ultimately working as a second assistant director on films like This Is 40 and Gangster Squad in Los Angeles. Later, she returned home to Arkansas to work as a producer on the Miller brothers’ Southern-Gothic thriller, All the Birds Have Flown South.
She later learned that her Central High classmate and renowned filmmaker Jeff Nichols has a similar backstory. Though he’s found success on the screen, growing up, he’d felt like the “film industry” was a far-off thing—something almost magical. The more Kathryn compared notes with Arkansan film professionals, the more she heard stories about how difficult it was to break into the industry. (For her part, Kathryn recalls driving to New Orleans and showing up unannounced at a studio to ask about job opportunities.)
Now she and Jeff and a host of other film buffs with Arkansas roots are determined to change that. In the void left by the Little Rock Film Festival, they’re creating a space where film and filmmakers are very much a part of the Arkansas experience, from moviemaking to movie screening and everything in between.
Tell me a little about the Arkansas Cinema Society. How did it get started?
I think it was born out of the loss of the Little Rock Film Festival and the community connection it provided for filmmakers in Arkansas to be able to screen their work and meet one another and collaborate. I know I personally benefited greatly from the connectivity that happened at LRFF, and I think it’s essential to our community to have something like it. So when they closed their doors, a big group of folks got together to see what we could do to revive it. I was not totally involved in that process, but eventually, it was decided that we just needed to do something new.
And the something new is the ACS? How did that course change from film festival to cinema society?
I was talking to film festivals all over the country when I ran into Jeff Nichols at the Loving screening last fall. He and I were friends in high school. So we ended up getting drinks a couple days later and talking about what we were each up to, and I told him we were trying to build a film festival in Little Rock again, and he said, let’s not do a film festival; let’s do a film society, and explained the reasons why.
What’s the benefit of being a “society” rather than a festival?
The year-round operations will really give us the time and outreach we need to support this sort of organization, and one of the other things we want to do is bring in films. If you are a film buff and you’re reading what’s coming out of Sundance, you might think a movie sounds really great, but you’ll never get to see it, or at least not until it goes to video. We’d love to bring those films here and bring them here with the filmmaker while they’re on their festival tour so that we’re not feeling excluded with what’s going on in the festivals around the world. That’s one of the benefits of being curated rather than submission: We can just call them up and select the films we’d like to screen and get a screening and, hopefully, the filmmaker to accompany it.
What’s in the works for ACS?
We’re kind of combining two organizations Jeff talked about—the Austin Cinema Society and a festival called Ebertfest (named for the late film critic Roger Ebert)—to make our own model. We’re going to do a condensed series of screenings the third or fourth weekend of every August. Our first event is going to be the 24th to 26th of August this year. It’s going to be one to three days, depending on the filmmakers we get. Jeff is curating the event, and he’s picking the filmmakers, and he and the filmmaker decide what to screen each day. There’s no counterprogramming, just one venue, so everyone will see the same films. So you’re basically doing a filmmaker a day, and they will pick a film that they love, one that inspires them or maybe their first film or maybe their most recent film, up to three screenings, depending on availability. Our first event, we’re trying to maintain quality over quantity, and it’ll just be a taste of what the August event will be like next year.
What will that be? And what will you be doing until then?
Next year will be five days of that. And next year, we also hope to include an Arkansas program, to screen some Arkansas films. We still need to design it, but I would love to do a variety: films made here in the 1980s and then something that was recently made here. Something like that.
In the meantime, our major emphasis will be year-round programming. So these August events will sort of be our “grand poobah” event of the year, but we’ll do screenings all year long. If we call up a filmmaker and ask if they can come to our August event, and they can’t, we say, When can you come? The benefit of being a year-round organization is that we can get talent in and be screening films all year long.
What else will ACS do during the year?
Jeff has also committed to do three seminars: one on writing, one on directing and one on editing. We hope that we can get other filmmakers to do the same thing. We’ll do some educational partnerships with universities and high schools to bring in a filmmaker where they spend half the day at the school and half the day with us. And we hope to have internships at all of these events. So the whole thing is really educational, but we want to be specifically geared toward youth.
What’s the broader goal in focusing on education?
The film business is just huge. It’s not just actors or directors or writers. Every Hollywood film has 250 people on it, at least. And most of them are making six figures. I think most people need to be more aware of the number of jobs and the number of opportunities out there. We want to bring some of that here because Arkansas is such a tremendous place to make films.
Where do you see ASC in, say, five years?
In my world, in an ideal world, we have our own theater with a restaurant attached and a bar. What I would like is for there to be a Cinema Society event once a week, at least—a screening with a filmmaker accompanying it, hopefully. During the days, we have seminars and workshops for students. Perhaps in the evening, we screen independent films, just like a normal movie theater. We have a presence all over the state, traveling to do screenings everywhere, and we have a grant program for Arkansas filmmakers to help with the expense of attending festivals. We have partnerships with all the universities and high schools that want to offer real ways for students to get in touch with people making movies in Arkansas, and we develop internship programs with films that are working in Arkansas. We’re known for a very robust screening series—people on the weekends ask, What’s playing at the Cinema Society? It’s something that people want to visit every weekend.
The inaugural Arkansas Cinema Society event will run from Aug. 24-26 at the Ron Robinson Theater in Little Rock. For more information, visit arkansascinemasociety.org.