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Arkansas Shorts sees 'extended cut' after ironic growth in Low Key Arts

Arkansas Shorts

One of the first events of the new year will be Low Key Arts' 15th Annual Arkansas Shorts Short Film Festival Jan. 8 and 9, and for the first time the event will be two full days of short films, workshops and parties at the Historic Malco Theatre, rather than just one evening.

Day and weekend passes for the festival can be purchased here.

"I really think there's something for everyone in the program," Shorts Director Jen Gerber said. "I will say that I can't confirm that the blocks are appropriate for younger audiences. There's something in every block that I would say are not appropriate for children, but on the whole I would say PG-13 and up is sort of the rating of the festival, and there's such a wide range of films and there's something for everyone."

Masking and COVID-19 vaccinations will be encouraged among festival attendees, but Gerber said they are "carefully monitoring the situation," and if it changes to a requirement depending on local COVID cases the Low Key Arts website will be updated with that information.

The 2022 "extended cut" short film festival comes after a COVID year that made the 2021 Arkansas Shorts a drive-in experience.

"Last year ... had all the feels of Arkansas Shorts, but we missed being able to bring our community together where you can really see everyone and show your appreciation for their films and just bring the filmmaking community together," Gerber said.

Now that the festival is back in person for 2022, there will be 37 films from filmmakers who took Low Key Arts' Inception to Projection class in 2021, and from other Arkansas and nationwide filmmakers.

"It's a really robust program," Gerber said. "... Normally the festival has been a single evening, starting no later than 4 o'clock, done by 10. This year, it's two full days of screening, so it certainly has expanded."

The program will begin Saturday, Jan. 8, at 11 a.m. On the first day there will be panels, screenings and happy hours throughout the day, and it will conclude with an after party held at SQZBX.

"And Sunday, we wanted to really bring what's amazing about Inception to the festival, so we're going to hold a really robust workshop on Sunday morning, and that's where we're really going to dive into the intricacies of the director and actor relationship," Geber said.

The festival will then conclude with a few more screenings and an awards ceremony.

"What's so great about a short film festival is it's like a buffet," Gerber said. "It's for anyone that loves small bite dining; it's like a lot of different flavors, and even if a film isn't totally your style, it's going to be over in a few minutes and there will be something else to follow. So it's really a wide array of films.

"I've been really impressed to see what our Arkansas filmmakers have done in despite of COVID. You really can see some creativity; a lot of films had to be made alone in their homes, and we find that there's totally different ways of expressing an idea, even with very, very limited resources.

"And we also have some really incredible North American international showcases. We have the short film that won best short at Sundance last year that will be showcasing at our festival, so we have really a wide range of award winners, really incredible films that just tell important stories and then all of our Arkansas talent on display."

The "extended cut" born out of necessity

The Inception to Projection program saw growth when the COVID-19 pandemic began.

"Arkansas Shorts is always, in addition to showcasing some of the best of Arkansas films and films around the country and the world, it's primarily a showcase for the films that are made in Low Key Arts' Inception to Projection Program," Gerber said. "And, you know when I first started teaching that class seven years ago we would make three films total as a group, which would result to about 20 minutes of films.

"This last year, in Inception, we produced about three and a half hours of content. So that alone just made it where we had to expand the format to make room for all of the films we wanted to showcase this year."

"I feel like COVID has unleashed a lot of creative energy from artists," she said, "and we were able to take the program online and host most of the classes over Zoom, which just opened it up to filmmakers all around the state.

"In the last two years we've hosted a feature screenwriting class, advance directing, the traditional Inception to Projection, which is where participants write, direct and produce their own short film, and then last year we did a sketch comedy class that was taught by Author David Hill, whose also a Hot Springs native. And then we partnered with the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival and hosted our first-ever Documentary Boot Camp."

"So we've really expanded what Inception is," Gerber continued, "but it's really for anyone of any level that either wants help making their movie, or has an idea and has no idea how to do it. So if you sign up for inception we'll take you through the whole process. It provides crew, equipment and guidance throughout the process. So it's certainly something we're very, very proud of, and it's just continued to grow year after year."

For more information on how to get involved with Inception to Projection, click here.

"I feel like over the years, the youngest student I've had is 12 or 13, and the oldest is in their 60's or 70's," Gerber said. "Somehow they all come together with the common love of making their movies and helping each other."

Low Key Arts Executive Director Sonny Kay said Inception to Projection is "in a big way, the future of Low Key Arts."

"Not that we ever have any intention of not doing music or anything like that," Kay said, "but I think Inception to Projection is always scratching the surface of its potential here, and I think there's a burgeoning interest in filmmaking here and everywhere. I think filmmaking is becoming more accessible everyday to people with their phones, and I think Inception to Projection provides a really quality approach to this that isn't available elsewhere here, and so we have definitely seized the opportunity to make the program as dynamic and as useful to people as it can be."

Low Key Arts in recent years

Kay said Low Key Arts as a whole has seen growth over recent years, despite the pandemic and having lost its brick and mortar in 2021.

"There's a little bit of irony in the fact that COVID actually, as difficult as it's been to navigate in a lot of ways, it's actually been kind of beneficial," Kay said. "It's allowed us to pause and kind of have a slight break from the momentum of our program that's been perpetuating us for 10 years, and allowed us to really step back and look at what we're doing and assess things."

"... Losing our building last year was something that a lot of people thought would be a real obstacle for us and a real setback," he said. "And frankly, it certainly posed some problems in the short-term, but again, it was another way we were allowed to just kind of reassess what we're doing, restructure our approach to things."

The lost building led to the annual Valley of the Vapors Independent Music Festival moving to Cedar Glades Park in 2021.

"It was a little bit of a gamble taking it out of the city, but it paid off," Kay said. "People loved it out there and frankly it feels more of like a music festival you'd encounter somewhere else, than it does just another week in Hot Springs or at Low Key Arts, and that to us is just really awesome."

From Cedar Glades to the Malco Theatre to the Pocket Theatre to even a coffee shop, Kay says Low Key Arts has "friends here willing to open their doors to us."

"It's been kind of a little bit liberating to be freed up from the burden of — just having a physical space comes with a lot of expense," he said. "Being able to kind of concentrate on spending money in other places has been kind of very rewarding, let's put it that way."

Looking ahead

In 2022, Kay said Low Key Arts is interested in the idea of a digital arts center that could also work as the beginning of a physical filmmaking hub.

"There's nothing concrete yet taking shape, but we do feel as though a physical educational space will be critical to the future of Inception to Projection particularly," he said. "We've proven to ourselves that we don't really need a physical place to do our live events."

Also, in 2022 Hot Water Hills Music Festival in October as well as "one-off" events will be returning to the community.

"We just did a show last month with Unwed Sailor at the Pocket Theatre, and they've expressed their interest in allowing us to keep using the place, so we'll do some shows there I'm sure, this year," Kay said. "Maxine's as well, always very comfortable to partner with and enthusiastic about what we put there and great people to co-present a show with. I know there's already one or two that are coming together for the first part of the year."

And mark your calendars, because Valley of the Vapors will also be held this March.

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