"The first year, we were simply excited that we made a festival happen," says Brandon Chase Goldsmith, executive director of the Fort Smith International Film Festival. "Our focus the second year was on the filmmaker experience, because what is a film festival without directors, actors, producers and crew?"
Submissions open Feb. 3 for this year's festival, scheduled for Aug. 25-26 at TempleLive in Fort Smith, and success seems to be trending. In year one, the festival drew 396 film submissions from 43 different countries. In year two, that number grew to more than 50 countries, nations and tribes, and the audience doubled to approximately 800 in-person and online viewers.
"We are making creators from all over the world aware of Fort Smith as a center of international cultural encounters."
Submissions will be open via the web portal FilmFreeway.com. Through March 3, the lowest entry fee applies, increasing through the May 25 deadline for entry. On June 25, chosen directors will be notified that their films have been selected for competition. Festival categories include People of Color, Indigenous, Music Video, Animation, High School & College Student Short Film, Documentary, Short and Feature length films.
This year's theme is "'[re]Focused,' celebrating a storytelling renaissance by moviemakers who suffered production obstacles posed by the global pandemic," Goldsmith says. "Artists who persevered are emerging with new focus. People and groups who were on the margins or left out of narratives are entering the picture with a sharpness that reveals the details of life at a higher resolution.
"One of my absolute favorite parts of the festival is listening in on conversations between filmmakers, because those moments are where new projects are born," he adds. "Which leads to the ultimate goal of the River Valley Film Society, nurturing a film community. What's crazy cool about the community we are cultivating is that it is international. And last year, we started an Alumni block of films to highlight this growing regional and global group of movie makers who have made Fort Smith their film festival home. I cannot wait to see what new films our alum submit this year!
"Maybe it's the teacher in me, but I love witnessing a filmmaker develop into their own style. It's a beautiful thing, and we will continue to focus on the filmmaker experience at future festivals."
Goldsmith says the festival's categories are "not set in stone."
"They form based on the films submitted to the festival," he explains. "And two categories in my opinion seem to bubble to the top every year: Animation and Sci-Fi. Last year our international winner from Martinique, 'Opal,' was a feature-length animated film, which is a massive undertaking for an independent production. Every year I am surprised by the level of creativity in our animation block. But the category that caught me off guard and surprises me every year is Sci-Fi. I am impressed by the imagination and ingenuity it takes to create a new world or alternate reality, and I believe this is one area where our festival really shines."
Goldsmith says he set out to make films to prove better movies could be made with less than multi-million-dollar budgets.
"You have to understand, Blockbuster was my film school," he says. "I took the AFI (American Film Institute) 100 Greatest Films, a couple of other top international film lists and compiled 126 movies I needed to see. You could say that was my first time curating a collection of films. I got a job at Blockbuster, watched all of them in three months, and quit, the same week I was named employee of the month.
"I used to watch everything I could, and, in a sense, I still do. Last year I watched 325 of the films submitted to the festival. I simply love movies and want to give those filmmakers, who like me, believe they can do better, an opportunity to showcase their talents."
Fort Smith International Film Festival
Feb. 3 -- Submissions open
March 3 -- Early-bird entry rates end
April 7 -- Regular entry rates end
May 5 -- Late entry rates end
May 25 -- Entries end
June 25 -- Notice of acceptance
Aug. 25-26 -- Third annual festival
INFO -- fortsmithfilm.com