Ozark Foothills FilmFest

The Ozark Foothills FilmFest takes place in Batesville (Independence County) and was established in 2001 by Bob and Judy Pest. The Pests had previously operated the City Movie Center in Kansas City, Missouri, for seven years. The festival soon became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to excellence and accessibility in the media arts. The festival supports and encourages Arkansas filmmakers and strives to serve the people of north-central Arkansas.

The first festival in 2002 had Arkansas native and musical icon Levon Helm as the headliner; more than 300 people attended a concert he gave. At the historic Melba Theater, festival goers also watched several films in which he appeared. Helm spoke to the audience and encouraged them to help the festival succeed, which gained the festival respect in the film community. Lisa Blount, also an Arkansan, was a popular guest at the second festival in 2003. She was best known for her performance in An Officer and a Gentleman and for winning an Academy Award for her work as co-producer of the short film The Accountant.

In an effort to attract larger audiences and gain regional recognition, the festival started to screen films in 2005 at venues in Searcy (White County), Heber Springs (Cleburne County), and Little Rock (Pulaski County) for the next few years. Programming continued to encompass many subjects and genres, including Disfarmer: A Portrait of America, the first documentary about the enigmatic photographer Michael Disfarmer, who worked in Heber Springs.

In 2006, the festival mounted an exhibit called Posters from the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema, 1936–1956, which toured the region. The posters were provided by the Agrasánchez Film Archive and helped promote a series of Mexican films. The goal was to attract Latino workers who had moved into the region. In 2008, the festival celebrated the centennial of the birth of Arkansan Louis Jordan—bandleader, composer, and star of several films, including the 1945 classic Caldonia.

In 2008, the festival returned completely to Batesville to help spur local tourism. As the independent film movement grew and took hold locally, the festival also screened short films by aspiring Arkansas filmmakers.

By 2009, filmmakers began to premiere their films in Batesville.The festival, still operated by its founders, settled into an annual five-day spring event in Batesville.Over the years, panels and workshops became increasingly important, women directors played a significant role in the festival’s programming, and attendance and public support grew. The festival also developed partnerships with local colleges, including introductory film studies courses for the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville (UACCB) and the Lyon College Upward Bound Project. The festival is held at UACCB and the historic Landers Theater building.

In December 2013, it was announced that the festival had been chosen to receive a $10,000 Challenge America Fast-Track grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

For additional information:
Franco, Cheree. “Off the Tinseltown Path.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 30, 2014, pp. 1E, 6E.

Wolfe, Ron. “A Long Way from Hollywood.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 19, 2006, pp. 1E–2E.

Bob Pest
Ozark Foothills FilmFest


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