UN Art Ambassador touts Fort Smith International Film Festival

Cavina T Morris

The Fort Smith International Film Festival has 396 film submissions from 43 countries for its inaugural event. The festival welcomed United Nations Art Ambassador Ibiyinka Alao at a press conference Thursday (June 17) announcing the festival’s economic and artistic collaboration with local and international artists and unveiling the festival’s poster.

“Fort Smith has always been an international city in terms of our industry, our culture and our art. What this does is solidifies our place on the world stage. What we are doing is bringing the world into Fort Smith, but more importantly, we are showcasing Fort Smith to the world,” said Dr. Brandon Chase Goldsmith, executive director of the Fort Smith International Film Festival.

The inaugural festival has a theme of “Through Their Eyes” and will explore the many masks people in society wear and the eyes through which they see. It is scheduled for Aug. 13-14. Feature films will be shown at 5 Star Productions and the Majestic, short films at The Bakery District; and music videos at 906 Cocktail and Cigar Lounge.

Goldsmith said the 123 hours of submitted film will be culled to about 33 hours, which means they could show about six to seven feature length films in a day, 40-50 short films that run between five and 30 minutes and “a lot” of music videos.

“We are growing our arts community, our creative community here in Fort Smith from the ground up, working with the kids,” Goldsmith said.

Student outreach through the River Valley Film Society is underway in conjunction with the Peak Innovation Center and Fort Smith Public. The University of Arkansas at Fort Smith Foundation will award scholarships of $2,000, $1,000 and $500 for first, second and third place submissions in the high school category for students. This scholarship award is redeemable upon the student’s entry at UAFS.

Arvest is also sponsoring cash prizes for students of $750 for first place, $500 for second place and $250 for third place, the news release said. Arvest and 906 Cigar and Cocktail Lounge are presenting sponsors of the festival, both donating $10,000 to the River Valley Film Society, the nonprofit organization spearheading the festival. With the sponsorships, the film festival will be able to award $15,000 in scholarships and cash prizes, Goldsmith said.

Alao lauded the film festival for allowing a way for people to tell their stories.

“As a person from Africa, I know this so well. Film is about storytelling. When you tell a story, you want a venue to share it,” Alao said.

United Nations Art Ambassador Ibiyinka Alao

Much like a river needs to flow to the sea in order to keep living, people need to tell their stories to flourish and live, he said.

“The worst thing you can do to a person, apart from killing them, is to take away their story because without the story, we are nothing,” Alao said. “A film festival I see as that connector like what joins the river to the sea.”

Alao said the arts open people’s hearts in a way that speaking cannot.

“Because I am responsible for peace building, I see that the arts allow us to think in a different plane, and helps people think beyond present problems,” he said.

The festival poster, revealed Thursday, features an original painting of Catherine Gray Foreman, Cherokee Nation history and preservation officer. Local artist J.K. Burchett designed the poster to symbolize the festival’s commitment to building cultural and economic bridges through the arts.

“This poster represents the essence of this film festival; our commitment to international development, strengthening the local economy via the arts, and personal enrichment through cultural exploration,” said Jennifer Burchett, artistic director.

Tickets are on sale now for the Fort Smith International Film Festival at this link. Volunteers are also needed for the festival.

“One of the things in putting together a film festival is that you can’t just do it by yourself. It takes an entire community, and it takes people from all different aspects and different places,” said Arvest Bank President Roger Holroyd.

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