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Film festivals in El Dorado and Kilgore bring arthouse releases to rural areas

El Dorado Film Festival

El Dorado’s first film festival opens Sept. 18 at the South Arkansas Arts Center. More than 30 films from 10 countries will be screened during the three-day festival. Audiences will decide on what film gets a $1,000 prize.

Festival coordinator Alexander Jeffery says this new event recognizes the art center’s 50th anniversary, and it is part of a movement to develop new cultural programs.

“There’s a huge push for the arts here. There’s a huge push for an entertainment district downtown. The film festival will be one of the new things that will get people excited about the arts and about bringing culture to El Dorado and making it a kind of cultural mecca,” Jeffery said.

In Kilgore, Texas, the Kilgore Film Festival runs through Oct. 2. The festival has been a biannual tradition for 16 years, according to Byron Berkley. He owns four movie theaters in East Texas and says the month-long event draws a crowd that isn’t very interested in his bread-and-butter blockbusters.

“I’ve learned the majority of our community is pretty much tuned into mainstream films,” Berkley said, who owns theaters in Henderson, Kilgore, Mineral Wells and Jacksonville. “There’s a small segment of the community -- educators, doctors, and businesspeople -- who seem to be a little more exposed to the world. They’re the ones who support the film festival.”

In El Dorado, filmmaker Howard Klausner will hold a workshop Thursday, Sept. 18, at 10:30 a.m. on changes in the film industry.  Other workshops on acting and producing are also planned at the arts center. Jeffery says attendees of Klausner’s evening talk will get to view an extended trailer of his new film, “The Secret Handshake.”

“The film festival is a way that we can bring in smaller, arthouse films and short films -- things that people wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to,” Jeffery said. “It brings in culture to a city like El Dorado that doesn’t get these independent films in the cinemas.”

In Kilgore, its film festival concludes with “Tomato Republic,” a documentary about the messiness of a Jacksonville, Texas, mayoral race. The indie effort hits close to home, Berkley said, and if it’s well attended he may screen more small-budget films throughout the year.

“So many of these films are unknown. I think owners of some of these rural theaters don’t want to take a chance in developing a market for them,” Berkley said.

More information on the El Dorado Film Festival is at saac-arts.org.

The 4 Star Cinema in Kilgore is devoting one screen to seven independent films with multiple weekday and weekend showings.

Chuck Smith brings more than 30 years' broadcast and media experience to Red River Radio. He began his career as a radio news reporter and transitioned to television journalism and newsmagazine production. Chuck studied mass communications at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia and motion picture / television production at the University of California at Los Angeles. He has also taught writing for television at York Technical College in Rock Hill, South Carolina and video / film production at Centenary College of Louisiana, Shreveport.