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Producer Kristin Mann and director Martha Stephens talked independent filmmaking and specifically making movies in Arkansas at the 2017 El Dorado Film Festival.

The festival, which was presented in partnership with the South Arkansas Arts Center and the Murphy Arts District, provided El Dorado with international and local films, both feature and independent. The festival started Thursday with a welcome party at the Griffin Music Hall and ended Sunday with an awards brunch. This year, the festival even included the southeastern premier of Richard Linklater’s latest film, “Last Flag Flying.”

Mann and Stephens started out making short films, but now make features, or full length films. Mann, who is a producer with Rockhill Studios, was born and raised in central Arkansas. She has worked in production in Los Angeles, New York City and Arkansas and was hired to wok on the set of “MUD,” starring Matthew McConaughey in 2012. She has since worked on many different movie sets as a producer.

Stephens was raised in Appalachian, Kentucky, attended the North Carolina School of the Arts, School of Filmmaking and graduated from the directing program. She is an award winning director, with a film that she co-wrote and co-directed with Aaron Katz, “Land Ho!,” premiering at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival to high critical praise. She is also an Independent Spirit Award recipient.

Stephens said she believes small film festivals, like the one in El Dorado, are very important.

“It gives filmmakers an outlet,” she said. “They can screen their work to an audience and get feedback. It also exposes the community to film, which is important.”

Festival Awards

Best Editing — "Annie Waits"

Best Actress —Jennifer Pierce Mathus, "Door in the Woods"

Best Actor — Chris Evans, "Candyland"

Best Screenplay — "He Could’ve Gone Pro"

Road to El Dorado — "Sweet Things"

Best Cinematography — "Lightning in the Hand"

Best Director — Chris King, "Birthday"

Best VFX — "Embers & Dust"

Made in Arkansas Short — "Into the Green"

Best Feature — "And then I Go"

Best Comedy Short — "Shy Guys"

"Best Drama Short — "Chyanti"

Best of Festival — "Candyland"

Best Short — "Last Light"

Filmmaking isn’t for the fainthearted and is not an easy career field, Mann and Stephens both said. The only reason they are in the industry is because they love what they do.

“I tell people if you picture yourself doing anything else outside of film, then do that,” Mann said. “Because this is way too hard. There’s no way to know how hard this is until you get in it.”

Films can take two to three years to complete, so being extremely passionate about it is a must.

“And when it’s good, it’s really good,” Stephens said. “I’ve watched my own movie on an airplane. It’s surreal.”

When it comes to style, Mann and Stephens differ. With Stephens being a director, her style is more set. When Stephens took a step back and looked at her work as a whole, she realized she is drawn to blue collar, middle class characters who are trying to escape something. Her last movie was a road trip movie and the one before that was about a guy who took off for a summer to go hiking.

“It’s all about escaping your life,” Stephens said.

It’s harder to have a style as a producer because of changing teams and directors.

Mann and Stephens both agree that there are many different parts and players involved with filmmaking.

“That’s what is so chaotic and insane about it,” Mann said. “But that’s also what makes it so beautiful when it works. When you end up with a movie that is actually good or even decent, it’s kind of a miracle.”

Both Mann and Stephens said they were very impressed with the city of El Dorado and commented on how great to see the city is embracing its history while incorporating new character.

Kaitlyn Rigdon can be reached at 870-862-6611 or

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