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This evening, resident film-lovers will gather in the South Arkansas Arts Center’s Callaway Theater for the sixth annual El Dorado Film Fest, which will continue at SAAC through Saturday.

A specially curated block of short science fiction films will kick the Film Fest off tonight, followed by a block of some of the top short films from around the region, winners of the Louisiana and Memphis Film Prizes.

Festival directors Alexander Jeffery and Paul Petersen, both filmmakers featured in the Festival themselves, said it was important to them to focus on the artistry of film and the movie-makers behind the cameras.

“We sort of nixed the workshops so it could be very film-centric and focused on the filmmakers and their work,” Petersen said. “You come, you watch films – it’s that simple.”

Several feature films will have their Arkansas premiere at the Festival, including “I Am Human” and “Lost Bayou,” both selections at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival, which is regarded as a premier film festival in the United States.

“I Am Human,” a documentary, is about the evolution of human and artificial intelligence alongside neurotechnology’s rapid advancement and the philosophical questions that accompany this progress. It will screen in the SAAC’s Merkle Gallery Friday, with an audience/director talkback following; Jeffery said he expects the talkback to be one of the most interesting.

“Lost Bayou” will screen Saturday in the Merkle Gallery and will also be followed by an audience/director talkback. A drama, it follows Gal, addicted and estranged from her son, as she reconnects with her faith-healer father in the Louisiana bayou.

“El Cuarto Reino” is another feature film that will screen at the Festival; it will screen in the Merkle Gallery Friday and the Callaway Theatre Saturday. It follows a group of undocumented and natural-born residents of New York working together to overcome the disappointments of an unfulfilled American Dream.

“Tommy Emmanuel: The Endless Road,” another documentary, follows the famed instrumentalist’s rise from child stardom in the Australian outback to his adult struggle to become the world’s greatest acoustic guitarist. An audience/director talkback will follow the screening Saturday in the Merkle Gallery.

“Saturday will be a big day for panels, and Friday night, too, with “I Am Human,” and then the Louisiana Film Prize on Thursday,” Jeffery said. “I think we have filmmakers coming from each screening.”

The Film Fest will also feature short film blocks in a variety of genres, including comedy, drama and award-winning. Last Saturday, “Anniversary,” directed by James Harlon Palmer, was named the winner of the 2019 Louisiana Film Prize; it will be included in the block with other festival films.

A new short block category, mish-mash, includes proof of concept shorts, genre films and documentaries. DUST Studios, a science fiction film production company and content aggregator, will curate a block of science fiction shorts specifically for the festival as well.

“The selection that we have is the best we’ve ever had,” Petersen said. “The cool thing about the submissions this year, especially the short films, is that they’re highly international, with filmmakers we were not familiar with at all, but the quality of work submitted this year was amazing and I can’t recall in the past years if we’ve gotten this quality of work.”

This year, those film buffs that see every selection at the Film Festival and offer feedback will have the chance to win the new $1,000 Pam Callaway Audience Award. With this year’s focus on filmmakers, Jeffery said he hopes audience feedback will continue to build the Festival’s relationships with creators.

“That’s kind of our gift to the filmmakers,” Jeffery said. “We have a lot of special programming and we don’t have a ton of time … so we’re trying to minimize those screenings so everybody can see everything and kind of create that conversation.”

Films will screen in SAAC’s Merkle Gallery and the Callaway Theater today, tomorrow and Saturday. Festival winners, including Best of Fest and the Pam Callaway Audience Award, will be announced in an awards ceremony Oct. 12 at the Griffin Restaurant at 11 p.m. Jeffery and Petersen noted that their films will not be considered for awards.

Tickets cost $30 and may be purchased by calling 870-862-5475, visiting saac-arts.org or stopping by SAAC, located at 110 E. 5th St. in El Dorado. For more information about the El Dorado Film Festival, including a complete schedule and list of film selections, visit eldofilmfest.com.

Caitlan Butler can be reached at 870-862-6611 or cbutler@eldoradonews.com.

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