A Foothold In Film: New Fort Smith fest seeks to build inclusive narrative

A Foothold In Film: New Fort Smith fest seeks to build inclusive narrative

On Jan. 14, members of the River Valley Film Society announced to the public Fort Smith’s first film festival, to be held this summer. The inaugural Fort Smith International Film Festival will debut Aug. 13-14 and stands to further enrich the growing arts community and reputation of Fort Smith as a creative hub.

“We have a lot of talented people here who would benefit from having a stage and a platform to share their artistry and their experiences with the film world,” explains Jennifer Burchett of one primary reason for bringing a festival to the area. Burchett is the artistic director of the Fort Smith International Film Festival (FSIFF) and treasurer of the River Valley Film Society.

“This festival is also a way to connect [that talent] with other people outside of Fort Smith, and [share] what they have to add to the flavor of the film industry.”

“My goal as executive director of the Fort Smith International Film Festival is to expand the influential scope of our region by inviting the world to witness the unique experiences of our border town, where cultures, nations and races intersect, forming creative spaces that produce both individual and universal narratives,” shares Brandon Chase Goldsmith, co-founder of the RVFS and executive director of the FSIFF, pictured here during the press conference to announce the festival.

Organizers also perceived a gap in the festival circuit, Burchett reveals. There was a need, she says, to develop a festival around diversity and create an inclusive space for diverse voices. In service of that objective, two categories for judged film submissions will specifically highlight and celebrate the voices of Indigenous peoples and people of color, she shares.

“We are, and have been for a very long time in Fort Smith’s history, seen as a border town; we’re right next to the Cherokee Nation,” Burchett says. “Part of the reason why our name is ‘International’ is because we recognize those Indian nations as autonomous tribes, and we very much look forward to continuing to develop relationships with them.”

The theme for this first event is “Through Their Eyes,” a concept that speaks to both acknowledging the different perspectives among people, as well as our collective experiences going through 2020.

“Going through the pandemic and needing to wear a mask, and looking through and at another person’s eyes so much more vividly than we had to before,” Burchett demonstrates. “But at the same time, as we went through 2020, and we have this physical representation of these experiences and looking at each other’s eyes, I think more than ever people yearn for and could benefit from that actual connection, of seeing someone’s perspective through their eyes. So what we’re hoping to promote are filmmakers’ authentic experiences.”

A secondary purpose for the FSIFF is to highlight the city itself. During the development stages, organizers wanted to establish programming that would immerse festivalgoers in the heart of the city, Burchett shares. The locations for the festival — 5 Star Productions, the Bakery District and 906 Cocktail and Cigar Lounge — were chosen in part due to their walking proximity to dozens of downtown businesses and other arts offerings, further driving economic impact of welcoming visitors to Fort Smith.

Film submissions will be accepted between February and June. 5 Star Productions, the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith and others will provide scholarships, cash prizes and trophies for winners. The event will also feature panel discussions and performances by local bands over its two days.

“Art and artistry, by nature, is a way to connect. It is an inclusive endeavor,” Burchett muses. “That’s what I love about art: whether it’s sharing a perspective, sharing an experience or sharing just a bit of beauty, it is a way of sharing. And we really want to drive that home with the ‘Through Their Eyes’ theme, and with this celebration of diversity through film.”


Fort Smith International Film Festival

WHEN — Aug. 13-14; submissions accepted February-June

WHERE — Downtown Fort Smith


INFO — fortsmithfilm.com, filmfreeway.com/RiverValleyFilmFestival

Categories: In The News