LRFF2015 Review: “Made In Arkansas” Shorts Block 3

20 May

Reviewed by Tanner Smith



Smith’s Verdict: ****

Nathan Willis’ 20-minute film, “Undefeated,” is one of my favorite Arkansas shorts in the entire festival. It’s a documentary with a clear portrait of a man who lost a lot but also gained a lot. It’s a documentary also done well as a dramatic narrative—we see a real person becoming a dramatic character, following his life like everyone’s life as a drama, in a way. The man is Terrance “Tank” Dumas. He’s an undefeated heavyweight boxer who used to be a New Orleans gang leader and drug dealer before he lost everything in Hurricane Katrina. Since then, he’s been training to fight, while also cleaning up his act as he works and cares for his family. The hardest part for him is finding worthy opponents who won’t back down and leave him with hard work gone to waste. “Undefeated” is a wonderful documentary that shows Dumas’ struggles both in and out of the ring. It’s an extraordinary film I can’t wait to see again sometime. I heard director Willis spent months documenting Dumas’ triumphs and failures. Firstly, I admire his dedication. Secondly, I’m sure he has enough for a feature-length documentary that I’d be interested in seeing. I didn’t know who Terrance “Tank” Dumas was before I saw this film; I’m glad to be introduced to him this way.


Little Brother

Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Uh…pardon me a moment.

Okay, I’m back. Sorry, I saw Eric White’s 5-minute short, “Little Brother,” twice now, and I’m still trying to comprehend what I saw. I think it’s good…ish. It’s certainly not a happy short to watch; it’s a deranged, messed-up, odd (did I just use three synonyms in a row?) film that left me with my mouth open…and oddly fascinated. Completed with a mixture of 2D & 3D animation with handdrawn characters (oh and it’s also in black-and-white), “Little Brother” is…weird. But I mean that in the best possible way. It takes sibling jealousy a bit too far, as a boy is annoyed by his baby brother who gets the most attention and hardly ever stops crying…so he tries to…get rid of him. Yep. Dark and unusual, “Little Brother” isn’t quite what I expected from the director of Homefront and the oil-spill documentary “An Uncertain Bill of Health” (both of which were LRFF2014 selections), but it is as effective as it is disturbing. That’s enough for a recommendation in my book…er, blog. Okay, I need another moment…

Okay, moving on! What’s the next one?


Spoonin’ the Devil

Smith’s Verdict: ***

“Spoonin’ the Devil” is an awkward title, but the film, which is UCA graduate Michael Carpenter’s 20-minute thesis film, is actually an engaging, well-acted drama about saying goodbye to a lost one and moving forward. It stars the always-appealing Arkansas actress Natalie Canerday (best known for her motherly roles in Sling Blade and October Sky) as a middle-aged woman, named Victoria, who heads off on a road trip to her late husband’s final resting place, while dropping spoonfuls of his ashes along the way. Her car isn’t in great condition and her niece, Samantha (Kayla Esmond), doesn’t think she can get there on her own (nor does she, or we, understand exactly what Victoria has in mind), so she decides to drive her. Along the way, Victoria reveals truths about why she’s really taking this trip while also stating some positives about being alone despite mourning for her husband (kind of a way of self-healing). They also meet a nice traveler named James, played by Keith Hudson, and they go to an empty bar together, where, in a wonderful scene, Victoria fulfills a lifelong dream of singing live. My only problem with the film is that the character of James, despite a nice performance from Hudson, seems superfluous; he doesn’t add much other than a role of a goofy, good-natured side character who comes and goes. But the film is more about the lead character of Victoria, who is compelling, empathetic, and wonderfully portrayed by Natalie Canerday in a marvelous performance; it’s difficult to dislike her in the slightest. Also terrific is Kayla Esmond as the niece, Samantha, who questions her aunt’s judgments and thoughts but still attempts to keep an open mind and is willing to understand. Something else to praise is Carpenter’s script, which is littered with realistic dialogue. Add a moving final scene in which Victoria ultimately says goodbye to her husband at his resting place and “Spoonin’ the Devil” is a winning short film.



Smith’s Verdict: ***

The full review can be found here.


The Town Where Nobody Lives

No Verdict rating

BRIEF SUMMARY: An older couple who has fallen out of love find their way to a mysterious town. That forces them to confront their true emotions, and therefore, each other.”

I shall not review Al Topich’s 20-minute supernatural-psychological thriller, “The Town Where Nobody Lives,” because I was actually part of production as BTS Videographer. If I reviewed it, it’d be a biased opinion. But since I believe it earns some kind of response in this post, I reached out to a few people (Arkansas actors & filmmakers who weren’t involved in the production process) personally. This is what they said about the film:

Johnnie Brannon (director, Stranger Than Paradise)—“I loved the mood of the film. The acting was top-notch, the production design was great. I loved that the film made me think—is this heaven or hell? And if so…for who? I can’t think of anything I didn’t like about it.”

Pammi Fabert (actress, Rites)—“I thought it was beautifully shot. I loved the location and the acting was on point!”

Jordan Mears (director, Vampire-Killing Prostitute)—“I like it. It’s very bleak and ‘Twilight Zone-y.’ […] The story is fun, but there are a lot of unexplained things that irk me. Some of it is too vague. And I think that is what Al [Topich] might have been going for; very David Lynch. […] The film has some strong observations that it makes about relationships and what it takes to make them work and why some eventually crumble. And it’s done in a very sci-fi, arthouse way. It’s fun.”

Krystal Berry (script supervisor, Vampire-Killing Prostitute)—“I really enjoyed the film! Wonderful execution in storytelling. For me, films tend to exaggerate domestic issues to the point where acting comes across as hokey or unrealistic, but I didn’t feel that way in ‘The Town Where Nobody Lives.’ Karen [Clark] and Duane [Jackson’s] performances are very natural and not at all forced, which helped me build a connection to the characters and their plight. The story itself was relatable—relationships fall apart, sometimes at a painfully slow pace. It unfolded in this strange, dreamy (or nightmarish) way, that I thought was very entertaining. Easily one of my favorite films made in Arkansas this year.”

Rachel Van (actress, Monotony Broken) & Ben Gibson (actor, The Pop N’ Lock)—“The concept is simple on the surface but strong in its execution. The town can almost be considered a character itself, transforming at a moment’s notice to prompt [the characters] to face their issues head-on and preventing them from leaving until they each accept the truth that’s been in front of them all along. The fantastical elements the town displays are not necessarily explained, but they do not have to be. The story is so well-constructed that the viewer doesn’t question what’s happening or why, because we know what the town is trying to achieve. Along with Jackson and Clark, Kayla Esmond rounds out a talented, well-chosen cast as the Girl in the Bar. Each actor plays his or her part perfectly, and looks great doing it, as the cinematography is stunning and always sets the mood with purpose. The only weak spot is the climactic dialogue between Richard and Elizabeth near the end of the film, which feels slightly forced and unnatural. That, along with a couple of minor ADR issues, took me out of the moment in an otherwise seamless film. ‘The Town Where Nobody Lives’ is a very enjoyable film. From the location, to the lighting, down to the costumes, it illustrates what can be accomplished through the collaborative efforts of a strong cast and even stronger crew.”

For the record, my short documentary about the making of the film can be seen here:

Join me later for Block 4!

One Response to “LRFF2015 Review: “Made In Arkansas” Shorts Block 3”

  1. Terrance "Tank" Dumas May 21, 2015 at 11:47 pm #

    Thank you so much for considering my story. LLFF15 and also to the best filmmaker I know. Nathan Willis, thank you.

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