The Arkansas Cinema Society announced its official lineup for Filmland: Arkansas 2021, a local film festival that highlights 23 new and veteran Arkansas filmmakers, many of which are from the Conway area or students at the University of Central Arkansas (UCA).
Two of these local filmmakers that got entered into the festival are Jack Barr and Ebony Meyers, both of whom just happen to have been roommates with each other.
“It feels awesome to have my film accepted into Filmland,” Meyers said. “I was having doubts that it would or would not get in and then it did. I’m super excited and I’m happy to be there with every filmmaker. It just shined a light.”
Meyers’s film, “I Have No Desire To Suffer, In Reality, Or In Retrospect,” was accepted in the Shorts section of the festival and follows a college student who meets a friend on a paper route and later begin talking about a seductive teacher the two both have from their high school
“At first I thought it couldn’t have been made because it was kind of raunchy, but I kind of pushed myself to do it because I thought it was a pretty good script, it was shootable,” Meyers said. “I had people that really wanted do it and liked my vision so that really pushed me to want to do the script.”
Barr’s film, “Jelly,” which was accepted into the Student Shorts category, follows the perspective of a young woman who, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, struggles with self worth and tries to relearn how to play the trumpet, a skill she hasn’t used since the fourth grade.
“Because she’s locked inside all day, she’s lonely and finds that she really can’t talk to anymore about how she feels so she reaches out to this guy that she’s interested in on Instagram and there’s this really awkward connection that forms out of that,” Barr said.
Barr came up with the initial idea for his film back in February of 2020, but when the pandemic hit the following March, he thought weaving that current event into the story was the perfect idea.
“It just came to my one day where I wanted to start a film that begins and ends with a girl playing the trumpet and I wanted to know what her life was like in-between then,” he said. “Then the pandemic happened and it just naturally transitioned into ‘that’s what the story is about.’”
The COVID-19 pandemic had a huge impact on both of their films. For Meyers, certain plot elements they wanted to incorporated had to be scrapped due to restrictions.
“I did want to have a bigger cast,” Meyers said. “I wanted to have classmates in the classroom, and I wanted to have this big awards celebration in the movie but knew that I couldn’t do that anymore because of the pandemic but it kind of all worked out in the end.”
UCA’s COVID guidelines when it came to film productions was that everyone had to wear a mask at all times or stand six feet apart from each other. While this could’ve created a problem for Barr’s production process, he said it all worked out in the end.
“In a scene whenever the protagonist is about to go out the back door, there’s a reason they’re standing six feet apart from their roommate,” he said. “You might think that’s weird for roommates to do that, but for the movie I feel like it adds to that isolation and the feelings of anxiety that these characters have. Even though they’re living together, they still feel so far away.”
Both Barr and Meyers had a very short production process with Barr’s film only being shot in two days and Meyer’s film having a very small crew to work with.
“I’m kind of into Guerrilla filmmaking and just really like to start on a movie and don’t really like doing pre-production even though that’s kind of a given on what you have to do,” Meyers said. “I had a very small skeleton crew that was just three people including me and then four cast members so it was all very fast when it happened.”
Both filmmakers have a passion and love for the art of filmmaking and have been surrounded by films all their lives.
“I grew up watching a lot of films, over and over usually, and I found that I wanted to tell stories around that same time,” Barr said. “Because I grew up watching that visual medium, that’s how I saw myself telling these stories. It’s the best way to communicate my thoughts for the themes and stories I want to tell.”
Once Barr graduates college, he hopes to focus more on feature films rather than shorts and is currently developing an idea for a short that, if it gets made, will be a concept for short for a feature idea that he has.
“I really hope that thematically I can explore more and more characters that are not entirely me,” he said. “One of the things that I really liked about [“Jelly”] was writing someone that was not a white male essentially because I’m just not interested in telling those types of stories anymore. I like exploring myself through characters that I feel similar to, but are not me and then exploring my feelings through them.”
As for Meyers, they hope to one day have a film be picked up by Indie film distributor A24 and to be more well known in the community for their work.
“I have one film that I’m shooting in the winter,” Meyers said. “It will be a lot more visceral than this film. A lot of people have told me that my current film is such a different experience that they don’t think it can be topped, but I’m willing to top it.”
Meyers believes that anyone can be a filmmaker and that people should take the risk in pursuing their artistic talents.
“For anyone whose doubting if they’ll ever make a movie, just do it,” Meyers said. “I won’t say that it’s not hard; it’s just that whatever your creative ideas are, do them and don’t be scared to take risks and do what you want because in the end it will all work out.”
Filmland will take place in MacArthur Park in Little Rock from Sept. 30 to Oct. 3 and will include both a virtual and drive-in component. Tickets will go on sale closer to the start of the festival and the times of each showing will be announced at a later date.