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Best of the Fest

Best of the Fest

May 14, 2015

Vol 41 • No 36

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Film for the people

The Little Rock Film Festival returns for year nine with a new director.

Ten to watch at the 2015 Little Rock Film Festival

Add 'em to your list.

The Ross Brothers: blood and grit

The brothers' new documentary, "Western," observes the modern lives behind myth of the West.

Arkansas-made films in the limelight at LRFF

The festival has helped foster the scene.

2015 Little Rock Film Festival schedule

Thursday through Sunday.

2015 Little Rock Film Festival guide

What to watch and when.

What went down in Ashdown

Puzzling over Tim Howard's retrial.

Parker Millsap at Stickyz

Also, the Arkansas Festival Ballet.


The Observer was not prepared for how attached we became to that cat over the years — haughty rival for Spouse's affections, who spent the first years of his life avoiding Yours Truly like week-old leftovers, only emerging to sharpen his claws on something we liked better than him: the leather cigar chair, the bookbag we carry to all our reporting gigs, the footstool, The Observer's own manpaw, dangling enticingly from the edge of the bed while The Observer slept. Like most of us who are worth a damn, though, he mellowed with age.

Left behind

High school reunion comedy 'D Train' takes a subversive turn.

Maltreatment of imprisoned mothers

n the front page of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's Arkansas page last week, we learned about the settlement of a lawsuit brought by women who were pregnant and incarcerated in the Pulaski County jail and were forced to deliver in the jail (with one delivering in the transport to the hospital). The amount of the settlement is not disclosed, but what is disclosed is the inhumane manner in which these women were treated, during their pregnancies and at the point of labor and birthing.

Hall out of touch on Jenner

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist and sportswriter Wally Hall would like to say his recent column, "Bruce is Her Name, Greediness Is His Game," is about the money-grabbing moves of an athlete 40 years away from his days of glory.

Bigots can speak, and so can their critics

It's still a radical document, the U.S. Constitution, no part of it more so than the First Amendment. Almost everybody's for freedom of speech, particularly for themselves and people who agree with them. However, the part about no establishment of religion vexes True Believers of every persuasion. How can government possibly remain neutral in matters of faith?

Best on beef

Brisket, burgers stand out at Sassy's Red House in Fayetteville.

God won't win it for Bro.-Gov. Huck

Mike Huckabee may have hit upon the right strategy for the early presidential sweepstakes by blending religious fanaticism and a weird (for a Republican) progovernment populism, but the old preacher's calculations may look a little too, well, calculating.

The Shine-ing

Photo by Jeff Amann from our Eye On Arkansas Flickr page of shoe shiner Russell Steed, who sets up shop in front of the men's clothing store Barakat Bespoke on President Clinton Avenue.

The Endangered Eight plus one

The Arkansas Historic Preservation Alliance has selected its Endangered Eight list of Arkansas properties for 2015 and added a new category, the Watch List, for Worthen Bank Building (KATV), which faces an uncertain fate thanks to Little Rock Technology Park plans.

Rodney Block plays Jazzlights in the Park

Also, The Temptations at Oaklawn, the Greek Food Festival, the Steve Miller Band at the Walmart AMP, the Ed Cromwell Legacy at the Arkansas Arts Center and Books in Bloom in Eureka Springs.

Jim Hendren says something moronic

Also, welfare for Lockheed Martin, Tom Cotton grandstands with consequences, the state Supreme Court dawdles some more, Benno the dog survives eating bullets and $15,000 and a glass door.

Mary Steenburgen on being busier than ever and her love for Arkansas

The Newport native is in Little Rock to host a fundraiser for the Oxford American.

Health reform task force co-chairs unhappy with consultant choice, seek to nix contract

A little bit of drama is brewing on the Health Reform Legislative Task Force: the task force’s GOP leadership was on the losing side in selecting a consultant, and now they're seeking to overrule the vote. 

Police: Jermain Taylor involved in altercation at rehab facility

Police say that troubled boxer Jermain Taylor was allegedly involved in an incident at a Pulaski County rehab facility in which a resident was struck and knocked to the floor. A Pulaski County Sheriff's office report says the incident happened yesterday at around 7 p.m. at Oasis Renewal Center on Cooper Orbit Road in far west Pulaski County.

Former legislator John Burris and the Health Task Force consulting contract kerfuffle

A little bit of inside baseball on this week's drama in the Health Reform Legislative Task Force. A familiar face in the private option debate is in the mix as the task force scuffles over a consulting contract.

Denny Altes appointed state drug director

Former legislator Denny Altes, of Fort Smith, has been appointed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson to be the state's drug director. Longtime legislative watchers will remember Altes for introducing a lot of nutty legislation that never went anywhere.

Lots of Masons and Williams and Emmas and Olivias born in Arkansas last year

The Social Security Administration announced today the most popular baby names in Arkansas in 2014.

LRPD hopes to fit 500+ officers with riot gear

With the clouds of tear gas barely dissipated over Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo., word comes that the Little Rock Police Department hopes to fit 535 of their officers with riot gear. Because nothing says "community policing" like having a warehouse somewhere stuffed with enough batons, shields, gas masks and flat-black helmets to outfit a small army.

Little Rock Police Department has first female assistant chief

Capt. Alice Fulk of the Little Rock Police Department was promoted by Police Chief Kenton Buckner this morning to assistant chief this morning, we have learned from City Manager Bruce Moore. Fulk, who was a candidate for chief before Buckner was hired, is the first woman to hold the job of assistant chief.

The Health Reform Legislative Task Force is in the middle of a mess

The Legislative Council Executive Subcommittee will hear a recommendation from the Health Reform Task Force not to offer a contract to the consultant that won the task force vote. Whatever you think of the consultant question, it's a political mess, and Council members might fear that overruling the majority of the task force will derail the entire task force process.

Ditch the (car) Keys Week starts Friday

A 7:30 a.m. press conference Friday — 7:30 a.m.! — at the Old State House Museum will kick off the city's Ditch the Keys event to fight ozone levels by encouraging people to bike, walk, telecommunicate or take mass transit Friday through May 22.

Arkansas Supreme Court Communications Counsel Stephanie Harris fired

The latest blood on the floor in the ongoing civil war at the Arkansas Supreme Court: Supreme Court communications counsel Stephanie Harris, who was asked to clear out her office this morning. Harris had handled press relations for the court for the past five years.

Tell off your congressman for his vote on abortion ban

The U.S. Congress yesterday made it even clearer that it makes political sense to enact an unconstitutional bill that strips women of their rights, and every one of the congressmen from Arkansas voted for it.

Silverpoint shows tonight at Hearne, G. Thompson

Hearne Fine Art, 1001 Wright Ave., and Greg Thompson Fine Art, 429 Main St., NLR, are hosting the "Progressive Collectors Reception" — meaning you can progress from one to the other — tonight for their joint 2015 National Silverpoint Invitational's “Drawing with Silverpoint."

The Thursday open line and video roundup

Over to you.

Central Arkansas Water adopts nondiscrimination resolution

The Central Arkansas Water Board of Commissioners today approved a comprehensive nondiscrimination resolution that covers hiring, employee benefits and vendors. CAW also extended all employment benefits to all legally married spouses even if Arkansas does not recognize their marriage as legal.

Legislative subcommittee votes to recommend approval of Health Care Task Force consulting contract

The Legislative Executive Subcommittee today voted to recommend a contract for the Stephen Group, the firm that the Health Reform Legislative Task Force voted 9-7 as its choice for a consultant — ignoring the task force's chair, Sen. Jim Hendren, who asked for more time to come to a broader consensus.

No "Kumbaya moments": dissension on the Health Reform Task Force over consultant

Lots of fireworks, salty comments, and tense feelings in yesterday's Legislative Council Executive Subcommittee meeting on the Health Reform Task Force consulting contract. This little procurement spat may not have a major substantive impact on policy, but if it undermines the task force, it could spell trouble for the future of the private option. Here's the highlights and lowlights from yesterday.

Mike Huckabee signs own anti-tax pledge, passes on the Norquist pledge

Mike Huckabee won't sign anti-tax fanatic Grover Norquist's pledge, but he has his own do-it-yourself pledge.

Legislative Council approves Health Reform Task Force consulting contract

Legislative Council today approved the contract for the million-dollar contract for the Stephen Group on a voice vote. After plenty of fireworks in yesterday's meeting of the Legislative Council Executive Subcommittee, it sounds like today's meeting of the full Council was relatively drama-free.

Time of the season open line

Let us know what you've been eating!

Hillary Clinton campaign volunteers gather in Little Rock and Fayetteville

Longtime Clinton friend Sheila Bronfman sends along word of strategy meetings held last night for Hillary Clinton supporters in Little Rock and Fayetteville.

No sunshine for the Health Reform Legislative Task Force

Legislative Council today rejected a proposal to livestream the proceedings of the Health Reform Legislative Task Force.

GOP candidates admit Iraq war was a mistake

GOP candidates say that in hindsight, they would not have gone to war with Iraq. Even the brother of the president who made the choice to invade.

Farewell to B.B. King, whose guitar got her name in Arkansas

Music lovers all over the world are reacting with sorrow on hearing of the death of Blues legend B.B. King, who died in Las Vegas on Thursday at the age of 89. Today, Rolling Stone shares the Arkansas connection to King's legendary Gibson guitar, Lucille.

Johnson County deputy killed overnight — UPDATE

Multiple sources are reporting that a reserve deputy for the Johnson County Sheriff's Office was killed in the line of duty overnight.

POLICE: middle school murder/suicide plot uncovered in Greenwood

KFSM in Fort Smith is reporting that police have uncovered an alleged plot by a 13 year old student at East Hills Middle School in Greenwood in which, police say, the boy planned to kill himself and three other students. Police say one of the boy's classmates learned of his plans and told a parent, who called the authorities.

The bigoted past of new state drug director Denny Altes

We mentioned yesterday some of the lowlights of newly appointed state drug director Denny Altes' long career as a lawmaker, but I forgot perhaps Altes' lowest moment: In 2005, then state Sen. Altes and Sen. Jim Holt introduced a bill that would have required officials to verify that anyone voting or taking advantage of any sort of public assistance was a U.S. citizen.

Redfield boy dies after accidental shooting

The Pulaski County Coroner has reportedly told KLRT that a 5-year-old boy shot in Redfield this morning has died from injuries sustained in what appears to be an accidental shooting.

Boston Marathon bomber sentenced to death

Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been sentenced to death, the New York Times reports. Along with his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the 21-year-old perpetrated the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, planting and setting off two pressure-cooker bombs near the crowded finish line of the race.

The Win for Equality in Eureka Edition

The vote to keep Eureka Springs nondiscrimination ordinance in place and other nondiscrimination pushes at work elsewhere, the Little Rock Police Department and riot gear, the presidential campaigns of Mike Huckabee and Hillary Clinton, Gov. Asa Hutchinson's appointment of former lawmaker Denny Altes as drug director and more — all covered on this week's podcast. With special guest Jay Barth.

Your Friday line and video roundup

Have at it.

The LRFF Saturday line

Here's a Saturday line.

The winners of the 2015 Little Rock Film Festival

Golden Rock Award for Best Narrative Feature: "Applesauce" Golden Rock Award for Best Documentary Feature: "Crocodile Gennadiy"

Out of pocket Sunday line

Sorry, folks. We'll be back in the saddle tomorrow. In the meantime, what did we miss?

Lockheed Martin is a company that stands for LGBTQ rights. How about in Arkansas?

The defense contractor has a long record of supporting LGBTQ rights. Now it's seeking economic development incentives from a state that's branded itself as among the nation's least friendly to LGBTQ people.

Common Core takes flight

From KAIT: “The Common Core has really been talking about mixed methods of teaching,” one student said. “Quail could be used as a way to talk to them about math and science and the incubation and things like that and how to integrate that into the classroom.”

Saying farewell to "Mad Men" with an Old Fashioned salute

Now that we've said our good-byes to "Mad Men," let's reflect on the Old Fashioned, a classic drink given new life by the AMC series.

Making the people’s voices louder than big money in Arkansas

People in Arkansas may have gotten fed up with the influx of cash and the endless barrage of attack ads, but now they are turning that anger into action. In recent months organizers have been working to get a question on the 2016 ballot requiring increased disclosure of political spending and calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United that paved the way for unlimited outside spending in our elections.

Womack gets plucked by 'Last Week Tonight with John Oliver'

HBO's "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, which premiered last April, has consistently shown itself to be a Daily Show-level contender for the humor-news crown. Up for discussion on the show last night: the myriad ways major poultry producers exploit chicken farmers. Also featured in the video: Arkansas Republican Rep. Steve Womack, who gets plucked and roasted for placing a rider on the agriculture appropriations bill that forbids the USDA from enforcing already-written protections for the nation's poultry farmers.

New video from Swampbird, 'Matter of Time'

The latest from Little Rock alt-country band Swampbird is "Matter of Time," off their album "Something To See." The video was shot in Nashville and stars Aubrey Peeples, from the TV show "Nashville" (also: "Sharknado"), and is, according to the band, the second part of a trilogy of videos directed by Conway native Chris Jones, which will collectively form a short film to be released later this year.

Dr. Sniffingwell's alma mater gets a takedown in the New York Times

The famous Arkansas bulldog Dr. Maxwell Sniffingwell probably needs to update his resume to include yesterday's New York Times story on Axact, the Pakistan-based parent company of his alma mater, Belford University, which turns out to be one of hundreds of smoke-and-mirrors universities and high schools owned by Axact. Revenues by the company are estimated at several million dollars per month.

Kanis Bash 2015 and a Q&A with Black Horse

Kanis Bash is an annual fundraiser for Little Rock's Kanis Skate Park, featuring live music, art, merch, skateboarders and food. It started six years ago when finances became tight for a group of locals that had been volunteering their own money, time and services to maintain the free DIY community skate park. This year’s Bash attracted skaters, artists and fans from over a dozen states.

Police: Man blames dog for indecent exposure

Just another day in paradise up in Jonesboro, where a man blamed a dog for causing him to allegedly commit indecent exposure. Police were called after a resident reported a man walking down the street in Jonesboro with his penis exposed. The incident, the witness told police, was also seen by a 9-year-old girl.

This son of an Arkansas Times editor was on 'Jeopardy' today

Consider this an open line.

Kurrus launches 'Straight Talk' column

New Little Rock Superintendent Baker Kurrus has launched a weekly online column called "Straight Talk." In the first edition, Kurrus can't sleep. His mind is racing too much. The LRSD has "organizational weaknesses," he writes. That can improve, he says, with better management, more communication and more authority bestowed down the organizational latter. Many schools don't have a positive working atmosphere. He wants to focus on school culture and climate.

Non-discrimination policies: A tale of two cities

Dozens turned out for a Bentonville School District public hearing last night on a proposed policy to include sexual orientation in a district non-discrimination policy for employees.

Diploma mill company goes on the attack against blogger

A Pakistani diploma mill has not been amused at social media jokes about a New York Times report on the operation. It's an operation with tentacles that reach into Arkansas.

Damascus speed trap in the spotlight

KTHV has an eye opening report on the legendary speed trap of Damascus, a tiny town along busy Highway 65 on the Van Buren and Faulkner county line north of Conway. Damascus has a population of only 385, but their four officers wrote a whopping 2,032 speeding tickets in 2014.

Ethics Commission confirms loopholes aplenty in 'ethics reform' law

The state Ethics Commission has issued an advisory opinion on questions I'd raised relative to entertainment of legislators under the new constitutional amendment that nominally ended freebies for legislators. The long and short of it is that there are — officially — abundant ways to get around new Amendment 94's prohibition of entertainment spending on legislators.

Marching to overturn Citizens United

Arkansas and national groups participated in a march this morning to demonstrate support for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United ruling by which the U.S. Supreme Court gave corporattions freedom to spend unlimited amounts on elections.

State budget administrator Brandon Sharp fired; no reason given

KATV reports that Brandon Sharp was fired Monday afternoon after four years as state budget administrator, a $101,000-a-year job in the Department of Finance and Administration.

Louisiana committee defeats 'religious freedom' bill

Despite strong support from Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Louisiana legislative committee has defeated a so-called religious freedom bill akin to the one passed with Gov. Asa Hutchinson's support in Arkansas.

Settlement of Medicaid drug case doesn't yet specify where money goes

A tentative settle of a drug class action case will produce a relative pittance for the state — $7.75 million, less $2 million in attorney fees — compared with the original $1.2 billion circuit court verdict in the case.

What's not to love about the Bentonville Film Festival? Walmart.

The Bentonville Film Festival, launched this year by actress Geena Davis and held earlier this month from May 5-9, earned a number of largely positive notices from major outlets like the Huffington Post ("At the Bentonville Film Festival, Women Are Playing in the Major Leagues"), the L.A. Times ("Bentonville Film Festival pushes diversity message from year one") and the New York Times ("Bentonville, Ark., Hosts a Film Festival Without a Movie Theater"), most of them centering on its unique and vital agenda — promoting diversity and gender equality in filmmaking — and its celebrity cache (e.g. an acting workshop taught by Robert De Niro, a softball game led by Rosie O'Donnell, etc.).

Little Rock bus rides are free tomorrow

Central Arkansas Transit will offer free bus rides Wednesday, May 20, working with Metroplan to promote awareness of the need to reduce ozone.

The open line and today's news video

Here's the Tuesday open line. And the roundup of Arkansas news and comment on what's been a slow day.

KATV: Bill Walker's state agency approves grants to sister UPDATE

KATV has dug up on questionable public dealings by a familiar figure — former state Sen. Bill Walker, who headed the state Career Education Department during the administration of Gov. Mike Beebe.

It's wet out there this morning

Some heavy rain has been falling in Little Rock this morning and it rose quickly in some spots. KTHV just reported a car stranded in high water on La Harpe Bloulevard, near the Robinson Center.

HBO to produce mini-series on legendary marshal Bass Reeves

HBO will team with Morgan Freeman to produce a dramatic series based on the life of Bass Reeves, one of the first black U.S. marshals and a legendary figure in the Oklahoma territory.

Griffen: Riot gear purchase panders to 'storm trooper mentality'

Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen writes that Little Rock is pandering to a storm trooper mentality by purchasing riot gear for police rather than focusing on better training of officers and more community policing in city unmarked by riots but also marked by questionable police actions in the deaths of black people.

Parolee killed by officers in Cabot after firing gun

A parolee arrested for drug possession was killed by law officers in Cabot Tuesday night after reportedly firing at officers with a small handgun despite being handcuffed in a police car.

Celebrate the Grape returns to Argenta

Celebrate the Grape, the Arkansas Times wine festival, is returning to Argenta with over 300 wines and lots of delicious local food.

Lawsuit complains prison inmate not getting critical medication

A federal lawsuit filed yesterday in federal court against the warden of the Varner state prison unit, nurses there and others says that an inmate has been repeatedly denied dosages of medication critical to preventing his body's rejection of a transplanted kidney.

Listen to 'The Dogtown Chronicles,' a 1995 North Little Rock punk compilation

This week marks the 20th anniversary of an minor but nevertheless significant event in the history of Central Arkansas music: the (relatively small-scale) release of a compilation called "The Dogtown Chronicles," by Food Chain Records. The tape, available via the Bandcamp page for Harlan Records (a now-defunct label started in 1994 by Soophie Nun Squad member Nate Powell) is a time capsule of a punk scene that turns out to have been much weirder and more diverse than we've sometimes come to believe. Songs like Sacred Cow's "Hawaiian Apocalypse" or Hug's "Dead Roach, Motherfucker" or Pete's "In The End" don't have much in common with each other, except for a certain haunting tape-hiss quality (that makes it all sound a little like the strangest Guided By Voices concert ever) and the fact that they were all made by kids.

Another whistle blower settlement from Bill Walker's days at Career Education

Bill Walker's tenure as director of the Arkansas Department of Career Education was marked by not one, but two, payouts to people who said they'd been fired for blowing the whistle on improper practices at the state rehabilitation facility his department operates in Hot Springs.

Newsweek gets it wrong on Arkansas divorce law

According to Newsweek, it takes 540 days to get divorced in Arkansas. But that's not true, says a Little Rock family attorney (and everyday experience).

Raids underway on bogus narcotic prescriptions

Law officers have been rounding up criminal suspects at medical clinics around the state this morning, the product of a joint federal/local investigation of bogus prescriptions for narcotics.

Nebraska legislature votes to repeal death penalty

The Nebraska legislature today voted to abolish the death penalty by a vote large enough to overcome a promised veto from the governor.

Hutchinson's special session will move up entire 2016 primary to accommodate Huckabee

Gov. Asa Hutchinson was to announce a call for a special legislative session this afternoon, but his office later announced it would be delayed until Thursday morning when the agenda and "government efficiencies" are to be discussed. But here's a look at what's expected.

Walmart anti-union video gets leaked

A Walmart employee training video with a strong anti-union message has been leaked to widespread attention on the Internet.

The midweek open line: Plus, Duggars, Tom Cotton, death of white rhino

An open line, a video news roundup and a hot link to some Duggar news.

Pizza, burgers, tacos and more: the top ten top fives

Ten categories, five items each. Pizza, desserts, burgers, lunch spots and more. Will your favorites make our top ten top fives? Only one way to find out!