Either I managed to catch two of the frontrunners for the Golden Rock in documentary Saturday, or the LRFF programming is even better than I thought. The first, Herb and Dorothy, profiles a NYC couple who have been using their meager salaries over the last half-century to amass a low-rent apartmentful of conceptual art that would rival the collection of any more monied collector. Pluck and exuberance galore make them a couple of the most memorable subjects I’ve encountered over the last year. It’s the story of two love affairs: one with each other and one with art. Both will captivate you.
The second film followed Ugandan refugee and professional boxer Kassim Ouma. “Kassim the Dream” might be mistaken for a pretty piece of ethno-tourism if its focus weren’t so firmly fixed on the private struggles (and demons) of Ouma, who was kidnapped at six and forced into the rebel army in Uganda as a child soldier. The picture is indeed beautiful, oversaturated and bright, with nimble editing and tasteful transition interviews, but that beauty can’t mask the painful facts of this story. Ouma is like some Sisyphean Rocky whose greatest opponent is the awful circumstances of his young life.
The Hand of Fatima panel, which I moderated, was poorly attended, but the panelists brought some fascinating insights to bear on the legacy of Arkansas writer Robert Palmer. Robert Cochran, professor of English and director of the Center for Arkansas and Regional Studies, obviously owns a well-thumbed copy of Palmer’s “Deep Blues” and holds that work in exceedingly high esteem. Digging into Palmer’s exploration of world musics, Professor Rolf Groesbeck of UALR broke out some of the more energizing passages in Palmer’s voluminous writings on the subject, also charting his influence among a number of the twentieth century’s more towering musical figures. Palmer’s widow, JoBeth Briton-Palmer, revealed details about his career that could only come from an intimate acquaintance. All made clear that this great man’s spiritual (and therefore musical) appetites gave every bit as good as they got.

                                                                                     —Derek Jenkins