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Honors College Project Selected for Little Rock Film Festival

Two people are silhouetted on a hillside, green background

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

   FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – A 12-minute film turned in as the final project in an Honors College course at the University of Arkansas has been selected for screening at the sixth annual Little Rock Film Festival taking place May 29-June 3. The Children of the Mother Beaver will be included in the Made in Arkansaw/Arkansas Shorts: Warm-Blooded Cold-Hearted showcase to be shown at 8:20 p.m. on Thursday, May 31, and 11 a.m. Saturday, June 2, at Riverdale Cinemas 10.
   The film, a grainy, sometimes-bloody meditation on the frontier justice meted out by 19th century Regulators, follows a pair of siblings through the wilderness as they hunt for their father’s killer. The film was inspired by Friedrich Gerstäcker’s first novel, Die Regulatoren in Arkansas (The Regulators [Vigilantes] in Arkansas), an 1846 description of Arkansas’ Wild West days.
   “The Gerstäcker book was the most fun thing we read in class – a Western. It’s genre fiction, but it has bigger themes,” said John Erwin, an honors English major who is minoring in Japanese in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences.
   Erwin and honors classmates Zach Harrod and Lindsay Strong spent eight days shooting the film, largely in Elkins, using a Canon XF 100 video camera. The budget? Next to nothing.
   “We bought costumes at thrift stores and blanks for shotguns – it was like $10,” Erwin said.
   Erwin and Harrod wrote and produced the film and all three students acted in it. Erwin, who has made about 30 short films since age six, handled the cinematography and months of editing. He purposely degraded the film to achieve grainy, highly saturated color.
   “I was going for the look of low budget art films from the ’70s, shot on cheap film,” he said.
   The team screened a three-minute excerpt for their classmates in the honors humanities course led by Kathleen Condray, an associate professor of German, and Fiona Davidson, an associate professor of geology, both Fulbright and Honors College faculty members. A scene in which Harrod casually skinned and beheaded a squirrel sparked criticism from classmates but is key to the film, Erwin said.
   “It reflects the hypocrisy of Zach’s character, skinning a squirrel while talking about his father’s act of mercy to a beaver,” Erwin said.
   “Students read excerpts from Friedrich Gerstäcker's novel as part of a larger discussion on the rights and obligations of governments (and an individual's rights and obligations within that framework),” Condray noted. “And John has nicely captured the tension inherent in a society in which government is not performing as it should and some citizens feel they must act out of self-protection, which was a situation not uncommon in frontier Arkansas.”
   Condray hopes to screen the film in Northwest Arkansas in advance of an international symposium — The Legacy of Friedrich Gerstäcker: Arkansas and the Wild West — to be held on the U of A campus on Oct. 11-13.
   Erwin’s films have won several awards at previous film festivals, and he is rounding up friends to accompany him to Little Rock in hopes of contending for the audience award.
  
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CONTACTS:
Kathleen Condray, associate professor of German
J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences
479-575-5938, condray@uark.edu

Kendall Curlee, director of communications
Honors College
479-575-2024, kcurlee@uark.edu

Darinda Sharp, director of communications
J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences
479-575-4393, dsharp@uark.edu