OnFilm on the web: Joe Rossi’s Film Forum

February 15, 2013

Monkey note: This made it into the Northwest edition of the newspaper, but was cut for space in the Little Rock edition. I’ll keep bugging you about it.

I once knew a governor of Louisiana who had a reputation as an honest man.

No, really, it’s true. In fact, this particular governor was so concerned with the appearance of propriety that — after he was elected — a lot of people who had given generously to his election campaign found it difficult to get him on the phone. The governor didn’t want them to get the idea that he was “their guy” simply because they had supported him. He wanted it understood that he was not beholden to them.

You can imagine how things went for that governor. He got beat in his re-election bid by a guy who made no pretense to being an honest broker. And while a lot of people ended up admiring the former governor, he is considered a mere footnote in the state’s history.

I think about that governor now and then when I feel a little reluctant to mention goings-on that I am involved with. I sometimes think it’s a little unseemly for me to use this space to promote an event I’m participating in. I don’t want people to ask me to do things because they think I’ll write about it. I want people to ask me to do things because they think that I’ll do those things well. But the fact of the matter is that we live in a place where people involved in a particular endeavor are likely to know a lot of the other people who are also involved in that endeavor. In a way it’s silly not to acknowledge that people who work for a newspaper also sometimes do other things that may be worth covering in the newspaper. I don’t want to not write about something just because I’ve got some peripheral involvement with it. (Full disclosure: If my schedule permits, I’ll do almost anything any Arkansas-based film-connected group asks me to do.)

So I’m going to use this space to give you notice of the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute’s second annual Film Forum, which will be held March 21-24 at the institute’s campus atop Petit Jean Mountain. I couldn’t make it to last year’s Film Forum because of a previous engagement, and I’m very happy to have been invited back to this one. I heard a lot about last year’s event because I had friends who did attend, and because I’ve talked about it with Robert Walden, the actor who serves as the Film Forum’s artistic director.

RossiWalden, as you may know, is a prolific actor who’s probably best known for his role as Joe Rossi on Lou Grant from 1977 to 1982. (As I told him once, Rossi had an out sized effect on the way young reporters dressed and carried themselves when I started in this business. Some of that was no doubt due to his actorly research — his art copying life. But a lot of my cohorts affected to dress — and act — like Rossi.) My first impression of him came in All The President’s Men, in which he played Donald Segretti, but he’d already established himself, an alumnus of the Actor’s Studio who’d worked with Roger Corman on the Arkansas-shot Bloody Mama (1970) and with Arthur Hiller on The Hospital (1971). He was on the groundbreaking Showtime series Brothers in the 1980s and he currently stars as Fran Drescher’s father on the TV Land series Happily Divorced.

Last year Walden — who moved to Petit Jean when his wife, Christy Carpenter, became CEO of the Rockefeller Institute — opened up his Rolodex and got an impressive list of Hollywood professionals to descend on Arkansas for a three-day clinic in acting, directing, screenwriting and moviemaking. Considering Arkansas’ burgeoning film industry — I’m pretty sure the University of Central Arkansas is poised to become the next hot alternative film school, a la the North Carolina School of the Arts (which produced David Gordon Green and Jeff Nichols, among others) — the Film Forum is a pretty cool thing to have in our backyard.

A lot of the “faculty” from last year are returning — directors Joan Darling and Howard Deutch, acting coach Sandra Seacat — as well as a contingent of locally based film luminaries such as the Renaud brothers, Courtney Pledger and Chris Crane. And this year I’ll be there too, talking with the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Wesley Morris.

For more information, or to register for the conference, go here.

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