Director Hal Needham (Smokey And the Bandit, White Lightning, Cannonball Run) was presented with the Diamond Award for Career Excellence at this year's Little Rock Film Fest. A few hours before the presentation I interviewed Needham who, before directing, was considered to be the greatest and highest paid stuntman in film. The audience was mesmerized by Needham's stories of his many years of work (4500 TV shows and 310 feature films) with stars like Burt Reynolds and John Wayne, and his mishaps that led to 56 broken bones and numerous near-death experiences (like driving the first car to break the sound barrier when all three of his chutes failed). He also told us of his dirt poor days in Arkansas as a share cropper's son. "That suite that you guys got me in upstairs? That living room is bigger than the house we lived in and there were seven of us!"
Organizers say that the festival has grown by 25 percent over last year's attendance, a remarkable accomplishment considering that Little Rock isn't exactly a crossroads of entertainment like Los Angeles, New York, Toronto or Austin. It's a testament to the caliber of films that are shown each year, and the remarkable film projects being done right in the Little Rock area.