On October 19 the Fayetteville, AR, Public Library (FPL), LJ’s 2005 Library of the Year, rolled out the red carpet for 500 ticket holders as part of a Hollywood style premiere of its first film, Up Among the Hills: The Story of Fayetteville. Glittering silver tables and chairs replaced shelving, book bins, tables, seating, and browsing displays. Velvet curtains and multiple large screen monitors completed the Golden Globe look. Library staff members wore tuxedos and evening gowns. Characters in costume from Fayetteville’s past greeted attendees and played old time banjo and fiddle tunes.
While most event goers sipped cocktails on the library’s plaza, VIP guests were treated to a pre-event private wine and chocolate tasting at KUAF, the local NPR station, located just across the street from the library. After a warm welcome by David Johnson, FPL’s new executive director, attendees were treated to a three course dinner made locally of natural and local ingredients, reflecting FPL’s green (LEED certified) status.
The film is part of the library’s “A Richer World, A Deeper Community” five-year National Endowment for Humanities (NEH) Challenge Grant. The library aims to combat negative stereotypes associated with the state of Arkansas, leverage growth in the region to equivalent growth in the cultural sphere, open the window on a broad spectrum of cultures and new ideas beyond the region’s borders, and shine light on the rich cultural heritage of the Ozark region.
The hour long documentary film was written and directed by Larry Foley, a three time Emmy award-winning filmmaker, and narrated by President Bill Clinton. For the first film to document the town’s 184-year history, Foley used numerous interviews, film clips, and photos to illustrate highlights, such as when Fayetteville won the state’s land grant institution in the 1870s, was the first in the state to provide schooling for African Americans, and was the first in the south to vote to integrate the public high school and to integrate its university. The film’s goal was to illustrate how that focus on progressive ideals made the community the diverse, collaborative, and progressive city it is today.
Made possible by the Fayetteville Public Library Foundation and the NEH, the film is a tribute to John Lewis, nicknamed “Mr. Fayetteville,” who died in 2007 at age 67. Among the hundreds of efforts Lewis supported during his lifetime, he helped secure public and private financial support for the $23.4 million main library that opened in 2004. He co-chaired the referendum campaign committee, endlessly worked behind the scenes, and garnered a $100,000 corporate donation from The Bank of Fayetteville, where he served as founder, CEO, and president.
David Johnson, executive director, FPL, said, “The gala film premiere was one of those magical moments that unified and energized the community of Fayetteville Public Library supporters and library staff. We grew closer together as a team in planning and hosting an event of such scale and grandeur, and our community was able to see the library in a new role as a venue for large celebrations.”
Following the dinner and film premiere, ticket holders left with a shiny black Fayetteville Public Library bag containing a copy of the film, along with a plethora of product samples from local vendors. But that’s only the beginning for the film: The library is hosting free screenings on November 1, 6, and 11, and DVDs are available for purchase through The University of Arkansas Press.