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  • Writer's pictureDennis McCaslin

Film by local producer/director Michael Pharis set for 9 p.m. showing Saturday night at The Majestic

Michael Pharis

A Van Buren filmmaker is one of hundreds set to be showcased this weekend at the Fort Smith International Film Festival with the screening of a film noir throwback that was six years in the making.

Michael Pharis, a Van Buren High School graduate and Fort Smith-based board-certified clinical specialist in neurologic physical therapy, is the director and producer of "The Rock of Gilbralter", a gritty, black and white film telling a late 30's era story of a cat and mouse game set in Fort Smith. between a detective and convict.

"The film is set in 1939-40 in Fort Smith," said Pharis. "This is the sixth movie I have made since 2009 and is by far my most ambitious project. It runs 90-minutes and basically consists of a local cast and crew,"

Will Trentham as "Dutch Marsh"

The movie tells the tale of a prison break by vicious criminal mastermind "Deacon Marsh" and the chase to bring the convict back to justice by "Jake Radford", the retired detective who put him there in the first place.

The lead roles were filled by Will Trentham, a Bentonville attorney, and Jake Radford respectively with the rest of the cast comprised mainly of friends and former schoolmates. Pharis got his start in filmmaking with a 2009 video called "Cabin at Crescent Park", a tongue-in-cheek take on low budget horror movies made on a limited budget with friends and family.

"That first one was a lot of fun, but we've come a long way since 'Crescent Park'", said Pharis. "One of the reasons this one has taken six years--outside of financial concerns and the logistics of me going to physical therapy school --is because we reshot probably 60% of the movie because I wanted to get it it right."

Jason Collins as "Jake Radford"

"The fact that we were able to pull it off--and keep the cast and crew committed--is amazing," said Pharis. "Things about the look and feel of the movie...the fact that the locations and antique cars were still available to us through all the delays...everything just came together."

The locations for shooting were in and around Fort Smith, but a few segments were were shot in Ohio, including the penitentiary scenes. He said the "Deacon Marsh" character is an amalgamation of a number of old time gangsters rolls into an "Al Capone" of the south.

Pharis says the cast and crew were "very patient" for the entire extended shoot. The cast includes Chris Bell, Chamien Byrd, Carsyn Garlanger, Wade King, Seth Beckett, Michael L. Hooper, Rob Lambert and Laura and Michael Wineland.

After his directorial debut with Cabin at Crescent Peak Pharis followed that up with Radio Kings (2011), Some Stay Strong (2012), Too Cool Guys (2012) and Words Can Wait (2013).Pharis is the son of local radio station owner Bill Pharis and the bulk of 2011's Radio Kings was shot on weekends at the Fort Smith Radio Group offices on North Greenwood Road in Fort Smith.

Although the film is making it's local debut, it has already picked up a number of awards at indie film festivals, including winning an award at the Ohio Indy Film Gathering for the Best Crime Feature. The movie was also honored with the Audience Choice Award at the Fayetteville Film Fest and Made in Arkansas events with showings in four other festivals.

Pharis, who works at Encompass Health in Fort Smith, said once the film makes the Film Festival rounds he may start looking for a distributor or way to sell it to a streaming service so it can be seen by a mass audience. The 31-year-old is currently working on a follow-up companion book to "The Rock of Gibralter" which is taking up all of his creative time. But he says there are definitely more film projects in his future.

"The production of this one took a long time, but I already have some ideas about some stuff I'd like to make down the road," said Pharis. "I think the people will really enjoy this film and we feel like we really nailed it on this one, especially the ending."

"The Rock of Gibralter" has been slated for a 9 p.m. viewing Saturday night at the Majestic at 817 Garrison Avenue in Fort Smith. For other information on the festival you can go to THIS link.

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