WORDS Marla Cantrell
IMAGES courtesy Kevin Croxton

Apr 1, 2024 | Featured, People

A group of child actors in a small Arkansas town make headlines at an international film in Rome.

There’s no red carpet, no paparazzi, and no one asking for autographs at the entrance of Oliver Springs Elementary School in Van Buren, Arkansas, but there could be. The school is home to the Oliver Springs Music Club, which is in the habit of making award-winning films, like the fan film, Indiana Jones and the Treasure of the Aztecs, which has earned more than forty international awards at the time of this writing. Film festival season is only nearing its midpoint, so there could be more.

One day, Oliver Springs could be known as Ollywood. Stranger things have happened.

Levi Bull transforms into a much younger version of Harrison Ford’s character, Indiana Jones (Best Young Actor: Rome International Movie Awards). His partner was supposed to be a boy, but when Addie Falleur auditioned for the role of Ollie, she was so good that the director/composer/screenwriter and Oliver Springs music teacher, Kevin Croxton, adjusted the script. A convincingly naive Brody Gauchat played sidekick Jock, and the Soviet villain Anton Raskin, played by a restrained Cole Anderson, nearly stole the show.  He even speaks in Russian, and a choir of twenty-five Soviet soldiers sings in their “mother tongue.” Addie, Brody, and Cole won Best Ensemble in Rome.

The crew shivered in the caves and sweltered in the swamp. The film took more than two years to complete, not in small part because COVID-19 hit, closing schools for a time. When filming began, Kevin and his students, ages eight through eleven, were at Parkview Elementary, where the music club had already released In the Blink of an Eye: A James Bond Fan Film, Batman: The Scheme is Sound, and The Adventures of the U.S.S. Parkview: A Star Trek Fan Production. A restructuring occurred when Oliver Springs opened for the 2020-2021 school year, shuffling Parkview students and staff to the new school.

In June 2023, Hollywood released Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, the final Harrison Ford installment. A month later, the red-carpet premiere of the local production of Indiana Jones and the Treasure of the Aztecs, set in 1958, was held at the Malco Theater in Fort Smith.

Guests got the first look at the cast of sixty in scenes shot at Van Buren’s Arkhola Preston Quarry, the Fort Smith Museum of History, Fourche Creek in Little Rock, Barling’s Springhill Park, Cosmic Caverns in Berryville, and the Old Spanish Treasure Cave in Sulphur Springs. There were llamas and horses, a World War II-era army jeep, boats, twenty-five Soviet uniforms, snakes, and special effects.

Throughout the film is music Kevin composed (Best Movie Score/Best Director: Rome International Movie Awards). Playing beneath the dialogue, it shows us when to worry, when to feel triumphant, when to laugh. The entire movie lasts less than thirty minutes, but every second counts.

The seed for this endeavor was planted in 1981, when Harrison Ford starred in the George Lucas/Steven Spielberg film Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Music teacher Kevin Croxton was seven years old at the time and was caught up in the world of this archeologist/action-hero of a man. Kevin lived in Fort Smith with his mom, a piano teacher, and his dad, a jazz player who was offered a job after filling in on piano for band leader Doc Severinsen, from NBC’s Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.

Kevin’s dad turned the job down.

At home in Fort Smith, young Kevin, who later graduated from Southside High School, was pretending to be Indiana Jones. In 1984, another film was released, and five years later, yet another installment in the franchise premiered. He saw them all.

Movies were so important to Kevin that his parents let him use their garage as his studio. He recruited neighborhood kids to play the parts. He was always the director.

As the only child of two talented musicians, Kevin’s ear was trained to melody. He learned to play the piano, viola, trumpet. He started composing music in high school. At the University of Arkansas, he used his dorm room as a studio. He was particularly good at composing film scores, and soon, independent filmmakers had his number.

Kevin won Emmys® for his composing. He raised a family and has taught for twenty-seven years at Van Buren Schools. At some point, two of his loves—music and films—merged.

When he approached the Van Buren School District with his plan to bring filmmaking to Parkview Elementary, he was gladdened by the support. When he moved to Oliver Springs, the enthusiasm continued. Students organized fundraisers, the Arkansas Arts Council and Arts in Education Program stepped in, as did Arts on Main in Van Buren. Five Star Productions in Fort Smith loaned equipment and staff, and their own Clay Pruitt serves as the cinematographer (Best Cinematography: Rome International Movie Awards). They’ve had donations from parents, banks, and the Ozark Media Arts Festival presented them with one thousand dollars for winning Film of the Year.

Often, former students will return to be part of the crew. Parents jump in to help. Moms Carrie Odiorne and Maggie Adair won Best Hair and Makeup in Rome for their work with the cast.

In 2021, George Lazenby, of 007 fame, played a cameo in the students’ Bond film. Kevin dreamed of getting Karen Allen, who played Indiana Jones’ wife, Marion Ravenwood, for his latest production. She happily agreed.

Already, Kevin has an idea for the next movie, also a fan film. He’s working his contacts, hoping to get another Hollywood star to participate in their Ollywood—or should I say Oliver Springs Music Club—production.

The payoffs are big. Former music club actor Mia Tucker played in both the Bond and Star Trek films. Mia was discovered by an executive producer and casting director from Los Angeles when she and her mother attended the Fayetteville Film Fest. “Mia just has a presence about her,” Kevin says. “They were fixing to shoot a feature film called Freedom’s Path, and they had searched all over for the right person. They had a casting session later that day. She joined the Screen Actors Guild. Mia was on set with a tutor for twenty days.” At the time of this writing, Freedom’s Path was playing on Paramount Plus.

If there are other public elementary schools with comparable film programs, Kevin hasn’t heard of them, but he finds it unlikely. Dressed all in black, he talks with his hands as if words are not enough. Perhaps if music were playing, he’d feel as if the emotion was being adequately transferred, that his thoughts were zinging into the recorder like music notes. Without music, he can only talk faster.

Kevin’s newest venture is with Arts on Main in Van Buren. He’ll be overseeing a summer youth filmmaking program to show others in the area the power of original movies.

The music teacher doesn’t know why children make such great actors. He says they work hard and give it all they’ve got. But something else seems to be at play. A sheet thrown over a kitchen table becomes a fort, at their age. They wave their arms and fly. When they sing, they rarely worry about their range or public image. The world is a stage. When they are older, they may lose their aptitude for whimsy. Kevin is hoping against hope that they don’t.

For more on the new youth summer film program on Arts on Main in Van Buren, visit artsonmainvb.com.
To watch Indiana Jones and the Treasure of the Aztecs, go to Kevin Croxton’s YouTube channel.

Do South Magazine

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