Daniel Campbell’s initial foray into filmmaking, a modest, 14-minute movie titled “Antiquities,” won the Charles B. Pierce Award for the best film made in Arkansas at the Little Rock Film Festival in 2010 and racked up awards at other festivals around the country. His next two short films, “The Orderly” (2011) and “The Discontentment of Ed Tailfair” (2013), also won the top award at the Little Rock Film Festival those years.
Not bad for a young guy from small-town Arkansas who majored in business, never attended film school and never even aspired to be a filmmaker until he was well out of college.
If Campbell did not have filmmaking in his career sights while he was growing up in Haskell, outside of Benton, he was a committed film buff who claims to have seen the Coen Brothers’ “Raising Arizona” at least a hundred times before he graduated from Harmony Grove High School.
“I always loved film but never took it seriously as a career choice until after college,” he said in a recent telephone interview from his home in North Little Rock. “My film school was just watching movies.”
The turning point for Campbell came when his father, with whom he was very close and shared a love of movies, was killed in a car crash. That event sent Campbell on a 10-week, solo backpacking trip through eastern Europe, Southeast Asia and Australia. He returned with a new perspective on life and a new career goal: making movies.
Campbell was working, with very little success, in sales at a radio station in Little Rock in 2008 when he connected with Sarah Tackett, who also lived in Little Rock and did casting for major Hollywood movies. A series of interviews with her led to a job in the casting department of “Nothing But the Truth,” a political thriller shot in Memphis, starring Kate Beckinsale and Matt Damon. Campbell returned from the shooting fired up to write a script and direct a film of his own.
The result was “Antiquities,” a short film based on his childhood experiences spent going with his family to antique malls in Saline County. He made the film for just a few hundred dollars and shot it entirely in Arkansas.
“I wanted to set it in a weird, bizarre place and I wanted to show Arkansas in a positive light,” he said. “I wanted to show the quirky side of Arkansas and the charming side.”
It was at the 2010 Little Rock Film Festival that Campbell met writer, actor and fellow-Arkansan Graham Gordy. The two found they had a lot in common, including having lost their respective fathers at a young age, and formed Mortuus Pater Pictures together, along with Gary Newton, a former executive with the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce.
The first production of Mortuus Pater is “Antiquities,” loosely based on Campbell’s 2010 short and expanded to feature length. Campbell directed a script he wrote with Gordy, who also has a supporting role in the film. The story centers on Walt, who, after his father’s death, moves to his father’s hometown to learn more about who his father was. Walt takes a job in an antique mall and is introduced to a host of quirky characters who inhabited his father’s world. The film will be shown as part of the Fayetteville Film Festival on Friday, Sept. 21 at 8 p.m. at the Global Campus Theatre.