Filmmaker Jeff Nichols is the creative force behind “The Bikeriders,” a highly anticipated film, which will have its Arkansas premiere this weekend as part of Filmland 2023, a film festival brought to Little Rock by the Arkansas Cinema Society. 


With the premiere event to take place this Sunday, Oct. 15 at the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts, an encore of “The Bikeriders” will also be shown on Monday, Oct. 16 at 3:30 p.m. The premiere event is unique in the fact that it will include a screening of the film, as well as a Q&A with Nichols and Variety critic Peter Debruge, dinner, an open bar and a live auction. 


Nichols, originally from Arkansas, is known for films such as “Shotgun Stories,” and “Mud.” While Nichols is well-known for his brilliance in Southern storytelling through film, “The Bikeriders” is a film that differs from his previous work. This story is 20 years in the making, as Nichols explained he was deeply inspired by Danny Lyons’ book. As Nichols was discovering the midwestern voice, he said he was privileged to listen to the original interviews between Lyons and members of the Chicago Outlaws Motorcycle Club. 


“The book has honestly been a cornerstone of new journalism for a really long time. The first issue that I came across was a reissue in 2003; that was really important because it had a new foreword that he kind of revisited what happened to the guys he rode with, and what happened to the club he rode with back in the mid-60s,” Nichols said. “The photographs themselves are beautiful, they’re compelling, they tell a story.” 


Nichols said this is the first film he’s made that hasn’t felt Southern, or influenced outright by his Arkansan roots. 


“It was in a voice and a subculture that I didn’t feel comfortable in, I wasn’t part of a motorcycle club and what I found interesting was the realization of how interesting the people were, and the psychology of how their brains work, and I found that it was similar to how people think here,” Nichols said. “It’s less about people and more about socioeconomic level. It’s just normal people and how they are living their lives.” 


A major component of “The Bikeriders” is a love triangle between Kathy, Benny and Johnny. However, this is not a typical love triangle based only on romantic relationships, but off of the themes of want and desire. 


“One of the biggest things I learned was that the photos were romantic, but the interviews were not,” Nichols said. “It’s more about a feeling of nostalgia and the identities we’re searching for rather than romance.” 


The main character, Kathy, is based off of one of the wives Lyons interviewed. With major wins that Nichols attributes to luck in casting, Kathy’s character is played by Jodie Comer, with the character of Benny played by Austin Butler and Tom Hardy playing Johnny. 


“You always want people who are going to grow over the course of making a film. I don’t think I had any idea that Austin, who just got done playing Elvis, would touch zeitgeist the way that it did,” Nichols said. “I have worked with some of the greatest actors in the world and I’ve usually worked with them right before they become incredibly famous and successful.” 


Nichols, who described Butler as “even more attractive in person,” explained that Butler was the perfect casting option for Benny, because he has everything that both Jodie and Johnny are desiring from him. 


“They (Kathy and Johnny) both want him for things. She wants to marry him, and does. He wants him to take over the club. So I needed an actor that people just want, and that’s Austin. It’s undeniable,” Nichols said. 


Based on a shared psychology, group think, identity search and more, “The Bikeriders” will be in theaters on Dec. 1.


Arkansas Cinema Society is a nonprofit organization dedicated to celebrating film in Arkansas, as well as creating opportunities for filmmakers to not only be trained, but to have resources in The Natural State. As this year’s event is somewhat different than events in years passed, the goal is remaining the same: to continue to exist for the future of film in Arkansas. 


“We want to meet and talk to these people, yes, but it’s also a way for us to raise awareness for ACS, which in return helps us to fund a lot of our educational programming year round. I say it at the beginning of every film screening and I’m really passionate about it, but if our filmmaking community could just show up, then it helps us offer these incredible opportunities,” Kathryn Tucker, ACS executive director and founder, said. “Our biggest goal is for ACS to be sustainable.” 


For more information about ACS or Filmland 2023, or to buy tickets to “The Bikeriders,” click here. 


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