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FILM FEST WRAPS: Spotlight's local bird lady, Majestic fire, Confederate monument

Word of the day: Enlightened

1. Freed from ignorance and misinformation.

2. Based on full comprehension of the problems involved.

Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Enlightened. In dictionary. Retrieved October 18, 2021, from

Gerber on Closing Night

Documentaries are unique works of art that explore the world around us with an oftentimes enlightening perspective. It takes one filmmaker with a vision to look at a subject some may have subconsciously found to be mundane in passing. The product brings to light the human condition that shapes ideas that impact daily life.

After nine days of inspiring documentary films, the 30th Annual Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival* wrapped up on Saturday. The 85 films screened at the Malco and Arlington from Oct. 8-16 explored a range of topics.

Some films were based in Hot Springs, and some had a direct connection to local issues; but all had something to teach in order to better self and society.

In case you missed the festival, here’s a few films that spotlighted the people and issues of Hot Springs.

Broken Wings, which premiered Oct. 10 at the Malco Theatre, explores the story of local Jayne Lakhani caring for an injured vulture who she named Adonis. This is one film many locals may beam with pride over.

For those who don't know her story, Lakhani is a server at The Pancake Shop and Luna Bella. One day, when she came across an “ugly ole one-winged vulture” who couldn't feed itself while it lived in the woods across from her work, she took it upon herself to ensure its survival. It's a heart-warming and familiar story for locals to recount as they speak fondly of this "bird lady."

But, like everything, there is more than meets the eye to Lakhani and Adonis's story, and Broken Wings explored this idea of Lakhani being a caretaker for all. She cares for her customers. She cares for her roommate Ann. She cares for her friends. And doesn't stop there, as she vehemently cares for a buzzard.

Most people may view a vulture as disgusting, but some view them as the “unsung heroes of our society.” So when Lakhani came across Adonis and his injured wing, she knew she had to feed him weekly if he were to survive. It didn’t matter to her that he was a vulture. She simply viewed him as a life that needed help, and she took on the role of being his helper.

This local's story is one of immense love and selflessness, and it was beautifully documented in this film by Jonathan Sutak.

Gerber, Schwarz, Brandenburg

Another film that strongly hit close to home for Hot Springians was Michael Schwarz's film Forever Majestic, which explores the fire and eventual demolition of The Majestic Hotel.

This film, which premiered Oct. 12 and showed again Oct. 15 at The Malco Theatre, documented the revitalization efforts of the historic building before and after a fire destroyed a portion of it in 2014. It also showcases the importance of saving historic buildings in Hot Springs before it gets to the point of nature or a fire reclaiming it.

With this shocking fire and demolition of such a treasured piece of Hot Springs' history being as recent as it is, this documentary was impactful and moving for local viewers.

Read more of Forever Majestic's synopsis, here.

One more film worth mentioning is The Neutral Ground, which premiered Oct. 12 at The Arlington and showed again Oct. 13 at The Malco. The film follows the taking down of Confederate Monuments across New Orleans since 2015.

Directed by comedian CJ Hunt, as a resident of New Orleans Hunt gives an honest, tragic, impactful (and somehow still comedic) look into the history of the erection of Confederate Monuments in New Orleans and across America. Hunt explores both sides of the issue that reveals the white supremacy responsible for the erection of these monuments, and therefore the importance of their taking down.

Hot Springs' Confederate Monument
The film highlights one issue in Hot Springs that has yet to be resolved. There is still a Confederate Monument standing high, and greeting anyone entering downtown Hot Springs.

Sitting on private property owned by the local United Daughter's of the Confederacy, the monument is a rock’s throw from The Malco and the festival’s headquarters. Similar to the monuments talked about in the film, Hot Springs' Confederate Monument is also the location believed** to be where two Black men*** were lynched in the early 1900's.

This piece of Hot Springs' history is tragic, and not taken lightly, but The Neutral Ground took this difficult topic and brought enlightening ideas to this community. It does what every good documentary does, and that's why the film festival exists. It celebrates these pieces that work to improve society, the world and humanity.

"This week we have watched films together, and they have transported us across the world," Festival Executive Director Jen Gerber said at the last screening Saturday evening. "We've shared heartache, anger, tears, joy and inspiration together."

The past week was one full of inspiring films, fun and many, many parties. If you missed it, start planning for the 31st annual, which will be held Oct. 8-16, 2022.

*The festival is the longest-running all-documentary film festival in North America.

**The structure of downtown Hot Springs was much different from present-day in the early 1900's, but it's widely believed that the location of the statue is the same as a telephone pole that once stood where at least one of the two men lynched were hung. If not the exact location, it was at least very close.

***The two men were Will Norman, a 21-year-old African American man, on June 19, 1913, and Gilbert Harris, on Aug. 1, 1922.

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