Updated: Oct 9, 2021
The Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival will celebrate its 30th anniversary* next week, and festival executive director Jen Gerber gave a sneak peek of the upcoming nine-day program to the Hot Springs National Park Rotary Club on Wednesday. The festival will run Oct. 8-16. To purchase single film tickets or passes, visit the festival's website. Even pass holders are asked to reserve single film tickets online to maintain theater capacity for COVID-19 protocols. To view a full schedule of events, click here.
Every day of the festival is filled with film screenings, parties, talks and other special events. Gerber suggests looking online ahead of time to create your itinerary, but gave a few film recommendations at Rotary, saying, "there’s truly something for everyone."
Gerber suggests the opening and closing night screenings. Citizen Ashe, being shown at 7 p.m. Oct. 8 in the Convention Center's Horner Hall, is a film following the legacy of the highly accomplished American tennis player Arthur Ashe. Julia, being shown at 7 p.m. Oct. 16 in The Malco, is a film about Julia Childs, and is anticipated to have the audience leaving hungry.
The next suggestion is a personal favorite of Gerber's. The Rescue, being shown at 7 p.m. Oct. 14 at The Malco. The film follows the rescue of the 13 members of a soccer team trapped in a cave in Thailand for 18 days in 2018.
"You will be on the edge of your seat," Gerber said. "I promise you it will rival any action/adventure film you can see in theaters now; and it’s definitely something you want to see on the big screen. They do such a great job as filmmakers of showing humans overcoming unbelievable physical obstacles. Everything that they film seems like it’s seemingly impossible, and then you get to watch these triumphant acts on screen."
Next up on her list was The Neutral Ground, being shown at 7 p.m. Oct. 13 in The Malco. The film, by comedic Daily Show correspondent CJ Hunt, follows the story of Confederate Statues and their roles within American history, and the removal of them.
"The film takes something very complex as it relates to these monuments and puts it in a form that’s so easily and digestible," Gerber said. "I guess what I’m trying to say is this is a film you can’t stop thinking about after you see it, and it will open your eyes to parts of U.S. History that maybe hasn’t been this fully explored. But it also does this with such a twist of humor that it’s super entertaining while you’re going to be learning a whole lot along the way."
A few more personal favorites included Socks on Fire, being shown Oct. 9, and The First Step, being shown Oct. 10, both at 7 p.m. in The Malco.
"Socks on Fire is a little more unusual than most of the documentaries in our festival because it does feature a lot of stylized reenactments," Gerber said. "The story is about a family that is going through a dispute once their grandmother passes away and these two sisters and their brother are having a fight over the inheritance. And the brother is a drag performer and the other two sisters are not open to his lifestyle and it becomes this very complex, humorous personal story of a southern gothic tale."
For even more fun, the film will be opened with and followed by a drag show.
The First Step follows CNN Correspondent Van Jones as he partners with the Trump Administration for criminal justice reform.
"What I really love about this film is it shows the importance of putting policy before politics, and what it really means to cross the aisle and work together for a common cause," Gerber said.
More than just movies...
There will be 85 films shown at this year's festival, providing a wide array of subject matters. However, even though film is the heart of the festival, there is more to it.
Historically well-known for its industry guests, Gerber said this year they will be welcoming Oscar CEO Dawn Hudson, who is actually a Hot Springs native.
There will also be the return of the wellness series that started last year, and that is free and open to the public. The schedule is as follows:
• At 2 p.m. Oct. 9 at the Hot Springs Bicycle Touring Company, 436 Broadway St., there will be a meet up for a bike parade taking a spring water tasting tour.
• At 9:30 a.m. Oct. 10 at The Arlington Resort and Hotel's Crystal Ballroom, there will be a meet up for an inspirational hike.
• At 10 a.m. Oct. 16 on The Arlington rooftop** there will be yoga.
A first-ever documentary bootcamp for emerging filmmakers will also be showcased at the festival. After 10 weeks of 10 students attending a virtual bootcamp, the premier of their first short film documentaries — primarily made in and about Hot Springs — will show at 11 a.m. Oct. 16 in The Arlington's Crystal Ballroom.
"This is a year of change," Gerber said. "The way I’ve been thinking about it is we are just not the same. We were living in a time of history, we are still in the midst of the pandemic and as much as we want things to be exactly the way they were before, I have come to the conclusion they are not. But also that can create opportunities for new ideas and for experimentation and for exploration. So this year we’re going to be holding on to a lot of our favorite traditions, but trying a few new things as well."
"New things" include have different ways and places to attend the festival.
There are two ways to attend the festival this year: virtually or in person.
"Every single film in the program will have an in-person theatrical screening, and then the next day it will be available on our virtual platform for 48 hours," Gerber said. "So every year I hear, 'I didn’t get to catch all the films, there’s too many good ones to see,' and that’s always the case but this year you can stay up late or wake up early you can also watch them at home. … We hope that everyone tries all the way of watching films at our festival this year."
There are also some new venues.
"The festival’s birthplace was at the malco theatre and we’re so excited to be back in the doors of The Malco," Gerber said. "Maxwell Blade has done such an amazing job renovating that space and welcoming us back into The Malco. I think it’s going to be really a trip down memory lane for those who have been with the festival for 30 years, and we’re really excited to be back.
"And of course, it wouldn’t be a festival without being at The Arlington, so we’ll have some screenings there as well in the Crystal Ballroom, and some other special events there because we love the Arlington.
"And because this year it is our 30th year, we’re expecting a big celebration. We didn’t want opening night to feel limited by capacity, so we’re so grateful for Visit Hot Sprigs’ support so we can host our opening night in Horner Hall."
The festival will also be adding a "central headquarters" that will serve as the main box office, the VIP Lounge and the merchandise store; at 120 Ouachita.
"We are very, very cautious and aware," Gerber said. "We want our audience to feel safe and to be safe and we want to create a safe environment so all of our guests can be relaxed and enjoying events."
To attend the festival you must show either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test taken within the past 48 hours. Masks will be required at all indoor venues. For special events that involve eating or drinking, outdoor access will be available.
*The festival is the longest-running all-documentary film festival in North America. **“Rooftop” was changed from “Lawn.”