The Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival celebrates its 30th year as a destination festival with a strong commitment to quality and hospitality.
WORDS / CASSIDY KENDALL
PHOTOS COURTESY OF HSDFF
Since October 1991, the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival has been growing stronger and making a remarkable name for itself year after year. Despite its distance from the physical film industry, it is now the longest-running all-documentary film festival in North America.
Current Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival executive director Jen Gerber, who entered her ninth consecutive year with the festival this year, spoke with The Idle Class on how the festival has evolved over the past 30 years.
Firstly, maintaining its place in the industry for 30 consecutive years has helped tremendously in getting top-talent filmmakers to attend the festival, but Gerber said HSDFF is best known for its hospitality and the personality of Hot Springs itself.
“When anyone comes to our festival they turn that corner onto Central and see downtown Hot Springs and know they’re somewhere special, and that I think is what has set us apart for the last 30 years,” Gerber said.
Being hosted in the Spa City also makes it more of a “destination festival” compared to many other film festivals.
“People are not only coming to attend the screenings and the talks that we do, but they’re also coming to Hot Springs,” Gerber said. “They want to go to the bathhouses, they want to hike, they want to see our town and experience it; and we want our guests to do that too.”
Gerber also credited the festival’s long-running success to their adaptability.
“We continue to evolve with the times and try new things and not be afraid to experiment with other ways of screening,” she said, noting that they have done everything from a waterfront screening called Docs on the Dock, to a more classic, drive-in-style screening. This year, the primary venue will be moving from The Arlington, its previous home of 10 years, to the Malco Theatre—still in that iconic downtown location, but with more of a classic theater feel.
But some traditions they have been mindful to keep over the years. Their parties, and the champagne and popcorn toast before opening night, are not going to change any time soon.
“The fact that we do host so many special events after the screenings really [creates] a place for filmmakers and guests to gather at the end of an event, talk about the film that they just saw and get to know the guests that are visiting,” said Gerber.
HSDFF is a significant festival within the industry because of its longevity and its history of hosting some of the most important filmmakers of our time.
“I think sometimes people are surprised that there is that much high-level programming and guests at our festival, just being in a small town in Arkansas; it’s off the beaten path from other film industries,” she said. “Most festivals of our size are closer to a production hub, so we’re different in that we’re not, but we’re still a sizable festival that is on that level.”
Drawing quality talent to the festival was a precedent set at the beginning.
“That first year they screened all the Oscar-nominated documentaries,” Gerber said. “I love that they started with such high programming standards, and I think that’s kept us on that track of commitment to quality when it comes to our film.”
Here are the 2021 festival winners:
DOCUMENTARY SHORT GRAND JURY PRIZE:
Seahorse / Nele Dehnenkamp
DOCUMENTARY SHORT HONORABLE MENTION:
Since You Arrived, Your Heart Stopped Belonging To Me / Erin Semine Kökdil
INTERNATIONAL DOCUMENTARY FEATURE GRAND JURY PRIZE:
Cow / Andrea Arnold
INTERNATIONAL DOCUMENTARY FEATURE HONORABLE MENTION:
Captains of Zaatari / Ali El Arabi
US DOCUMENTARY FEATURE GRAND JURY PRIZE:
North By Current / Angelo Madsen Minax
SOUTHERN DOCUMENTARY FEATURE GRAND JURY PRIZE:
The Neutral Ground / CJ Hunt
SOUTHERN DOCUMENTARY FEATURE HONORABLE MENTION:
Socks On Fire / Bo McGuire
CRITICS JURY PRIZE:
Shared Resources / Jordan Lord
MATT DECAMPLE AUDIENCE CHOICE AWARD – Best Documentary SHORT
Big Mama’s Antiques and Restoration / GABRIEL HENK
MATT DECAMPLE AUDIENCE CHOICE AWARD – Best Documentary FEATURE
The Rescue / E. Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin