Hot Springs, Arkansas….The 21st annual Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival is on for October 12-21. The event, which showcases more than 100 documentaries from around the world, is one of the longest running documentary film festivals in the U.S.
The future of the celebrated cultural event has sometimes been up in the air because of financial challenges. However, under new leadership and with the help of various partners, the Hot Springs Documentary Film Institute (HSDFI), which produces the annual 10-day event, is on firm ground — and forges on as the only film institute in the country dedicated solely to the documentary film genre.
According to interim festival director Courtney Pledger, the event is “an enriching experience for the people of our state, no matter their age or interests.”
“Documentaries tell the stories of our times,” she says. “They tell the truth and they interpret that truth for us from many personal perspectives. Since documentarians are the record-keepers of our time, they are precious to us, and these records are essential for us all to see and share together. The festival is also important to Arkansas as an ambassador to other states and faraway countries. It brings people here who might not come here otherwise and exposes filmmakers to the special world of Arkansas, and in this case, the city of Hot Springs. The influence of the festival reaches many corners of the Earth and that’s an incredible thing.”
The historic Malco Theatre, which usually hosts the film celebration, was damaged in a storm this summer.  While repairs are being made to the landmark building, the festival’s center stage will be the Arlington Resort Hotel and Spa.  Film screenings will take place on the hotel’s second story.  Special room rates are available at the Arlington for festival attendees and filmmakers.
Throughout the festival industry professionals, filmmakers, and celebrity guests will participate in workshops, panels, and discussion forums at venues like Low Key Arts and Maxwell Blade’s Theater of Magic.
New to the festival is the addition of the Jerry McKinnis Outdoor Film Series and Awards. McKinnis, an Arkansas native, was the host and producer of “The Fishin’ Hole,” which aired on ESPN for almost 30 years. It was the second-longest running program on the network. This marks the first time the festival has given an award for Best Outdoor Film. As part of the festival, the public will have the chance to view films nominated in the category.
Arkansas-connected films will also be shown at the event including a short on “The Art of Crystal Bridges and “Glen Campbell: The Long Way Home,” previewed by director James Keach.  Another couple of Arkansas filmmakers to be watching for — Brent and Craig Renaud, recipients of an Edward R. Murrow Award, founders of the Little Rock Film Festival, and Emmy and Directors Guild of America Award nominees.  At the festival, the Renaud Brothers will present their award-winning work for The New York Times Online.
“The very dedicated group that makes up the volunteer staff of this year’s festival has taken great pride and care in choosing the films to represent the 21st annual festival,” says Pledger, who is an Arkansas native and a film producer. “I have relished being a part of that process. I love the documentary form and I have long loved this festival. I can’t wait to watch the faces of festival-goers coming out of these amazing films and listen to their debate.”
For the festival, Pledger is working closely with new chairwoman of the HSDFI, Susan Altrui, and a new partnership with the Greater Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce. Overall, it has been a good year for film in the state. Pledger is also the Executive Director of the Arkansas Motion Picture Institute (AMPI), located at the Argenta Community Theater in North Little Rock. This new nonprofit provides support for film culture in Arkansas and is a unifying organization through which the state’s biggest film festivals — the Little Rock Film Festival, the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival and the Ozark Film Festival — can work together.
Without the donation of space from the Arlington to host the event, there is a chance the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival might not have happened this year. “Hot Springs is a magical place with magical people,” says Pledger.  “I’m so happy I’m having the chance to work on their festival. The damage to the Malco Theatre and the immediate need to pull this festival together at the Arlington has really brought the community together and has given us the opportunity to incorporate into this year’s festival so much of the spirit of Hot Springs. I hope Arkansans will come out in a major way to experience it.”
More details on the schedule, films shown, and ticket prices can be found at or by calling 501-538-2290. Tickets can also be bought during the festival at the box office located on the first floor of the Arlington Hotel.