Hot Springs Doc Fest Celebrates its Silver Anniversary

By Jim G. Miller

Special Guest Photos courtesy of HSDFI

Once held in the Malco Theatre, or what was once known as the Princess, it’s easy to say that the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival has grown to become the Queen of the documentary film festival world. Well before Sundance, HSDFF was establishing a dynasty of non-fiction storytelling made up of magnificent subjects and memorable storytellers. HSDFF has served also as a crucial network for those who are devoted to paying tribute to deep subjects and thought-provoking matters that are told in these documentaries. The filmmakers’ film festival is an enjoyable meeting place for filmmakers to enjoy their art and experience the art of others. The festival, like many festivals twenty years old or older, has experienced many changes. However one thing is certain, HSDFF will always be a festival for and about documentary film, and its contribution to society.

Courtney Pledger has been at the helm of the festival for nearly five years. Prior to that, the festival was led by a Who’s Who of Hot Springs community members whose names may have been forgotten, but whose work has helped forge a unique documentary film festival that’s remained alive and here in Hot Springs. By consistently providing rich and diverse programming of national and international non-fiction filmmaking, HSDFF has easily helped to establish a generation of avid documentary film buffs not just in this town but throughout the entire country. While attending the festival in the past, it was not an unusual thing to hear someone say, “I became a filmmaker because of the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival.”

Established by a strong and savvy group of artists and art enthusiasts in Hot Springs when documentary filmmaking was just beginning to be taken seriously as an art form, HSDFF has helped pave the way for other festivals and is well known among documentary filmmakers. As the oldest non-fiction festival in North America and an Academy qualifier for Documentary Short, it has received cherishment and rich regard from famed actors, legendary filmmakers, and truly unique and inspiring characters over its time in Hot Springs.

The 25th Annual Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival is taking place October 7th through the 16th once again at the Arlington Hotel and Spa. Each year seems to become more and more special, and this year is no exception with the return of one Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival’s tradition, the annual screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Although it’s not a documentary, per se, this fan favorite film often wrapped up the annual doc fest that takes place every October. The return of this closing annual event will be made even more special with the appearance of Barry Bostwick, the actor who played Brad in the major cult classic film. Bostwick will be making a VIP appearance before the screening for a Rocky Horror Happy Hour from 8 pm to 10:30 pm at the Hotel Hot Springs and Spa. After the 10 pm screening of Rocky Horror Picture show at Central Theater on Friday, October 14th, Bostwick will give a special Q&A.

Another special guest to this year’s doc film fest includes Emmy winning actor, Ed Asner. Asner is the subject of the documentary “My Friend Ed” which focuses on Asner’s life and career in acting and his significant charity work and activism done off camera. Asner will be attending the festival and will be at the October 15th screening and

Q&A with filmmaker, Sharon Baker. This year like previous years will include parties throughout Hot Springs with a host of sponsors, venues and participating restaurants helping to celebrate 25 years of documentary film in Arkansas. One party you will not want to miss will feature live Delta Blues performances at the Mountain Valley Spring Water headquarters by multiple Grammy and country music award-winning blues artists, and King of New Orleans Blues, Chris Thomas King, with his electric blues band, and Cedell Davis, legendary “Last of the Delta Bluesmen,” backed by father son duo Zakk & Big Papa Binns.

Nodding to the past while also celebrating new additions to an already established documentary film festival, HSDFF will bring back the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences sponsored series entitled “Women Behind the Lens: Diverse Perspectives” featuring the work of diverse female documentarians. This year will also showcase a series of environmental films courtesy of the presenting sponsor of the 25th Annual Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, Deltic Timber. Also watch out for the Spa City Sports Series and the AARP film sidebar for Grownups. Like in the past, this year HSDFF will also showcase blocks of documentaries that are family-friendly and appropriate for students.

Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival week in downtown Hot Springs National park is a cultivated week of sensational documentaries that may make you run a gamut of emotions. Its barrage of bizarre, interesting, and educational subject matter will impress upon you perhaps something new or something that will inspire you to make a change in your life. Regardless, it’s a documentary film festival; it’s an opportunity for someone to share something with you that’s personal to him/her. It is storytelling. Everyone loves a good story.

For more information, including film programming, event schedule, special guests and to purchase tickets to this year’s HSDFF, visit