Everything's bigger at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival this year. More movies. More after-parties. And more big-name special guests.
The inspiration behind all the up-sizing? It's simple, according to first year program director Dan Anderson.
“There are just a lot of really good films out this year.”
To that end, the HSDFF, which kicks off on Friday and runs through Sunday, Oct. 25, has expanded its slate from around 100 in years past to nearly 140 this year. Fewer films will screen twice as a consequence, but that means more bang for the buck of those game for the long haul.
Still, there will be tough decisions for most. To help navigate the dense line-up (available on page 32), here are a handful of must-sees for the opening weekend and early part of next week:
• One of several world premieres, “Coming Back for More” (7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Friday, Oct. 16), offers a portrait of the mercurial and massively talented Sly Stone, famous as the Afroed leader of Sly and the Family Stone. For most of the last 20 years, Stone has been reclusive. Much of the film, directed by Dutch filmmaker Willem Alkema, delves into those mysterious years.
Improbably, Stone has told organizers he plans to attend the opening, though he's refused a plane ticket and a hotel room (he apparently stays up for days on end, Anderson said). So keep your fingers crossed.
• “Ghost Bird” (1:25 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 17) examines the hoopla and skepticism surrounding the rediscovery of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker in Brinkley.
• Another world premiere, “Me My Father and the Hurricane” (5:35 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 17), tells the story of Leo Thomas, drummer of '70s country-rock band Cornbread and inventor of the electric washboard. Look for Thomas to give a demonstration of his instrument post-screening.
• J.D. Wilkes, lead singer of Th' Legendary Shack*Shakers and arguably one of the finest front men in all of music, catalogs Southern eccentricity in “Seven Signs” (5:55 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 17), his directorial debut. He'll participate in a music and media panel discussion at 7:05 p.m. along with Leo Thomas and Bill Solleder, founder of the Valley of the Vapors Music Fest. And on Sunday night, at 9:30 p.m., Wilkes plays a solo show at the Brau Haus.
• Decorated Little Rock filmmakers Brent and Craig Renaud (“Off to War,” “Little Rock Central: 50 Years Later”) return to the festival with “Warrior Champions” (7:15 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 17 and 11:40 a.m., Sunday, Oct. 18), which tracks severely wounded American war vets as they train to participate in the Beijing Paralympic Games.
• A slate of short music docs screenings at 9:15 p.m. on Saturday looks provocative. “The Last Freak Show” follows a musician, born without arms or legs, performing in a freak show. And, from VICE TV, “Rock Under the Red Flag” tracks the Brooklyn band Birthday Boyz on an underground tour of China.
• Two of the legends of the avant-guarde documentary movement and two of program director Anderson's heroes, Bill Brown and Bill Daniel, screen their work on Sunday. A three-film retrospective on Brown (4:40 p.m.) explores the relationship between people and the places where they live, and Daniel's “Who Is Bozo Texino?” (6:15 p.m.) surveys a number of legendary boxcar artists, including Gurdon-based Colossus of Roads. Brown will offer a live performance on Monday at 11 p.m., where he'll mix video and slides with his narration.
• “RiP: A Remix Manifesto” (9 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 18) explores the nature of the copyright in this modern era of music, mainly by focusing on mash-up hero Girl Talk.
• Anderson also pegged “World of Witchcraft” (9:20 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 20 and 4:10 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 21) as one of his favorites. It explores the legal culture of the Central African Republic, where hundreds of people are convicted every year for practicing witchcraft.
• The making-of doc “The Lonely” (9:05 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 21) goes behind the scenes of indie filmmaker Harmony Korine's “Mister Lonely,” a 2008 film about a strange band of celebrity impersonators. A midnight screening of “Mister Lonely” follows the film at Maxine's.
Check back next week for our guide to the second-half of the festival. Also, go to the much-improved hsdff.org for more information.