With such commercially successful films this summer as "Fahrenheit 9/11" and "The Hunting of the President," the documentary has taken on a new importance to the average moviegoer. That a documentary can be riveting, revealing and successful isn’t news, though, to the folks at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Institute.
The institute opens its 14th Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival Friday, Oct. 22, blending assorted subjects — including several new documentaries with a statewide interest as well as international and Academy Award winners and nominees — for 10 days at the Malco Theater, the HSDFI’s home. The festival will attract not only movie fans, but the makers of the top documentaries from around the world. France, Poland and Belarus are among the countries with films chosen this year.
"At one point, we were hearing that 65 to 70 filmmakers will be here," said Melanie Masino, the institute’s executive director. "The number we have has been higher each year. Also, our workshops continue to get a lot of attention as well as our various discussion panels."
The institute’s volunteer screening panel (see sidebar) looked through about 500 entries before settling on this year’s lineup of 88 films. The festival opens with "America’s Heart and Soul," a tour of the country and its people by Louis Schwartzberg. The 7 p.m. showing is free and includes complimentary popcorn and champagne.
"We’re bringing in the cast of the film," Masino said. "It’s hard for me to say ‘cast’ in a documentary, but the film covers diverse people from across America, a cross-section. One is a guy who makes explosives, one is a cowboy, one is a weaver, one is a gospel singer who will perform on opening night. We’ll also have a Q and A with everyone."
Regular admission to the festival is $15 a day, $40 for a three-day pass or $75 for a 10-day pass. Individual film admission is $5. The Malco Theater is at 817 Central Ave.
Workshops for current and wannabe documentary filmmakers are scheduled throughout the 10 days, from editing to sound to one-man filmmaking to first-time filmmaking. Some filmmakers will get the chance to have their films screened in progress.
Masino, the director for the past six years, recently told the institute’s board that she was resigning after this fall’s projects, which also include a documentary festival in Little Rock scheduled around the opening of the Clinton Presidential Center. That decision (and some close to the festival predict it may be revisited) won’t affect the festival.
"I’m the executive director now, we’re at the same place we’ve been with the board, and everything is just focusing on the festival," she said.
On Friday, Oct. 29, the schedule will include "Cinema Verite: The Creators" — screenings and panel discussions from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. with six acclaimed filmmakers, who will present their own work and films that have influenced their own efforts.
Also, in closing the festival, the HSDFI will screen "City of Visions: The Story of Hot Springs, Arkansas," by Arkansan Dale Carpenter, on Sunday, Oct. 31.
"There are a lot of Arkansas filmmakers involved this year," Masino said. Included in that lineup are "The Arkansas Rockefeller" by Kris Katrosh and "Taking Back the Future: Living With MS," directed by Ken Mandel and produced by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences’ Dr. Richard Pellegrino.
For more information, call the HSDFI at 501-321-4747.