Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival Celebrates 25th Anniversary with 100+ Films, Lots of Celebrities

The Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival is going big for its 25th anniversary with more films, more special guests and a few throwbacks.

As the oldest nonfiction film festival in North America, HSDFF, which runs Oct. 7-16, is a mainstay in the Spa City, bringing in filmmakers, festivalgoers and industry executives from all over the world. What’s kept it going for 25 years are its world-class films and location in downtown Hot Springs, away from the bright lights of Los Angeles and New York City, said Courtney Pledger, HSDFF executive director.

“Having been to a lot of other festivals, not a lot take place in that concentrated of an area,” she said. “That makes it filmmaker-friendly, filmgoer-friendly and industry-friendly because people are not just disappearing and going to different venues. They’re all hanging out.”

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The Arlington Resort Hotel and Spa is the festival’s hub and where all films are screened. But, the whole community gets involved, with nearby local businesses hosting festival parties and other events.

Throwback to the Early Days

To celebrate the silver anniversary, Pledger said they’ve brought back a few events from the festival’s beginnings.

In the early days, the festival featured a celebrity co-chairman. This year, Pledger said they put out a call to fill this role for the anniversary and received so many responses that they chose two — actors Louis Gossett Jr. and Beau Bridges.

Gossett, an Oscar and Emmy winner, is featured in “Maya Angelou: And, Still I Rise,” which will be screened at HSDFF and is the first full-length documentary about the poet, civil rights activist and Arkansas native.

Bridges won a Grammy for his narration on the audiobook “An Inconvenient Truth,” which was later adapted into an Oscar-winning documentary.

HSDFF is also bringing back the tradition of screening “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” which was always a part of the festival in the beginning. This year, Golden Globe-winning actor Barry Bostwick, who played Brad Majors in the cult film, will host the screening.

The documentary tie-in, Pledger explained, is that a preview of the documentary “The Rocky Horror Phenomenon,” which is still being edited, will also be screened at HSDFF.

“We thought it’d be fun to go back and reclaim a couple of fun things like that,” she said.

Celebrity Sightings

The 25th HSDFF will also feature a slew of special guests and celebrities. Here’s a rundown of a few celebrity sightings.

On closing night, Ed Asner will participant in a Q&A following the film “My Friend Ed,” about the actor’s life, career and activism, with filmmaker Sharon Baker. Asner has won more Emmy Awards than any other male actor and is best known for his role as Lou Grant on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

Former burlesque performer and mistress to Elvis Presley and John F. Kennedy, Jr. Tempest Storm will be on hand for the U.S. premier of the documentary about her life, titled “Tempest Storm.”

Billy Hayes, who chronicled his experience in a Turkish prison, will attend the festival with the film “Midnight Return: The Story of Billy Hayes and Turkey.”

Todd Fisher is featured in the documentary about his mother and sister, “Bright Lights: Starring Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher.” He will discuss the film and share some additional film footage.

“Under the Radar: The Mike Edmonds Story” will make its North American debut at HSDFF. Edmonds, who was born with dwarfism, has had a long film career, appearing in “Return of the Jedi,” “Time Bandits” and the “Harry Potter” films. He will attend the screening.

Character actor Austin Pendleton will participate in a forum discussing the short film “Starring Austin Pendleton” at HSDFF. He has appeared in films, such as “Catch-22,” “What’s Up, Doc” and more.

Many more celebrities and filmmakers will be in attendance for film screenings. A full list of films, noting filmmakers attending, is available here.

Film Highlights

Pledger said more than 1,500 films were screened to find the 120 that will be at HSDFF. Films come from 80 different countries and cover a variety of subjects — entertainment, history, social issues, sports and more.

The opening night film is “Command and Control,” which chronicles the missile explosion at a Titan II Launch Complex near Damascus, Arkansas, in 1980. Several special guests will be in attendance.

Other film highlights include “Good Ol’ Freda” about The Beatles’ longtime secretary Freda Kelly and Ron Howard’s new film “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — The Touring Years.” Kelly will attend both screenings.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of “Star Trek,” HSDFF will screen “For the Love of Spock,” about Leonard Nimoy. Filmmaker Adam Nimoy will participate in HSDFF via a live feed from Spain.

Another anniversary film, “Olympic Pride, American Prejudice,” examines the lives of the 17 black athletes on the U.S. team in the 1936 Summer Olympics held in Berlin, during the Third Reich’s reign.

Something new this year at HSDFF is a documentary-fiction sidebar featuring four films from four different countries: “Hotel Dallas,” “Lost and Beautiful,” “Le Moulin” and “Spandex Sapiens.”

Documentary-fiction blends the two genres, and, said Pledger, “It’s what some think the future of documentary film may be.”

A full festival schedule is available here.

HSDFF Tickets

Films, parties and other special events run Oct. 7 to 16. Documentaries are screened at the Arlington, with other events held at other venues in Hot Springs.

Several ticketing options are available, including individual tickets, and multi-film, student and all-access passes. Special tickets are needed for opening and closing nights, as well as for some events and screenings.

Find out more and purchase tickets and passes here.

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Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival Celebrates 25th Anniversary with 100+ Films, Lots of Celebrities