The Annual Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival begins this weekend. The event which organizers say is the longest running documentary film festival in North America, is marking its 26th year.
The festival also has an Academy accreditation in the short film documentary category, which means the film that wins best short at the Hot Springs festival has a chance to be nominated for an Oscar. “We’re one of 38 festivals in the world that have that accreditation,” says Interim Director Jennifer Gerber. “It actually makes us a very special destination for filmmakers.”
Special guest and Honorary Chair Kathleen Turner will present the opening night film LADDIE: The Man Behind the Movies. Turner has a personal connection to the opening night film as the movie’s subject matter is about a producer who greenlit several big blockbusters like Star Wars, Blade Runner, and Body Heat, a film where Turner got her breakout role.
German filmmaker Werner Herzog will be another big name at the festival. He will be participating in a question and answer session about his 2005 documentary Grizzly Man, as well as teaching a master class. The festival was able to lock down Herzog because Jennifer Gerber, a full-time film professor at University of Central Arkansas, is responsible for organizing a visiting artists series who already booked Herzog. When Gerber became Interim Director in July she saw an opportunity “to expose the whole state to Werner’s presence.”
This will be the first year the festival will have a free virtual reality lounge. It’s “the biggest trend in filmmaking right now,” says Gerber. “It allows your participants to truly step into the movie as if they’re there. They can look in any direction 360 and feel like they’re in the world of the movie.”
Gerber feels it is especially engaging for this genre.
“I feel like documentaries are the most appropriate [movies] because it actually takes you to a part of the world you might not ever have a chance to go and see a perspective of the world you would never get to see. What’s amazing about it, opposed to a traditional screening, in that case the filmmaker has decided what they’re going to show you on screen. When you’re in the virtual reality space you get to decide what you want to see by looking around in any direction.”
Gerber anticipates continued growth this year saying previous Executive Director Courtney Pledger, “really set us up on an upward path. So each year the festival keeps growing, our attendance is growing, our sponsors are returning. We really have an incredible amount of community support.”