The Hot Springs Documentary Film Institute champions nonfiction storytelling by providing a platform for storytellers to entertain, educate, and broaden perspectives.


The Institute engages audience members with impactful cinematic experiences through an annual festival and year-round programming. Located in scenic Hot Springs National Park, the nation’s first resort town, HSDFI aims to create a supportive, holistic haven for filmmakers and audiences to regenerate and celebrate their love of documentaries.


Deep within the Ouachita Mountains, in what Native Americans have named the Valley of the Vapors, amidst turn-of-the-century bathhouses and on the doorstep of a national park lies the unforgettable spa city of Hot Springs, Arkansas, host to North America’s longest running documentary film festival.

Established in 1991, HSDFF is an Oscar® qualifying festival for ‘Documentary Short Subject’ by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Produced by a small staff and with the tireless efforts of dedicated volunteers, the film festival benefits the region by providing an affordable arts festival that offers the best in documentary film, inspiring educational programs, and exposure to internationally acclaimed filmmakers and special guests. Through strategic outreach, HSDFF seeks to discover, support and inspire diverse documentary filmmakers and champion a southern film community that reflects the full breadth of experience and story in the American South.

Ken Jacobson


Ken oversees all aspects of the festival including fundraising and sponsor relations, program development, management of staff and volunteers, budgeting, and producing the festival each fall.

Ken Jacobson was most recently Senior Programmer, Documentary Films at the Sonoma International Film Festival. He has served as Documentary Film Programmer at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival (since 2017) and at the DocLands Documentary Film Festival (since 2019). He is also co-creator/co-host (with Michael Merrill) of the podcast “Top-Docs: Award-Winning Documentary Filmmakers” with presenting sponsor Netflix.

Previously, Jacobson was a senior member of the programming team at the American Film Institute (2018-2021) and Director of Educational Programs and Strategic Partnerships at the International Documentary Association (2013 – 2016). From 2008- 2013, he was Documentary Programmer and Programming/Education Outreach Coordinator at the Palm Springs International Film Festival. He has served on numerous festival juries and as a grant reviewer for the NEA, NEH, Sundance Institute, and IDA Enterprise Fund.

Sheryl Santacruz


Sheryl oversees all aspects of the festival including venues, logistics, hospitality, guest services, educational programs, and the HSDFF Wellness Series.

Born and raised in New Jersey, Sheryl has been working at film festivals for over 10 years in various capacities. After obtaining a degree in Communication Studies at New York University, she started her career working in independent film publicity. She then transitioned into guest services, organizing hospitality for some of New York’s most prestigious film festivals: Tribeca Film Festival, Outfest, New Directors/New Films, and the New York Film Festival.

Annie Gerber


Oversees daily operations and logistics including venue management, sponsor communications, transportation and housing.

Annie Gerber is a native Arkansan who has a Bachelor of Fine arts in music from Ouachita Baptist University but later switched her main focus to film and photography. Annie spent several years working as a Teaching Assistant at the prestigious photography program at the School of Cinematic and Performing Arts in both New York and Los Angeles. For the past 5 years she has maintained her position as the Director of Operations for the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival.

Lisa Hasko


Lisa has spent over 15 years working in the independent film industry supporting filmmakers and their projects through their creative journeys, from development to distribution and impact. Most recently she directed Film Independent’s vast slate of Artist Development programs: filmmaker Labs and Fellowships, the Fast Track finance market, the Fiscal Sponsorship program and initiatives and partnerships with organizations including CNN, Netflix and the Sloan Foundation, among others. Prior to joining Film Independent, she worked at the International Documentary Association where she oversaw several of the organization’s key artist support programs, including the Pare Lorentz Documentary Fund. She sits on juries and panels at film festivals and conferences internationally and earned her M.A. in International Development and Gender Studies at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England.

Robert John Torres


Robert John Torres is a festival programmer and filmmaker originally from Dinuba, California.

He has previously worked at a varied collection of international film festivals including most recently the Tribeca Film Festival, the Nashville Film Festival, and the Toronto International Film Festival. As a curator, he has an extensive background in short film programming and is particularly interested in formalist innovation, the experimental canon, non-fiction filmmaking, and world cinema. His work as a writer/director explores contemporary LGBTQ+ identity with a focus on queer bodies and themes of shame, pride, and power. His narrative short film debut, an otherworldly dance project titled Writhing, made its world premiere at the 2018 edition of Outfest.

Robin Robinson


Robin Robinson is dedicated to independent film. Currently the Programming & Content Coordinator for Mountainfilm, she has also served as the Programming Coordinator for the Academy Award-qualifying Nashville Film Festival where she managed the Screenwriting Competition and served as a Senior Programmer.

She has experience programming narrative, documentary, episodic, new director, and family films. In addition to her programming experience, she has served as a screener and reader for the 2018 AT&T Create-a-Thon as well as a Finalist Judge. She received an M.F.A. in Film with a focus in screenwriting at the Watkins College of Film in 2018.

Colleen Thurston


With over a decade of film festival experience, Colleen has served as the co-Executive Director of the Fayetteville Film Festival, the Film Programming Assistant at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and the founding Director of Programming of Tulsa American Film Festival.

As an Indigenous documentary storyteller, Colleen films explore the relationships between humans and the natural world and focus on Native stories and perspectives. She has produced work for the Smithsonian Channel, Vox, illumiNATIVE and museums, public television stations, and federal and tribal organizations. She currently serves as the Project Coordinator for Native Lens, a collaborative Indigenous digital series for Rocky Mountain PBS and KSUT Tribal Radio.

Colleen holds an MFA from Montana State University’s Science and Natural History Filmmaking program. Her BA in Media Arts and Anthropology is from the University of Arizona. She also teaches documentary studies and film production as an Assistant Professor at the University of Oklahoma.

Colleen is a Firelight Media Doc Lab alum, a 2022 Sundance Institute Indigenous Film Fund Fellow, and a citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

Maggie Piazza Carroll


What would an ocean be without a monster lurking in the dark? It would be like sleep without dreams.








Mary Zunick
Neal Gladner
Lisa Cole
Brad Burleson
Angie Wilson
Ra Hearne
Ben Walters
Clint Schaff
Kai Coggin
Latricia Hill
Don Gooch

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