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Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival Presented by Oaklawn Announces Film Lineup

Adam Harbottle and Brian Hill’s RELENTLESS RIDE opens, Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss’s THE MISSION is the Centerpiece selection, and Michèle Stephenson & Joe Brewster’s GOING TO MARS: THE NIKKI GIOVANNI PROJECT gets the closing slot.

Mary Steenburgen will be this year’s Honorary Chair, Sky Hopinka will receive the HSDFF Brent Renaud Career Achievement Award, and Diane Becker and Shane Boris will be the recipients of this year’s Impact Award.

Hot Springs, AR (September 19, 2023) – The critically acclaimed Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival presented by Oaklawn announced the lineup of films and honorees for its 32nd edition, taking place October 6-14. Screenings will kick off at Oaklawn’s Event Center with the previously announced Opening Night presentation of Adam Harbottle and Brian Hill’s Relentless Ride, followed by the Centerpiece Selection of Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss’s The Mission (distributed by National Geographic Documentary Films) with Michèle Stephenson & Joe Brewster’s Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project screening on Closing Night. Special presentations include Justin Taylor Smith and Kaoru Ishibashi’s A Song Film by Kishi Bashi: Omoiyari, as well as Jack Lofton and Jeff Dailey’s The People v. Profits, and Li Lu’s doc series A Town Called Victoria, which will both make their world premieres at HSDFF. Following Opening Night at Oaklawn, all screenings will take place at The Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa.

This year’s Honorary Chair, Mary Steenburgen, will participate in the Southern Storytellers Screening and Panel, one of a handful of special events and new initiatives featured at this year’s edition of the film festival. Sky Hopinka will receive the HSDFF Brent Renaud Career Achievement Award, and Diane Becker and Shane Boris will be the recipients of this year’s Impact Award.

Other new initiatives include the previously announced Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB)-funded Filmmaker Forum, The Natural State – a new section focused on the environment, outdoor adventure, athletic achievement and the stories and people of Arkansas, a new film series added to the lineup – The Wellness Series, True Stories: A Live Storytelling Event, and a Secret Screening.

HSDFF Executive Director, Ken Jacobson, said, “In our 32nd year, we are underlining the high level of film programming that has made the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival such a beacon for the best and most innovative filmmakers working in the documentary form today. In addition, we are incorporating dynamic new programs and events to enrich the audience experience and support the documentary filmmaking community. Our goal is to embrace the rich tableau of nonfiction storytelling and forge deeper connections between filmmakers, the people and place of Hot Springs, Arkansas and the broader world. We are thrilled to be launching these efforts alongside this year’s Honorary Chair, the extraordinary and beloved Arkansan, the multi-talented Mary Steenburgen.”

Adam Harbottle and Brian Hill’s Relentless Ride will start this year’s edition of HSDFF on Friday, October 6 with a distinctly local flavor, with its immersive look at a diverse group of amazing riders who take on the grueling 2021 Arkansas High Country Race, known to be one of the most challenging bike races in the U.S. If that weren’t exciting enough, the following day, this year’s Arkansas High Country Race will hit the streets of Hot Springs, with more than 70 competing cyclists participating. This year’s Centerpiece selection, taking place Wednesday, October 11, is Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss’s The Mission (distributed by National Geographic Documentary Films) which tells the tragic story of what happened when a young American missionary contacted one of the last isolated communities of Indigenous people in the world. Producer Will Cohen and film participant Dan Everett will attend and participate in a post-screening discussion moderated by Variety’s Peter Debruge.

Michèle Stephenson & Joe Brewster’s Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project will close HSDFF on Saturday, October 14. The film focuses on celebrated American poet Nikki Giovanni and the revolutionary periods in which she wrote, from the Civil Rights Movement to Black Lives Matter. Both Stephenson and Brewster will attend the screening. There will be a Special Presentation of Justin Taylor Smith and Kaoru Ishibashi’s A Song Film by Kishi Bashi: Omoiyari, which follows the musical journey of multi-talented musician Kishi Bashi as he explores the legacy of Japanese American incarceration during World War II. Kishi Bashi will be in attendance at the film festival.

HSDFF world premieres include Arkansas filmmaker Jack Lofton, and Jeff Dailey’s The People v. Profits, which provides a court-side seat into the high stakes, big money consumer cases where the top, charismatic lawyers go head-to-head with the world’s biggest corporations. Li Lu’s three-part documentary series A Town Called Victoria will also make its debut at the film festival. The series looks at what led to a mosque being burned to the ground in a small Texas town and, in the aftermath, how residents rallied to support the local Muslim community but with many lingering and complicated questions remaining.

This year’s Honorary Chair, Mary Steenburgen will be a key participant in the Southern Storytellers Screening and Panel, taking place on Friday, October 13. Moderator Courtney Pledger, CEO of Arkansas PBS, and Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Craig Renaud will join Steenburgen for an in-depth conversation about the new three-part docuseries from PBS. Southern Storytellers traverses the American South, from the mountains of Appalachia to the Gulf of Mexico, to reveal a vivid patchwork of stories that celebrate the resilience and joy of Southern people—and the magnitude of gifts from the region’s writers.

Steenburgen is an Academy Award and Golden Globe winning actress best known for her work in notable and beloved films like Melvin and Howard, Parenthood, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Philadelphia, Stepbrothers, and Book Club and television shows Justified, Orange is the New Black, Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Last Man on Earth. Most recently, Steenburgen starred in NBC’s musical television sensation Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, and the feature film Book Club: The Next Chapter.

This year’s Brent Renaud Career Achievement Award will be received by Sky Hopinka on Monday, October 9, followed by a screening of Hopinka’s short films including his latest, Sunflower Siege Engine. In a relatively short time, Hopinka has produced a truly distinctive and remarkable body of work in the documentary field. His explorations into the relationship between people and the land, the interplay between culture and language, and his highly intuitive and inspired insights into form have made deep impressions on audiences throughout the world and helped redefine the way documentaries are perceived and received. His work has played at many festivals around the world, as well as being a part of the 2017 Whitney Biennial, the 2018 FRONT Triennial and Prospect.5 in 2021. He was a guest curator at the 2019 Whitney Biennial and participated in Cosmopolis #2 at the Centre Pompidou. He has had a solo exhibition at the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, in 2020 and in 2022 at LUMA in Arles, France. He is the recipient of the Infinity Award in Art from the International Center and the Alpert Award for Film/Video and fellowships including The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, Sundance Art of Nonfiction, Art Matters, The Guggenheim Foundation, and The Forge Project. In the fall of 2022, Hopinka received a MacArthur Fellowship for his work as a visual artist and filmmaker.

The HSDFF Impact Award will be presented to Diane Becker and Shane Boris, Academy Award winners for Navalny last year. The presentation will take place prior to a screening of their film King Coal on Tuesday, October 10. Produced with Peggy Drexler and Elaine McMillion Sheldon, who is also the film’s director. King Coal is a sensitive portrait of a community and culture defined by industry, showcasing the beauty of the coal region of Appalachia through the eyes of an inquisitive child.

Becker is an Academy Award-winning, Emmy-nominated producer and the co-founder of Fishbowl Films. Navalny won both the U.S. Documentary Audience Award and the Festival Favorite Award at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival and was awarded a BAFTA, PGA, DuPont, and the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. Her films have screened in the most prestigious festivals across the globe, and she has worked with companies like HBO, CNN, Showtime, Netflix, and PBS. Film credits include Manhunt, The Final Year, Legion of Brothers, If I Leave Here Tomorrow, Belushi, and the Emmy-nominated Tina. Fishbowl Films won a Peabody Award in 2019 for Inventing Tomorrow (POV) and Diane and co-founder Melanie Miller were awarded the 2020 Sundance Institute/Amazon Producer’s Award for Non-Fiction for Whirlybird. Becker is a 2023 recipient of the Dear Producer Award and was a Sundance Documentary Creative Producing Fellow.

Boris is an Academy Award-winning and three-time Academy Award-nominated producer and writer working on films that push the boundaries of conventional form to tell timeless and cinematic stories. His films have premiered at festivals around the world and screened in museums like The Louvre, MoMA, and the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. Previous films include: the Academy Award-winning and BAFTA-winning Navalny, the Academy Award-nominated and Peabody Award-winning Fire of Love, the Emmy Award-nominated The Last Cruise, the Indie Spirit Award-nominated Stray, the Academy Award-nominated and Peabody Award-winning The Edge of Democracy, and the Sundance Award-winning All These Sleepless Nights. His latest films, King Coal, and Hollywoodgate, premiered this year at Sundance, Venice, and Telluride. Boris is also the co-founder of Joon, a multidisciplinary incubator, and has worked as a strategist for businesses and NGOs, a writing consultant for authors, and a song lyricist for musicians.

The Natural State film series, sponsored by Sigma Supply, will include a selection of features and shorts related to: the environment, outdoor adventure and athletic Achievement, with particular emphasis on topics related to the unique attributes of Arkansas and to extraordinary Arkansans. The Wellness Series Film Screenings will be highlighted by screenings of Elliot Kotek’s The Hidden Power of Purpose, sponsored by AARP, which asks the urgent question, “What does it mean to live a life driven by purpose?” via four inspiring stories with the latest scientific research which affirms that living a life of purpose and living longer are inextricably intertwined. Also featured in this new series is Jonathan Hock’s Open Heart, sponsored by CHI St. Vincent, focuses on New York Rangers’ star goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who was forced to face his own mortality when he was diagnosed with a potentially fatal heart condition.

HSDFF will also look to expand the audience’s film festival experience beyond film screenings this year by introducing a new live storytelling event called “True Stories”. A series of short, personal stories told by a diverse mix of visiting filmmakers and local storytellers, led by Kai Coggin, author and the inaugural Poet Laureate of the City of Hot Springs, this program (inspired by the beloved “Campfire Stories” at the True/False Film Festival) is designed to foster a vibrant exchange between local artists and residents of Hot Springs and the filmmakers who come to the festival every year.

Additional highlights among the impressive film lineup include Ben Hania’s Four Daughters, which was a winner of the L’Oeil D’or prize at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival. The hybrid film weaves documentary and stylized fiction to explore the shocking story of a Tunisian matriarch whose two eldest daughters suddenly go missing. Allison Ellwood’s crowd pleaser, Let the Canary Sing focuses on the life and music the beloved and distinctive Cyndi Lauper. Alexandria Bombach’s It’s Only Life After All is a heartwarming music documentary celebrating the legacy of the Americana folk duo Indigo Girls, who have enjoyed a resurgence this year thanks to the Barbie movie.

Nick Capote’s Between Life & Death: Terri Schiavo’s Story is a piercing, thoughtful re-examination of the complex story of Terri Schiavo, whose headline-grabbing right-to-die legal saga and media circus in the early 2000s electrified the nation, forcing Americans to confront the tangled intersection of personal faith and federal policy. Stamped From the Beginning is the latest documentary from Academy Award-winning director Roger Ross Williams. The film is a thoughtful and candid examination of the origin, evolution, and continued impact of racist anti-Black narratives on American policy and culture. From documentary filmmaking legend Errol Morris comes The Pigeon Tunnel which delves into the life and career of former British spy David Cornwell — better known as John le Carré — author of such classic espionage novels as “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold” and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”.

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City of Hot Springs will also host the Arkansas High Country Race for the 2nd consecutive year

The feature-length directorial debut of Arkansas-based filmmakers Harbottle and Hill, Relentless Ride follows a diverse group of amazing riders who take on the grueling 2021 Arkansas High Country Race, known to be one of the most challenging bike races in the U.S.

The presentation of the film dovetails with this year’s Arkansas High Country Race, which will be hosted by the City of Hot Springs for the second consecutive year, with more than 70 competing cyclists crossing the starting line the morning following the October 6th Opening Night gala celebration on at Oaklawn.

HSDFF Executive Director Ken Jacobson said, “We’re thrilled that, for the first time in our 32-year history, all of the Opening Night activities — from our annual champagne toast to the Opening Night movie and party — will be held at the spectacular event center at Oaklawn. We can think of no better way to open the festival than by screening the incredibly engaging documentary “Relentless Ride”, which is so much more than a story about a bike race. Through their extraordinary cinematography and intimate portraits, Arkansas-based directors Adam Harbottle and Brian Hill brilliantly capture the universal human desire to test yourself against the outer limits of what you think is possible. With the 2023 Arkansas High Country Race kicking off right here in downtown Hot Springs the day after our screening, we fully expect our audience to offer a spirited sendoff to these brave souls competing in this year’s race.”

Relentless Ride follows the cyclists taking on the Arkansas High Country bike-packing race, subjecting them to 1000 miles and 80,000 feet of self-supported ultra-endurance backcountry riding. Some riders push their limits to achieve the fastest known time to compete the race, while others try to find themselves on the course. Exploring the depths of their own humanity, these athletes must carry or find everything they need to complete the course and finish the race.

More than one hundred participants for this year’s race, including cyclists and racing supporters, are expected to attend the gala presentation, which will include red carpet entrances and pre-screening introductions by directors Harbottle and Hill, and documentary subjects Chuck Campbell (Creator and race director of the Arkansas High Country Race), Ernie Lechuga (winner of the 2022 Arkansas High Country Race and holder of the fastest known time for the race), and Josh Allen (racer in the 2021 Arkansas High Country Race).

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New convening aims to bring sharp focus to regional filmmaking and spotlight pivotal role of public media

Hot Springs, AR (August 25, 2023) – Now in its 32nd year, the 2023 Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival (HSDFF), to be held October 6 – 14, 2023, will launch a Filmmaker Forum to connect filmmakers and industry leaders on October 9 – 10 in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The Filmmaker Forum, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), will serve as a major convening of documentary filmmakers and industry leaders from throughout the South/Mid-South and across the U.S. Through its dynamic programming and extensive networking opportunities, the Forum will establish stronger ties between filmmakers and public media. A partial list of public media organizations expected to participate includes ITVS, Arkansas PBS and Reel South.

For three decades, the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, the longest running documentary film festival in North America, has supported the work of Southern-based filmmakers. The Filmmaker Forum is designed to offer a vital new resource for filmmakers in the region. Through various partnerships with regional organizations, the Forum is intended to contribute to the work being done by organizations throughout the South and Mid-South. Invited participants also include IF/Then Shorts, a national fund and mentorship program for short documentaries, and the Video Consortium, a global nonfiction community.

At a time when the path to audiences has become more difficult, the Forum aims to increase access to information, resources, and a wide array of perspectives on the best path forward for documentary filmmakers.

“Given the disruption caused by the pandemic, which led to several key events in the South shutting down, as well as the obvious current distribution challenges faced by all filmmakers, we feel the time is right to start a new initiative for filmmakers throughout the South and Mid-South to deepen connections between filmmakers here and industry everywhere,” said incoming HSDFF Executive Director Ken Jacobson, who championed the Filmmaker Forum. “Partnering with public media puts our best foot forward toward supporting a burgeoning community of Southern filmmakers, shining a light on creative storytelling, and building new bridges with audiences.”

The Filmmaker Forum will offer dynamic programming on the business, art, and craft of documentary storytelling and take a wider-lens approach to the nonfiction ecosystem. The gathering will include keynotes, panels, workshops, one-on-one meetings with executives, and other opportunities for filmmakers to connect and foster community. Participants will include public and commercial media leaders, who will meet with filmmakers during scheduled industry meetings.

Intended for filmmakers at all stages of their careers, the Forum is open to directors, producers, editors, and cinematographers who have a major credit on at least one completed film (short or feature). Registration is free for Arkansas-based filmmakers and HSDFF alumni, with a nominal fee for others to attend.

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Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival brings on Ken Jacobson as New Executive Director

The Hot Springs Documentary Film Institute announced that veteran film festival programmer and documentary film influencer Ken Jacobson will be the film festival’s new Executive Director.

The Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, HSDFI’s signature event, has just concluded its 31st annual festival, having returned successfully to a robust in-person 9-day event. This year’s festival also marked its first with the Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort as HSDFF’s presenting sponsor. Jacobson comes on board having established himself, as a leader in the documentary film world thanks to his expertise as a documentary film programmer and through his influential work with leading documentary non-profit organizations, including the International Documentary Association and the American Film Institute.


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