The HSDFF Filmmaker Forum is a two-day filmmaker/industry conference and convening to be held October 9 and 10, 2023 during this year’s 32nd annual Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival (October 6 – 14).

Taking place in scenic Hot Springs, Arkansas, the Filmmaker Forum offers dynamic programming focused on the business, art and craft of documentary storytelling. The Forum aims to become a major annual convening of filmmakers and industry leaders from throughout the South and mid-South regions and from across the U.S. With a focus on public media, as well as a wider lens on the nonfiction ecosystem as a whole, the gathering will include keynotes, panels, workshops, one-on-one meetings with executives, and offer a multitude of opportunities for filmmakers to connect and foster community.

HSDFF is proud to partner with public media on this new initiative that is intended to support the documentary film community in our region and beyond. We look forward to welcoming filmmakers and industry to the Arlington Hotel Resort & Spa on October 9th and 10th for this inaugural event.

2023 HSDFF Filmmaker Forum - Virtual Kickoff

Tuesday, October 3

3:00 PM - 4:15 PM ET on Zoom®

Walking the Walk: How Public Media Remains a Vital Source for Independent Voices in Documentary Film


Over the years, public media has provided a unique and vital platform for stories that truly represent the full breadth of the human experience and played a critical role in supporting new and diverse filmmaking voices. In this virtual kickoff of the HSDFF Filmmaker Forum, members of the National Multicultural Alliance are joined by independent filmmakers, whose work they have championed, and public media leadership to discuss why public media matters and to envision a future path forward for independent documentary production and distribution.

Moderator: Sapana Sakya, Talent Development & Special Projects Director, Center for Asian American Media (CAAM)

Panelists: Francene Blythe-Lewis, Executive Director, Vision Maker Media; Sylvia Bugg, Chief Programming Executive and General Manager, General Audience Programming, PBS; William Caballero, filmmaker; Heather Giugni, filmmaker; Cheryl Hirasa, Executive Director, Pacific Islanders in Communications (PIC); Chris Hastings, Executive Producer, WORLD; Charles “Boots” Kennedye, filmmaker; Luis Ortiz, Managing Director; Latino Public Broadcasting; Lois Vossen, Executive Producer, Independent Lens

HSDFF Filmmaker Forum Schedule

Note: The Filmmaker Forum is intended for filmmakers and documentary industry representatives. Pre-registration is required. However, we welcome all HSDFF pass-holders to attend the opening Keynote address on Monday at 9:40 AM and the session “Making History: The Little Rock Nine, Eyes on the Prize, and a National Historic Site* on Tuesday at 9:45 AM.

Monday, October 9

7:30am – 9:15 AM Breakfast
9:30 AM – 9:35 AM Welcome/Opening Remarks
9:40 AM – 10:10 AM Keynote: Darcy McKinnon*
10:15 AM – 11:15 AM Session 1: Expanding the Frame Beyond Traditional Documentary Storytelling
11:30 AM – 12:30 PM Session 2: The Distribution Landscape: Where to Go From Here
12:30 PM – 1:30 PM Relaxed Fit Luncheon: How to Get Your Doc on PBS with Wendy Llinas, PBS
1:45 PM – 2:45 PM Session 3: Check Your Facts! Fact-checking for Documentary Film
3:00 PM – 4:00 PM Session 4: IF/Then Art of the Pitch
4:15 PM – 5:30 PM One-on-One Meetings, Part 1
4:15 PM – 6:15 PM Forum Reception

Tuesday, October 10

7:30 AM – 9:30 AM Breakfast
9:45 AM – 11:00 AM Session 5: Making History: The Little Rock Nine, “Eyes on the Prize”, and a National Historic Site*
11:15 AM – 12:15 PM Session 6: Meeting Audiences Where They Are: New Multiplatform Initiatives
12:15 PM – 1:00 PM Relaxed Fit Luncheon: Attorney and HSDFI Board Officer Matthew Rogers
1:15 PM – 2:15 PM Session 7: Works-in-Progress Showcase: New Work by Southern Filmmakers
2:30 PM – 3:30 PM Session 8: Finding Your Match: How a Key Partnership Can Transform Your Project
3:30 PM – 3:45 PM Closing Remarks/Reception Intro
4:00 PM – 5:15 PM One-on-One Meetings, Part 2

*Note: these sessions open to all pass holders; all other sessions open to Forum pass holders only

Keynote address: Darcy McKinnon

One of the most prolific and respected producers in the documentary field today, Darcy McKinnon, based in New Orleans, is committed to working from within the American South. McKinnon’s recent work includes the upcoming docuseries Algiers, America (NOFF22 Audience Award Winner, Hulu), Sundance 2023 short Under G-d (dir. Paula Eiselt), Hulu’s Look at Me! XXXTENTACION (dir. Sabaah Folayan, SXSW 2022) and the Emmy nominated The Neutral Ground (dir. CJ Hunt, Tribeca 2021, POV). McKinnon is currently in production on Nailah Jefferson’s Commuted, Katie Mathews’ Roleplay, Jason Fitzroy Jeffers’ The First Plantation and Suzannah Herbert’s Natchez. Her prior work has screened and been broadcast internationally, and has been supported by SFFILM, CAAM, Chicken and Egg, Firelight Media, ITVS, Black Public Media, Sundance Institute, and the Tribeca Film Institute.

Session 1: Expanding the Frame Beyond Traditional Documentary Storytelling

The traditional documentary form can be stretched and remolded in countless ways, limited only by the imagination and resources of the filmmaker. But what are the implications of working in a less traditional narrative mode in terms of funding support and distribution / broadcast opportunities? In what ways are public media outlets extending their embrace of traditional documentary storytelling and what are other distribution opportunities for this kind of daring work? How may audiences respond? In this conversation with creatives and a broadcaster, we explore how boundaries are being pushed and what this means for filmmakers, broadcasters, and audiences.

Moderator: Chloë Walters-Wallace, Director of Regional Initiatives, Firelight Media; Jon-Sesrie Goff, (After Sherman); Iyabo Kwayana (By Water); Sky Hopinka, (Sunflower Siege Engine); Chris Hastings (Executive Producer, World Channel)

Session 2: The Distribution Landscape: Where to Go From Here

With the current distribution situation continually in flux and many filmmakers left wondering what steps to take to ensure their films enter the marketplace and reach audiences, this panel will feature seasoned producers working deep in the trenches to get their films distributed and seen. The conversation will examine what current options are available to filmmakers, and what strategies may be most effective.

Moderator: Darcy McKinnon, Producer (Neutral Ground, Under G-d); Diane Becker, Producer (King Coal, Navalny); Amanda Spain, VP, Longform Acquisitions, MSNBC; Su Kim, Producer (The Tuba Thieves, Sansón and Me)

Relaxed Fit Luncheon: How to Get Your Doc on PBS 101 with Wendy Llinas, PBS

Grab your lunch and settle into a conversation about the true ins-and-outs of working with public media, with a focus on PBS. Facilitator Wendy Llinas, Senior Director, Programming and Development.

Session 3: Check Your Facts! Fact-checking for Documentary Film

Learn the essentials — and art — of fact-checking your documentary to ensure accuracy, mitigate risk, and keep your participants (and yourself) protected. What happens inside the newsroom that you can apply to your independent work? What resources can you leverage to solidify your story? In a practical conversation that's guided by journalistic ethics, we'll uncover insights and best practices that you can directly apply to the film you're working on right now — while keeping it cinematic, artful, and aligned with your creative vision.

Moderator: Sky Dylan Robbins, Founder and Executive Director, The Video Consortium; Panelists: Andrés Cediel, filmmaker (Covid's Hidden Toll) and Professor, UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism; Sean Lavery, former Head of Fact Checking, The New Yorker; Marcia Apperson, Associate Director, Standards and Practices, PBS.

Session 4: IF/Then Art of the Pitch

From elevator pitches over coffee with potential collaborators to reaching dozens of decision-makers at an international forum, pitching your project becomes an essential skill for all filmmakers. Hear from pitch mentors Merrill Sterritt and Caitlin Mae Burke of Field of Vision’s IF/Then Shorts for sage advice on preparing a dynamic pitch toolbox to fit various situations, and navigating the realities of different dynamics between industry and artists. Several brave participants are invited to practice pitch their film live during the panel and receive feedback in real-time.

One-on-One Meetings, Part 1

In these curated meetings, Forum attendees share their current projects with funders, artist support organizations, public television stations, and other public and commercial media executives who offer feedback.

Session 5: Making History: The Little Rock Nine, “Eyes on the Prize” and a National Historic Site

When the Little Rock Nine went through the doors of Central High School for the first time in the Fall of 1957, they faced an immense personal challenge, as well as a public reckoning with the public education system and with the core values of our democratic system. They also were entering a media storm that would ultimately help shape the public record of these events for future generations. In this session, we examine the different ways that the media, documentary filmmakers and even the federal government (through its designation of Central High as a National Historic Site) framed these events narratively and entered them into the public discourse. In addition, a member of the Little Rock Nine will discuss her experience of seeing her own life reflected back at her through these different media lenses.

Moderator: Noland Walker, VP of Content, ITVS; Elizabeth Eckford, Little Rock; Dr. Johanna Miller Lewis, Associate Dean of Curriculum and Student Success, College of Arts, Social Sciences, and Education/Professor of History at University of Arkansas, Little Rock; Sharon La Cruise, Director ("Daisy Bates: First Lady of Little Rock").

Session 6: Meeting Audiences Where They Are: New Multiplatform Initiatives

If the documentary form itself is always changing, so, too, are the ways that people are interacting with documentaries, which, in turn, leads to further innovations in the form. This panel looks at the Möbius strip dynamic of how the documentary form and the platforms that support it are evolving into a new multiplatform landscape. We explore how filmmakers, stations, and others in the public media ecosystem are looking to create and distribute digital content that connect with audiences in impactful ways.

Moderator: Wendy Llinas, Senior Director, Programming and Development, PBS; Panelists: Courtney Pledger, CEO of Arkansas PBS, Executive Producer, “Southern Storytellers”, ”Southern Sounds”; Craig Renaud, Director, “Southern Storytellers”, Executive Producer, “Southern Sounds”; Linda Midgett, Executive Producer, Louisiana Public Broadcasting; Adam Dylewski, Senior Director, Multiplatform Programming, PBS; Chloë Walters-Wallace, Director of Regional Initiatives, Firelight Media

Relaxed Fit Luncheon: Attorney and HSDFI Board Officer Matthew Rogers

Got legal questions? Over lunch, attorney and HSDFI Board Officer Matthew Rogers leads a discussion on legal issues related to independent filmmaking.

Session 7: Works In Progress Showcase: New Work by Southern Filmmakers

Identity and place are often at the heart of stories and storytelling styles and when authentically embraced by an artist, can result in creative work that sparks change in the cultural conversation. This Works In Progress Showcase shares a selection of work by talented filmmakers from across the US South whose unique visions and voices represent the vast tapestry of nonfiction films coming out of the region. Screening and Q&A to follow.

Moderator: Zuri Obi, Film and Conference Programmer, New Orleans Film Society; Filmmakers John Beder, Sally O'Grady, Andy Sarjahani, and Larisha Stone

Session 8: Finding Your Match: How a Key Partnership Can Transform Your Project

Independent filmmaking can feel isolating, which makes it even more important to find a supportive partner who not only believes in your vision but sticks with you all the way to the finish line. This panel features two special projects that show us some of the ways a productive and respectful relationship can work to benefit both parties and create shared goals to make the best possible film. We learn how these partnerships initially developed and are cultivated, as well as the ins and outs of working together on a project, and ways these collaborative approaches have managed to broaden audience reach and engagement.

Moderator Colleen Thurston, Director ("Drowned Land"); Panelists: Brad Lichtenstein (Director, When Claude Got Shot); Rachel Raney, PBS North Carolina; Li Lu (Director, A Town Called Victoria) and Nick Price, Series Producer, Reel South; Sapana Sakya, Talent Development & Special Projects Director, Center of Asian American Media (CAAM)

One-on-One Meetings, Part 2

Round 2 of our curated meetings for filmmakers and industry.

Filmmaker / Industry Meetings

In person meetings between filmmakers and industry leaders will be held on October 9 and 10 as part of the Forum. For these meetings, registrants must be directing and/or producing a currently in-process documentary short or feature. This includes projects in early development. Each session will be 15 minutes and filmmakers/filmmaking teams will be allowed a maximum of four meetings. Virtual filmmaker/industry meetings will take place on October 11.

More information about the Filmmaker / Industry Meetings will be communicated after registration.


We plan to provide ASL interpretation throughout the Forum. Other accessibility information will be added to this page in the coming weeks.

Want to partner with us?

As we go about planning the Forum, we are actively engaged in conversations with film festivals and documentary support organizations, both regional and national, to share ideas and explore partnership opportunities. Please reach out!

How to reach us

If you have questions about accessibility, eligibility / registration, or any other Forum-related issues, please email Forum Producer Lisa Hasko at:

The Filmmaker Forum is sponsored by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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