The HSDFF Filmmaker Forum is a three-day filmmaker/industry conference and convening to be held Sunday, October 20 - Tuesday, October 22, 2023 during this year’s 33nd annual Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival (October 18 – 26).

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 is becoming 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 Forum is a unique and essential professional development opportunity for filmmakers and a major regional convening of filmmakers and industry leaders. Our goal is to create unique and dynamic programming intended to inform and inspire.

The gathering will include:

  • Keynotes
  • Panels
  • Workshops
  • One-on-one meetings with industry leaders
  • A multitude of opportunities for filmmakers to connect and foster community

Forum participating organizations may include: Reel South, Indie Media Arts South, Southern Documentary Fund, National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Multicultural Alliance (Black Public Media, CAAM, Latino Public Broadcasting, Pacific Islanders in Communications, and Vision Maker Media), IF/Then Shorts, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, PBS, POV, ITVS, numerous public television stations, Firelight Media, Austin Film Society, WORLD Channel, Kartemquin Films, and Video Consortium.

Last year more than 100 filmmakers and 30 Industry experts attended.

More information about the 2024 Keynote and Schedule to come.

We look forward to welcoming filmmakers and industry to the historic Arlington Hotel Resort & Spa on October 20 - 22 for the second annual Hot Springs Filmmaker Forum.


The Filmmaker Forum is Sponsored By

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
8:15am – 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
11:45 AM – 12:45 PM Session 2: The Distribution Landscape: Where to Go From Here
12:45 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
8:15 AM – 9:40 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 Lunch
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: Christopher Everett, Artistic Director, Southern Documentary Fund; Su Kim, Producer (The Tuba Thieves, Hidden Letters); Diane Becker, Producer (King Coal, Navalny);
Amanda Spain, VP, Longform Acquisitions, MSNBC; Darcy McKinnon, Producer (Neutral Ground, Under G-d)

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: Sean Lavery, former fact checker, The New Yorker; additional panelists TBC.

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; additional panelists TBC.

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 multi platform 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.

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.

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; films and filmmakers TBC.

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 TBC; 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.

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.


The Filmmaker Forum strives to be a welcoming and inclusive environment for all individuals. Please contact us if you need any accommodations to make registration more accessible and to let us know accessibility needs for the forum itself. We will make our best efforts to ensure accessibility, there may be some limitations. Please reach out to HSDFF's Director of Filmmaker/Industry Relations & Accessibility Sheryl Santacruz at

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 eligibility / registration, please email Outreach Coordinator Paige Murphy at:

To talk about partnering with the Forum, please email Forum Producer Ashley York at:

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