The Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival - The Oldest Documentary Film Festival in North America | Hot Springs National Park Arkansas

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The Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival - The Oldest Documentary Film Festival in North America

HSDFF2020 - The oldest documentary film festival in North America - now pants optional!

29 years ago a small group of folks got together to show a handful of documentary films in Hot Springs. They put a bucket up front to collect donations and just like that, the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival was born. It’s now the longest running all-documentary film festival in the country - though our claim to fame goes way beyond longevity! The festival is known for its top-notch programming and its intimate vibe. Special guests over the last few years alone have included Werner Herzog, Stanley Nelson, Time Magazine’s Waad al-Kateab, Kathleen Turner, Zazie Beetz - you never know who you’re gonna chat with after a movie!

Every year, filmmakers from around the world (Australia! Sweden! Peru!) are invited to descend upon us in Hot Springs, Arkansas. We love getting to show them our Southern hospitality while ‘gambling’ at The Gambling Museum, soaking in one of our historic bathhouses, or taste-testing a new brew at Superior Brewery. The filmmakers always exclaim that HSDFF is one of the most rejuvenating film festivals they’ve ever experienced! Is it the baths? The spring water? Stepping from town into a National Forest? Or some alchemical combo?


This year, due to COVID-19, our brilliant festival team pivoted to build an online platform so HSDFF29 can be enjoyed from your living room. Which means, for the first time in history, you can visit Hot Springs without visiting Hot Springs! (pants optional!) The festival has a line-up of 50 feature documentaries and 60 shorts including an exciting and range of Southern Documentaries. Beyond the local selection committee, which reviews thousands of documentary entries, our team of industry-savvy programmers pursues the best films of the year. A digital festival pass grants you access to all of them for the week of October 9th-17th. (Though take heed - some films are only available for a limited window!)


In Hot Springs, we won’t have the traditional #HSDFFpartychallenge or the Arlington Hotel flocked with filmmakers, but the festival is holding a handful of safely managed live events. Our traditional opening night, closing night and centerpiece films will be drive-in movies at The Hot Springs Mall! Mark your calendars, that’s Friday, October 9th, Tuesday, October 13th, and Friday, October 16th. (Hot tip #1: You didn’t hear it here but those are gonna sell out FAST.)

Drive-In Movie 1 : Jimmy Carter Rock N Roll President

Drive-In Movie 2 : Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles

Drive-In Movie 3 : 9to5 : The Story of a Movement


It’s not just movies, there are virtual filmmaker panels and discussions with industry giants such as our impact award winners Iyabo Boyd and Diana Quon. Fireside chats with our lifetime achievement winners Dawn Porter, director of John Lewis: Good Trouble, and Alex Gibney, whose films will be shown in a retrospective. You can’t miss our ‘speak-easy talks’ with filmmakers and documentary subjects like David Arquette and The Cate Brothers. (There was a lot of discussion about beverages.) Plus, Academy Award winner Mark Monroe is offering a virtual workshop on Documentary Writing. Even, The Kernel, HSDFF’s homegrown storytelling workshop is transitioning online with a live storytelling show. There are tons of community opportunities to take advantage of when you login to our portal - it’s a great way to get a taste of the festival from anywhere in the country!


Given the strain of 2020, it was important to create spaces for our community and our filmmakers for self-care and well-being. We are after all, a ‘spa town!’

So, in keeping with our illustrious history, we’re launching a series entitled “2020 Survival Guide: Mental Health and Creative Healing in the Midst of Crises.” We want to offer tools to stay centered, inspired and productive during a time of worldwide unrest, especially for those who have felt isolated during the pandemic or in need of healing for the creative spirit. We’ve included socially distant activities such as an inspirational hike through Hot Springs National Park, yoga across from The Arlington and a Slow Roll bike parade through downtown. Online survival guide components include a two-day workshop by therapist and artistic counselor, Beth Pickens, on goal-setting and creating space for your artistic practice.


Whew, ok, that was just the highlights, y’all! We found amazing opportunities wrapped in a disaster and are thrilled that now everyone around the country has an opportunity to visit Hot Springs from their living room! Passes and tickets are now on sale. Visit www.hsdfi.org to see the full line-up of films and purchase your tickets today! To access the HSDFF virtual platform you will first need to create a free account on Eventive. (It’s easy, we promise, and we’ve created a handy guide to help you out.)

A Film Buff Pass ($150) gets you access to all our films and free virtual programming. An All-Access Pass ($300) gets you that plus Priority access to VIP talks & workshops, our drive-ins (must claim ticket in advance) and lots of great SWAG!

An individual virtual movie ticket ($8) - each one is a jewel.

Let’s get virtual, Hot Springs!

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