From "Citizen Ashe" courtesy Wildworks PR

FRIDAY 10/8-SATURDAY 10/16. Historic Malco Theater, 817 Central Ave., Hot Springs; Central Theater, 1008 Central Ave., Hot Springs; Horner Hall, 134 Convention Blvd., Hot Springs. Free-$300. 

Between this long-standing documentary film fest, formidable newcomers like the Bentonville Film Festival and Arkansas Cinema Society’s Filmland, Arkansas’s film scene is officially a Big Deal. We owe that, in part, to three decades of dogged work from the folks behind the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, which celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2021.


This year, HSDFF employs a hybrid of in-person and virtual screenings, with headlining films “Citizen Ashe” (pictured), Samuel D. Pollard and Rex Miller’s profile on tennis champion Arthur Ashe; “The Rescue,” Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin’s portrayal of the harrowing 2018 rescue of 12 Thai boys and their soccer coach from a cave in Thailand; CJ Hunt’s “The Neutral Ground,” which follows the removal of four Confederate monuments in New Orleans; and Julie Cohen and Betsy West’s “Julia,” which chronicles the life of Julia Child.


Here’s how that works (below) and, if you need it, detailed instructions for how to watch the films virtually. 



IN-PERSON SCREENINGS: Every film in the festival will have at least 1 in-person screening. All screening will be hosted at either the Arlington Hotel Crystal Ballroom or at the Malco Theater. In order to attend in person, every audience member must clear a COVID check by either present proof of full vaccination (with physical or photo of vaccination card and photo ID) or a negative lab test within 48 hr of attending.

VIRTUAL SCREENINGS: Aside from a few exceptions, every film in the festival will be available on the virtual platform. Each film will become available the day following its in-person screening and will be available for 48hrs.

New festival director of programming Greta Hagen-Richardson emphasizes an effort “to accurately reflect the world of nonfiction filmmaking,” adding that 55% of film fest directors identify as female or nonbinary and that 40% of film fest directors are people of color. “There is always a heightened energy and anticipation during anniversary years,” Executive Director Jennifer Gerber said, “and this year’s films, our stellar trio of honorees, and the panels, events, activities, parties and more that our staff has put together point to a truly exceptional film festival.”

Find the full list of documentaries here, divided into categories of International, U.S. and Southern, and which includes Gerard Matthews and Kathryn Tucker’s “A Good Campaign,” which follows Democrat Clarke Tucker’s campaign for Congress in the heart of Trump country.