To reattribute a quote from the late British DJ John Peel, one of the reasons the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival is so great is because “it’s always different and it’s always the same.” That is, year after year, it’s a reliably stellar festival, packed with more eye-opening films than you’ll find anywhere.
In fact, every year, when the week-plus of gorging on docs, drinks and parties ends, it’s easy to find yourself leaving the illuminated, historic Malco in a post-fest depression, cursing the 51 weeks left until the next year.
But as for now, the documentary-loving population at large is looking ahead as the world’s premiere documentary-only film festival returns for its 19th year, screening 110 films over nine days.
With big-name releases like “Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child,” a home video-filled portrait of the iconic New York City artist, programmed beside smaller, local-interest films like “Dogpatch, U.S.A.,” a look into the abandoned Newton County theme park, the festival’s problem may be that it has too much quality.
To help with your scheduling, program director Dan Anderson named his ten films not to miss.
One of a number of world premieres, “God Willing” (6:10 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16; 7:25 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 21) documents “intentional communities,” or, plainly, cults by focusing on the “The Church,” otherwise known as “The Brethren,” and its end-of-days leader Jim Roberts.
Dr. Alexander Shulgin, the creator of MDMA (or Ecstacy), amongst hundreds of other psychedelics, is profiled in “Dirty Pictures” (8:45 p.m. Friday, Oct. 22; 6:55 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 24), which explores the social, scientific and legal ramifications of his controversial work.
“A Normal Life, Please” (7:20 p.m. Sunday Oct. 17; 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 20) is shocking documentary about a Japanese truck driver who stands up to demand reasonable working conditions after spending years working 552 hours a month without overtime, paid holidays or insurance benefits.
The often frustrating, always challenging day-to-day life of the environmentally concerned who shun automobiles for bicycles, boats and foot travel is explored in “A Different Path” (1:25 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 20; 10 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 21).
An essay-film in the vein of great semanticists like Jean-Luc Godard, “Goodbye, How Are You” (6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 19; 3:05 p.m. Friday, Oct. 22), details how Serbians use (and misuse) language to their advantage when criticizing their country’s turbulent political climate.
German filmmakers Rainer Komers’ elegiac portrait of “Milltown, Montana” (4:35 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 19; 5:45 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 24) looks at the tranquil landscape, once part of the biggest mining region in all of America, now turned into a desert-scape polluted with toxic substances.
“Space, Land and Time: Underground Adventures with Ant Farm” (9:10 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 17; 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 23) is the first film to look at Ant Farm, the legendary, underground architecture/video art collective from 1970s Texas responsible for some of the most hilariously subversive art ever produced.
Shown as two parts of a short documentary block (11:25 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 17; 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 21), “Fire in the Mountains” profiles a no-budget, backyard wrestling organization in Appalachian Kentucky; “The Sheriff” follows the spiritual struggles of Eugene, an elderly, African American in North Carolina, afflicted with albinism.
Family, sacrifice and disability are explored in “Eleanore and the Timekeeper” (11:50 a.m. Monday, Oct. 18; 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 24), which follows a 91-year-old mother as she’s forced to place her son, a 61-year-old with developmental disabilities, into a group home.
Filmed in illness- and poverty-stricken Uganda, “Bouncing Cats” (7:30 p.m., Monday, Oct. 18) follows a young AIDS orphan organizes Break Dance Project Uganda, a group to unite, inspire and empower the country’s children through “B-Boy” and hip-hop culture.
Check back next week for our guide to the second half of this year’s Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival or visit their website at hsdfi.org.