At the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, success is breeding success. From humble beginnings in 1992 – when just 10 Oscar-nominated films were presented on a US$20,000 budget – the festival now attracts documentaries, filmmakers and an audience from all over the world.
The ninth annual festival (October 13 to 22) showed 90 films in its two theaters and attracted 60 filmmakers to the resort town of Hot Springs, Arkansas. While Oscar nominees and, more recently, International Documentary Association winners are automatically showcased, this year nearly 800 docs (one-third from outside the U.S., representing a 40% increase over last year) were submitted. Every film selected is considered a winner, so the festival makes no other awards. This could be a key to its success: All the documentary filmmakers and their works are honored. They even roll out a red carpet for the final gala dinner.
This year’s budget of more than $600,000 (raised from state, corporate and local benefactors), didn’t include significant in-kind support, like the pro bono services of a local pr agency, a lavish reception at the lakeside home of a local doctor and the dedication of more than 250 volunteers, some working year-round. Their spirit was rewarded mid-festival when the Hot Springs Festival received a $10,000 grant from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in order to further its work.
After next year’s event, the festival facility will be completely rebuilt. ‘All we’ll keep,’ said Jerry Tanenbaum, chairman of the Hot Springs Documentary Film Institute, ‘is part of the foundation and the shell of the two theaters. We’re looking at an Art Deco complex with the two theaters each seating 350 to 400 people, and three new, smaller theaters for 60 to 150 people.’ They’ll be used, he said, both for screenings and education. The Institute has an outreach program that brings students to docs and docs to schools throughout the state. ‘The whole project will cost about $10 million,’ Tanenbaum said, ‘including an endowment for support and maintenance, and an operating fund to expand our technical capabilities, our educational opportunities, and to create a library, archival and display spaces.’ A proposal for more than $7 million has been favorably received by a major foundation, Tanenbaum said. In the meantime, the Institute plans to raise $3 million locally.