The Natural State Film Category debuts at Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival

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The Natural State Shorts Program at the 32 annual Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival in Hot Springs.
The Natural State Shorts Program at the 32 annual Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival in Hot Springs.

The Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival has the distinction of being the longest running documentary film festival in North America. This year’s event took place Oct. 6 to 14 in Hot Springs.

Over the course of the festival, which has been designated as an Oscar-qualifying festival by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, a wide and diverse range of feature-length and short documentaries from around the world are screened. Along with this there are also workshops to go to, panels to attend, special events like after parties and more. Among the new items that debuted this year were a filmmaker forum and live storytelling event. The documentary screenings were held in various cinema rooms at the Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa and the opening night gala events were held for the first time this year at the Oaklawn Event Center. 

This year a new film category was also unveiled called “The Natural State.” The name pays homage to Arkansas, The Natural State, a state well-known for its outdoor pursuits. So much so that a whole category for this subject was named at the festival in the state's honor.

This new category spotlighted a selection of features and shorts that highlighted issues and people related to the environment, sports, the outdoors and also Arkansas. 

The opening night film, "Relentless Ride," was among the films in The Natural State Feature Film section. It documented the 2021 Arkansas High Country Race, and a neat connection is that the following day marked the start of the 2023 Arkansas High Country Race, hosted by the city of Hot Springs. The Arkansas High Country Race is a biking event that covers over 1,000 miles of Arkansas terrain. The film was directed by Arkansas based filmmakers and this was its Arkansas premiere.  

Other films in this section took were screened at various times and days and featured stories on the environment and outdoors from around the world. Documentaries like "A Thousand Pines," "Between the Rains," "Brother Horse," "King Coal," "One with the Whale," "Brother Horse," "Open Heart," "Smoke Sauna Sisterhood" and "Songs of Earth." 

Ken Jacobson, executive director of Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, introduces The Natural State Shorts Program.
Ken Jacobson, executive director of the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, introduces The Natural State Shorts Program.

In the shorts segment of The Natural State category, six shorts were grouped together and shown during one slot of the festival. During this slot, the world premieres of two documentaries were shown, including "Baseball Behind Barbed Wire," directed by Yuriko Gamo Romer, and "In Exile," directed by Nathan Fitch. The first was about the WWII incarceration of Japanese Americans at 10 camps across the country, including in Arkansas, and the role that baseball played at the camps.

The second was about a hard piece of U.S. history and how a community of Marshallese in Arkansas are living with this history. The short won the PBS Reel South Short Award at the festival. Other shorts in the category with Arkansas connections were "Big Buffalo Golden Gals," directed by Misty Langdon, about a group of women who grew up on the Buffalo River before it became the Buffalo National River, the first national river in the country; and "Joe Barry Carroll," which spotlighted the NBA All-Star from Pine Bluff and his reflections on his life now as an artist and author. Also shown were "Well Worn Life with Dani Reyes-Acosta," about the southwest Colorado mountain athlete and her joy of the outdoors, and "The Bear Coast," about the Alaskan coastline, which has the largest population of wild brown bears on the planet. 

Romer, Fitch and Langdon were at the festival to present their films and to answer audience questions after the screenings.

The Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival
Left to Right: Misty Langdon, Yuriko Gamo Romer, Nathan Fitch, and Ken Jacobson during The Natural State Shorts Program at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival.

Other Arkansas connections at the festival, but not in The Natural State category, included other shorts and documentaries that featured the state. Arkansas native Mary Steenburgen was the Honorary Chair of the festival this year and took part in a Southern Storytellers Screening and Panel.

For more information on the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival visit hsdfi.org.