The Arlington Hotel, the nerve centre of the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, feels electric come October. Built in 1924, the Spanish Colonial-style hotel hosts most of the festival’s screenings, making for a concentrated and highly social viewing experience. The weekend of 9 October opened another successful run of the ten-day-long, Academy Award-qualifying event – now in its twenty-fourth year. Attendees gathered in the vaulted lobby for a twilight-hour cocktail while a small jazz combo played in an alcove replete with a lavish mural of the jungle. As the start of the screenings neared, the crowd of festival-goers began to head into the central ballroom on the mezzanine upstairs – one of the festival’s two main screening spaces.
A thriving documentary festival in Arkansas might strike some cinephiles as peculiar, but the roots of the HSDFF run deep. Reportedly North America’s oldest documentary festival, the HSDFF has been in operation since 1992. It now stands tall as a prominent destination in an expanding nonfiction festival landscape that includes Full Frame in Durham, AFI Docs in Washington D.C., DOC NYC in New York, Hot Docs in Toronto, and International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam.