Deep within the Ouachita Mountains, in what Native Americans have named the Valley of the Vapors, amidst turn-of-the-century bathhouses and on the doorstep of a national park lies the unforgettable spa city of Hot Springs, Arkansas, host to North America’s oldest all-documentary film festival. The Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival will celebrate its 28th Anniversary October 18-26th at the historic Arlington Hotel in downtown Hot Springs.

Hosted by America’s “First Resort” and held on the doorstep of a national park, the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival is a culturally diverse and intergenerational event. The city’s colorful past as the 1930’s playground of Al Capone lingers in the air amidst the majestic turn of the century buildings that make up Bathhouse Row. In the 1950’s, Hot Springs served as the boyhood home of former President Bill Clinton.

Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival had an auspicious beginning in 1991 with the screening of 10 Academy Award® -nominated documentary films. Actor James Whitmore lent his presence to this first event and spoke of a bright future for HSDFF. The following year, James Earl Jones announced, “I see the 1990’s as holding the promise of an unparalleled era of popularity for nonfiction film, with the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival as one of the genre’s most important venues.” Mr. Jones’ predictions have come to pass, as both the documentary genre and HSDFF continue their upward trajectories.

Each year, with the help of a small staff and over 100 dedicated volunteers, Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival attracts thousands of visitors to the 9-day multicultural and intergenerational event. Now approaching its 28th year as the oldest all-documentary festival in North America and one of the longest running non-fiction festivals in the world, the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival remains a prominent champion and protector of the documentary film genre.

World Class Film Screenings

The Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival offers an extraordinary mix of documentary features and shorts, both domestic and international, as well as exclusive film panels, tributes to industry greats, and local access to a host of celebrity guests and visiting professionals.

Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival is one of only 38 festivals worldwide that has been designated an Oscar-qualifier in the category of Documentary Short Subject by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Industry Guests

Last October HSDFF hosted over 90 industry guests including jury members, actors and documentary film legends. This year we had in attendance former Oscar nominee director Rebecca Camissa (Atomic Homefront) and Oscar winner producer Michael Hausman (Brokeback Mountain, Gangs of New York), legendary actors including the great Kathleen Turner (Romancing the Stone, Body Heat, Peggy Sue Got Married), Zazie Beetz (Atlanta, Deadpool, Easy) and Robert Davi (License to Kill, The Goonies). Arguably the most memorable experience for HSDFF 2017 was the presence of two of the greatest documentarians for our time, Werner Herzog & Stanley Nelson.


Student Outreach

HSDFF might be the first place a young person might watch a documentary and it is likely that the festival is the first time these young people will have the chance to meet a working filmmaker. HSDFF makes a significant effort to schedule as many of our visiting filmmakers to visit local classrooms to give inspirational guest lectures about their career and creative work. Nearly every single industry member that attended the 2018 festival visited at least one classroom in Arkansas. HSDFF received daily reports from teachers and students about the life-changing impact our guests had on their students. It is evident that by connecting young people with working filmmakers, students can be challenged, inspired and motivated to see the value in their own stories.

The Emerging Filmmakers

The Emerging Filmmakers program is a collaboration between HSDFF and the Arkansas Education Television Network (AETN). This program is designed for middle and high school students from around the state who are invited to take part in hands-on workshops. Staff for the program include top film department professors, industry professionals and Oscar-winning filmmakers. To date, over 30 schools and hundreds of students have participated in this free program.

HSDFF Family

HSDFF Family invites children and families to free family-friendly screenings, interactive events, and film-themed art workshops. Children from toddlers to teenagers have participated in this part of the festival, creating their own experiences while learning about the relevance of documentary film to the arts.

Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality technology is rapidly developing and exploring new ways to enhance our ability to watch and tell stories. Virtual Reality offers a new frontier of how we can perceive the world that surrounds us. HSDFF is proud to be at the forefront of this new technology by offering a Virtual Reality (VR) Lounge!

The HSDFF VR lounge creates a cutting edge viewing experience where our audience members can explore new frontiers of the digital space by viewing documentary films in 360 video. Participants will be able to fully immerse themselves in these short documentaries which offer a 3-dimensional world. The viewer can watch the films in any direction, allowing the participant to feel as if they are in the film.


There is a reason people travel from all over the world to attend this prestigious, one-of-a-kind film festival, which local Arkansans have the privilege of having in their backyard.

We are thrilled to offer a unique cultural and educational opportunity to share stories from around the world with local Arkansans, and to show visitors the beautiful and rich history of our incredible state.

The festival continues to instill in our guests a lifelong love of documentary film. The 28th Annual Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival will be a unique and unforgettable experience that you won’t want to miss.

We hope you can join us for what will be another remarkable cinematic adventure in the heart of Arkansas.


“One of the genre’s most important venues.” - James Earl Jones, actor

“There is no better energizer for a documentary with Oscar ambitions than the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival. Coming closer to nomination time than most festivals, it is the trampoline to bounce contenders up to the starting line.”

- Peter Coyote, actor and narrator

“Without exaggeration I was literally reborn at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival. As a co-founder of SXSW and a producer who has had films premiere at Sundance, Toronto International Film Festival and SXSW, this might seem sheer hyperbole. But the truth is I spent the previous two years battling ill health, and, after that experience, I was a bit bitter and encased in a shell.
The films and people at Hot Springs reminded me why I fell so in love with film in the first place. It was intimate yet professional, passionate but still reasoned. The attendees were great, the special guests exciting and accessible, and the films excellently programmed. It is a remarkable Festival and a great event.” 

- Louis Black, Editor of the Austin Chronicle & Co-Founder of SXSW

HSDFF Year Around Staff


Executive Director: Jennifer Gerber

As director of the festival, Jennifer is responsible for all aspects of the organization from hiring staff, working with the programming team to confirm the film lineup, event planning, fundraising, marketing, educational outreach and strategic planning. Her expertise in film and experience in the industry makes her uniquely qualified to create an outstanding annual film festival.

A native of Arkansas, Jen Gerber built her film career in Chicago before completing an MFA in writing and directing from Columbia University in New York. She recently released her debut feature film The Revival with a theatrical run in Los Angeles and has digital distribution on all the major outlets. As a 1st assistant director Jen worked with James Franco on The Sound and the Fury and Black Dog Red Dog starring Whoopi Goldberg and Olivia Wilde. Jen taught film at the university level for many years and spent four years as a tenured track professor at the University of Central Arkansas. In addition to university teaching, she was the Creative Director at The School of Creative and Performing Arts in Los Angeles & New York for 6 years.


Associate Director: Sheryl Santacruz

Assists all aspects of the festival from programming, hospitality director, guest services, marketing and box office sales.

Born and raised in New Jersey, Sheryl has been working at film festivals for over 10 years in various capacities. After obtaining a degree in Communication Studies at New York University, she started her career working in independent film publicity. She then transitioned into guest services, organizing hospitality for some of New York’s most prestigious film festivals: Tribeca Film Festival, New Directors/New Films, and the New York Film Festival.

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Director of Programming: Jessie Fairbanks

Jessie has been a programmer since 2013 and now curates for festivals year round. In addition to the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, she also programs for DOC NYC, Tribeca Film Festival, Telluride: MountainFilm, Woods Hole Film Festival, and serves as an advisor for the Nashville Film Festival. Prior consulting work includes the Hamptons International Film Festival, DocLands (California Film Institute), Rooftop Films, and the Tribeca Film Institute.

Jessie's previous work includes producing large scale events and creative projects for HBO, The Documentary Group, David Byrne, and Google. While in New York, she was the Project Manager for BAMFilm (previous BAMcinematek) at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Jessie holds a BA from the University of California, Santa Barbara, is a certified Project Management Professional with the Project Management Institute, and is a Board Member for IFP Chicago.


Programmer and Press Program Lead: Abby Sun

Originally from Columbia, MO, Abby programs for her hometown True/False Film Fest as well as Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival. She is also the senior editor at Nat. Brut, a journal of art and literature dedicated to advancing inclusivity in all creative fields. Abby frequently interviews filmmakers and attends festivals as a freelance film critic, and has served as an industry gatekeeping representative on panels for the National Endowment for the Arts, Center for Asian American Media, the LEF Foundation, the IDA’s Getting Real conference, and other filmmaker funding and support organizations. Her latest short film, “Cuba Scalds His Hand,” premiered at Maryland Film Festival in 2019. Abby received her BA in Visual and Environmental Studies from Harvard, where she worked as Verena Paravel’s research assistant.

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Assistant Programmer: Robin Robinson

Robin Robinson is dedicated to independent film. Currently the Programming & Content Coordinator for Mountainfilm, she has also served as the Programming Coordinator for the Academy Award-qualifying Nashville Film Festival where she managed the Screenwriting Competition and served as a Senior Programmer. She has experience programming narrative, documentary, episodic, new director, and family films. In addition to her programming experience, she has served as a screener and reader for the 2018 AT&T Create-a-Thon as well as a Finalist Judge. She received an M.F.A. in Film with a focus in screenwriting at the Watkins College of Film in 2018.


Assistant Programmer and Jury Liaison: Robert John Torres

Robert John Torres is a festival programmer and filmmaker originally from Dinuba, California. He has previously worked at a varied collection of international film festivals including most recently the Tribeca Film Festival, the Nashville Film Festival, and the Toronto International Film Festival. As a curator, he has an extensive background in short film programming and is particularly interested in formalist innovation, the experimental canon, non-fiction filmmaking, and world cinema. His work as a writer/director explores contemporary LGBTQ+ identity with a focus on queer bodies and themes of shame, pride, and power. His narrative short film debut, an otherworldly dance project titled Writhing, made its world premiere at the 2018 edition of Outfest.


Director of Education & Outreach: Sophie Finkelstein

Assists in recruiting jury members, industry professionals and panelists to attend HSDFF and will build educational outreach for the festival. Sophie is in charge of organizing school groups to attend HSDFF and schedules visiting filmmakers for classroom visits in area schools.

Sophie Finkelstein holds an MFA in Screenwriting from Columbia University. Prior to graduate school, she worked production on independent features and produced and directed a number of short films and music videos. Recently, she first Assistant Directed Madeliene Olnek’s latest film and produced The Revival, her first feature as lead producer. She is developing a documentary series on forensic pathologist Michael Baden and his wife, lawyer, Linda Kenney Baden. She is also in development on her second feature to produce. Sophie was born and raised on the Upper West Side of New York and earned her BA in Photography and Sociology from Wesleyan University.


Managing Director: Annie Gerber

Oversees daily operations and logistics including venue management, sponsor communications, transportation and housing.

Annie Gerber is a native Arkansan who has a Bachelor of Fine arts in music from Ouachita Baptist University but later switched her main focus to photography after taking her first photography class while studying abroad in Salzburg, Austria. Anna spent several years working as a Teaching Assistant in the prestigious photography program at the School of Cinematic and Performing Arts in both New York and Los Angeles. She most recently was working as studio photographer & documentary researcher at Crystal Springs Gallery in downtown Hot Springs.

Want to work for HSDFF? We are always seeking additional staff as we continue to grow year after year! Follow this link to learn more: HSDFF Jobs

HSDFF Board of Directors



Joel Rush (Chairman of the Board) Owner, TLI Print

Len Pitcock (Vice Chair) Managing Partner and Co-Founder of Perimeter Group

Mary Zunick (Secretary), Visit Hot Springs

John Horner (Treasurer) Horner Consulting, CPA


Board Members

Anthony Taylor, Taylor Kempkes Architect

Bill Solleder, Director of Marketing, Visit Hot Springs

Jean Lacefield, Vice President, Gateway Community Association

JoAnn Mangione, The Springs Magazine, Owner/ & Editor

Kathleen Currie, Nonprofit Consultant

Kate Schaffer, Nonprofit organizer

Lisa Cole, Filmmaker

Robert Zunick, Wells Fargo Advisors

Scott Lauck, Attorney at Law

Stephanie Alderdice, 61 Celsius Marketing

Susan Altrui, Director, Little Rock Zoo