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EDITOR'S NOTE: The 27th annual Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival begins Friday at the Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa. This is the third of four articles highlighting the longest-running, all-documentary film festival in North America.

When guests map out their plans for viewing various films at the 27th annual Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, which kicks off Friday, Executive Director Jennifer Gerber said she hopes they will step outside their comfort zone.

"The main thing I would just encourage is for people to be open minded and maybe try a film that they wouldn't necessarily think is an obvious fit for them," she said. "That's been my greatest journey in watching the films this year is that there's some thinking 'I don't know if this is going to be for me,' and then you watch it and are a bit moved by the movie."

A lot of care and consideration goes into choosing the opening and closing night films, but Gerber said there are a few that have stood out to her that she is excited for viewers to take on.

"One that's really popping for me right now is 'Dons of Disco,'" she said of the film showing at noon Saturday. "We will have its U.S. premiere at our festival. It has a world premiere in Rome and then it comes straight here, and it is about this Italian pop star and the film illuminates a scandal where he was lip syncing all his career.

"It has the guy who's the voice and then the guy who's the face, so it's a really entertaining film. It's getting a lot of buzz right now, and the filmmaker will be here so it's one of those films that if you don't know about, you may not know how great it's going to be. I think it's going to be fantastic."

Another personal favorite, she said, is "The Last Race," which will be screened at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

"It's about the last stock car race track in Long Island and we'll have one of the drivers from the film," Gerber said. "It's just incredibly beautiful the way they were able to get this footage right next to the drivers right next to the track. It's action-packed, it's emotional and something you want to see on the big screen."

"Gospel of Eureka" has been creating a lot of buzz across the state, Gerber said, for its backdrop in Eureka Springs.

"'Gospel of Eureka' deals with a drag community in Eureka Springs and parallels it with the performances of the passion play in Eureka Springs," she said. "It's not as controversial as it sounds. The ultimate message of the film is about love and acceptance, and how for everyone to get along and encourage an open-minded attitude of love. It's really beautiful. Some of the drag performers are coming and they'll be performing after the screening at our after party."

Another after party will take place at the skating rink following the screening of "United Skates" at 7 p.m. Oct. 26, which Gerber said is one of the committee's favorites of the festival.

"It's certainly a standout and for me it was an early front-runner in our screening process," she said. "It's about adult night skating, primarily in African-American communities, and it's about skaters that come to skate rinks late at night from midnight to 5 a.m. They're dancing and it's this incredible art form of skating, but it also deals with racial issues and how the skaters are perceived within the various communities that they're attending. It's just one of those films that on the big screen is going to be incredible."

Several film screenings will be available free of charge to students, but Gerber insists these selections are entertaining for all ages.

"'Bethany Hamilton' is one of our family friendly screenings and if you don't know who Bethany Hamilton is, she's the world championship surfer who had her arm eaten off by a shark, but she's still a championship surfer and it's part of her story," Gerber said. "It's incredibly inspirational and also cinematic. It's incredible to watch on the big screen because she's chasing the biggest wave of her career and it's incredible to watch."

Following that screening at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Emergent Arts will host a mixed media workshop geared toward children in hopes of extending the film's conversation of overcoming obstacles. In that same theme, Gerber said "Pick of the Litter," showing at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, follows a litter of puppies on their way to becoming guide dogs.

"The opening is of them being born," she said. "It's the Olympics of guide dogs because you're watching this incredible process of them going through the training and not all dogs can make it to that final cut. It's interesting; it's not just training, but learning intelligent commands and having to learn when to not listen to their owner because the owner doesn't realize that they're being led into traffic or led into danger. So, the way they train these dogs is pretty fascinating to watch, but also inspirational."

With 127 films in the festival, Gerber said she has made it a goal to ensure there are films that interest everyone who attends. There are certain themes that span the wide range of films; however, beyond the content, Gerber said she is really seeing a trend in changes for the genre as a whole.

"I'm really seeing a trend in documentaries to be more than just educational and informational," she said. "We are now in a day when documentaries can be box offices hits. We see Mr. Rogers in 'Won't You Be My Neighbor?' and 'RBG' about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and we don't traditionally see films like that doing as well as they have in the box office this year, so I think because of that we're seeing the form is elevated with style, with visual. I think looking forward with the form we're seeing the educational with the cinematic."

For information on ticket prices and passes, visit

Local on 10/18/2018

Print Headline: Festival director wants guests to step outside comfort zone

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