Oscar-winning actress Steenburgen to serve as HSDFF honorary chair

A still from the documentary film "Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project" shows Giovanni speaking at an event that was captured by filmmakers. The film was selected as the closing film for this year's Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival. Photo courtesy of the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival. - Submitted photo

Academy Award-winning actress Mary Steenburgen will be the honorary chair of the 32nd edition of the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, which runs Oct. 6-14, it was announced Wednesday.

The critically acclaimed festival, which is the longest-running all-documentary festival in North America, will present more than 80 films, including the opening night presentation of Adam Harbottle and Brian Hill's "Relentless Ride," centerpiece Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss's "The Mission," and Michèle Stephenson & Joe Brewster's "Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project" on closing night.

"Relentless Ride," which was announced previously to be shown at the Oaklawn Event Center, will be the only film not shown at the Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa.

Steenburgen will also participate in the Southern Storytellers screening and panel, one of the special events and new initiatives at this year's festival. Other initiatives include the previously announced Corporation for Public Broadcasting-funded Filmmaker Forum; The Natural State -- a new section focused on the environment, outdoor adventure, athletic achievement and the stories and people of Arkansas; The Wellness Series, which is a new film series; and a Secret Screening.

"In our 32nd year, we are underlining the high level of film programming that has made the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival such a beacon for the best and most innovative filmmakers working in the documentary form today," Ken Jacobson, the festival's executive director, said.

"In addition, we are incorporating dynamic new programs and events to enrich the audience experience and support the documentary filmmaking community. Our goal is to embrace the rich tableau of nonfiction storytelling and forge deeper connections between filmmakers, the people and place of Hot Springs, Arkansas and the broader world," he said.

"We are thrilled to be launching these efforts alongside this year's Honorary Chair, the extraordinary and beloved Arkansan, the multi-talented Mary Steenburgen."

Sky Hopinka, whose latest short film, "Sunflower Siege Engine," will be shown on Oct. 9, will be presented this year's Brent Renaud Career Achievement Award, and Diane Becker and Shane Boris, who won an Academy Award for "Navalny" last year will be the recipients of this year's Impact Award.

"In a relatively short time, Hopinka has produced a truly distinctive and remarkable body of work in the documentary field," a news release said. "His explorations into the relationship between people and the land, the interplay between culture and language, and his highly intuitive and inspired insights into form have made deep impressions on audiences throughout the world and helped redefine the way documentaries are perceived and received."

Hopinka is the recipient of the Infinity Award in Art from the International Center and the Alpert Award for Film/Video and fellowships including The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, Sundance Art of Nonfiction, Art Matters, The Guggenheim Foundation, and The Forge Project. In the fall of 2022, Hopinka received a MacArthur Fellowship for his work as a visual artist and filmmaker, the release said.

"King Coal," which was directed by Becker and Boris and is a portrait of a community and culture defined by industry, will be presented on Oct. 10 after the presentation of their award.

"(Becker's) films have screened in the most prestigious festivals across the globe, and she has worked with companies like HBO, CNN, Showtime, Netflix, and PBS," the release said of the 2023 recipient of the Dear Producer Award.

"(Boris') films have premiered at festivals around the world and screened in museums like The Louvre, MoMA, and the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures," the release said.

"The Mission," which will be presented on Oct. 11 and is distributed by National Geographic Documentary Films, tells the tragic story of what happened when a young American missionary contacted one of the last isolated communities of Indigenous people in the world. A post-screening discussion moderated by Variety's Peter Debruge will include producer Will Cohen and film participant Dan Everett.

"Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project," which closes out the festival on Oct. 14, focuses on celebrated American poet Nikki Giovanni and the revolutionary periods in which she wrote, from the Civil Rights Movement to Black Lives Matter. Both directors will attend the screening.

Arkansas filmmaker Jack Lofton and Jeff Dailey's "The People v. Profits" will have its world premiere at the festival as will Li Lu's three-part series "A Town Called Victoria."

The Natural State series, sponsored by Sigma Supply, will include features and shorts related to the environment, outdoor adventure and athletic achievement focusing on "the unique attributes of Arkansas and to extraordinary Arkansans," the release said.

In addition to films, a new live storytelling event called "True Stories" will debut at this year's festival and will feature a series of short, personal stories told by visiting filmmakers and local storytellers.

Passes and tickets for this year's festival can be purchased by visiting https://www.hsdfi.org.

photo A still from the documentary film "The Mission" shows John Chau walking on the beach in Port Blair, Andamans. Chau was killed by one of the worlds most isolated Indigenous peoples and is the focus of the film. Photo courtesy of National Geographic via the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival. - Submitted photo