September 26, 2003
Ken Burns, More Than 80 Films Set for Spa City Documentary Fest
By Jim Taylor, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism
HOT SPRINGS -- For 10 days each autumn, the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival turns its hometown, an historic spa city nestled amidst the Ouachita Mountains in Arkansas, into the center of the documentary film universe. This year's event will include, for example, personal appearances and a new film by America's best known documentary filmmaker, Ken Burns, and showings of the controversial film that took home this year's Academy Award for best feature-length documentary, Michael Moore's "Bowling for Columbine."
As much as its headliners, though, it is the festival's scope that has contributed to its solid and growing reputation. In all, the 12th annual festival to run from Oct. 24-Nov. 2 will bring together more than 80 documentaries, works from a genre most commercial theaters seldom, if ever, exhibit. The festival, to be held at the Malco Theater at 817 Central Ave., will represent the efforts of filmmakers from the U.S. and more than a dozen other countries. And, as in previous years, numerous filmmakers will be on hand taking questions from audiences after screenings of their films.
A sampling of the films scheduled for this year yields such diverse topics as the deadliest hurricane in U.S. history, the gentrification of an East Village block in New York City, cheetahs, the wild horses of North America, declining ocean fisheries, Delta bluesman David "Honeyboy" Edwards, Elvis Presley's 1970 White House meeting with then-President Richard Nixon, Scottish "landscape sculptor" Andy Goldsworthy, German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Alzheimer's disease, an Indian village doomed by a dam, the desegregation of public schools in Hoxie, Ark., taxidermy, journalist P.J. Sainath of India, and the world of custom-made hairpieces.
In addition to the Oscar-winning "Bowling for Columbine," this year's Academy Award winner for best short documentary, "Twin Towers," will also be shown. In "Bowling for Columbine," Moore examines violence in America, while "Twin Towers" is a 34-minute film about a Harlem-based crew of New York City emergency personnel who were among the first responders to the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Other 2003-nominated films in the Oscar categories of feature and short documentaries are also on the festival agenda.
Burns, whose credits include the much-acclaimed films "The Civil War," "Baseball" and "Jazz," all of which were broadcast on national public television, will be the keynote speaker at the festival's formal gala on Nov. 1 at the Arlington Hotel. The event will begin with a reception at 6 p.m., followed by dinner at 7 p.m., after which Burns will speak. Tickets are $150 each and should be reserved in advance, since the event is expected to sell out. Proceeds benefit the programs of the Hot Springs Documentary Film Institute, including the annual festival.
For the festival's grand finale on Nov. 2, Burns is scheduled to take audience questions following 3:10 and 4:10 p.m. screenings of his latest film, "Horatio's Drive: America's First Road Trip." He is also scheduled that day for a book signing from 11 a.m. to noon at Gallery Central at 800 Central Ave. and for a 2 p.m. appearance at the festival's filmmaking workshop.
The festival will begin with a 6 p.m. champagne and popcorn reception at the Malco on Oct. 24, after which Harry Thomason, co-producer of the television series "Designing Women" and "Evening Shade," will premiere segments of his not-yet-completed film "Hunting the President." The film deals with efforts to discredit former President Bill Clinton and is based on the book of the same name authored by Little Rock writer Gene Lyons and Joe Conason. Admission to the opening night events is free.
Attending the festival can be as simple as walking into the Malco and contributing $4 to see a film. Perusing the schedule and film descriptions in the festival program, however, one is almost certain to want to see more. There's plenty of opportunity: screenings most days run from morning into evening on the theater's two screens. A pass good for all films shown on a given day is available for a suggested donation of $12, while three-day ($30) and festival (all 10 days for $60) passes are also available.
A complete schedule of festival events, including screening times and film synopses, will be available prior to the event on the institute's Web site, www.docufilminst.org. For additional information on the festival, including the purchase of gala tickets and information about the workshop, phone the institute at (501) 321-4747 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on Hot Springs lodging, restaurants and other attractions, visit www.hotsprings.org or phone toll-free 1-800-SPA-CITY.
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