OnFilm ongoing: A personal preview of the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival

October 5, 2014

I intend to be all over the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival this year.

To tell the truth, it hasn’t always been that way. There have been times in the past when it seemed like the festival was about things other than the movies and the people who make them and love them. There have been times in the past when I couldn’t perceive any logic in the programming, when things seemed disorganized and — to be honest — sort of bush league. The financial challenges the festival’s faced over the years has ben well-documented and there have been times when it’s been in jeopardy. There have been crisies of leadership, and moments of doubt.diyf_hsdff2014_header

But — and this is non-Alanis ironic — since the near destruction of what a lot of people perceived as the festival’s prime asset — the historic Malco Theater on Central Avenue — by a microburst during an August 2012 storm, the festival has undergone a genuine renaissance. After it became clear that the Malco wouldn’t be ready for the October festival, festival organizers approached Arlington Hotel general manager Bob Martorana about using the hotel’s ballrooms as the main screening venues. I was a little dubious about this, but it worked wonderfully well. As I saw for myself last year, the ballrooms functioned really well as screening rooms, with no projection or sound issues. It represents a real upgrade from the Malco, which had been a fiscal albatross fot the HSDFF for years.

There will be a more extensive preview of the festival, written by the estimable Cheree Franco, in Tuesday’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. But in the days leading up to the festival I’ll look at some of the films I’ve seen and recommended. Here’s the first instal;lment.

Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me — The opening night film (6:30 p.m. Friday) reminds me more than a little of the superb documentray on Roger Ebert Life Itself in it refusal to turn away from the heard truth of celebrity sunset. I have been asked — well, I agreed — not to say too much about this film in advance of its theatrical opening later this month, so I’ll just say that it’s a worthy opening night film, that comingles glamor and sadness. I’m just glad I got to see Campbell’s show in Little Rock on his final tour.

An Honest Liar — I caught this remarkably twisty bio-pic of magician/debunker/rational person James “The Amazing” Randi at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year. I consider myself a fan of Randi’s, who might be best understood as a precursor to (and mentor of) Penn & Teller. I remember his appearances on the Tonight SHow in the ’70s, and his exposes of the spoon bending Uri Geller and the evangelist Peter Popoff. But this film surprised me. It screens Saturday, Oct. 11 at 5:20 and Tuesday Oct. 14 at 2:10 PM.

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