Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival Reveals Lineup For 32nd Edition, Announces Mary Steenburgen As Honorary Chair

EXCLUSIVE: The Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival announced the lineup for the 32nd edition of North America’s longest-running all doc festival, a slate that includes several world premieres and a slew of Academy Award-contending films. In addition, Hot Springs announced Oscar-winning actress Mary Steenburgen, an Arkansas native, will serve as honorary chair of the event in the resort town located in the scenic Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas.

Filmmaker, artist and MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient Sky Hopinka will receive the HSDFF Brent Renaud Career Achievement Award at this year’s festival; Diane Becker and Shane Boris, two of the Oscar-winning producers of Navalny, will earn the Impact Award (their new documentary, King Coal, will screen at Hot Springs on Oct. 10). The festival runs from Oct. 6-14.

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Musician Kishi Bashi, aka Kaoru Ishibashi
Musician Kishi Bashi, aka Kaoru Ishibashi

Among the world premieres happening at HSDFF are A Song Film by Kishi Bashi: Omoiyari, directed by Justin Taylor Smith and Kaoru Ishibashi; Jack Lofton and Jeff Dailey’s The People v. Profits, and Li Lu’s documentary series A Town Called Victoria. A Song Film by Kishi Bashi: Omoiyari “follows the musical journey of multi-talented musician Kishi Bashi as he explores the legacy of Japanese American incarceration during World War II.” Kishi Bashi (the professional name used by co-director Kaoru Ishibashi) will be in attendance at the film festival, HSDFF notes.

John Chau walking on the beach in Port Blair, Andamans.
‘The Mission’

Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project, the Sundance-winning film directed by Michèle Stephenson and Joe Brewster, will serve as the festival’s closing night film. The film about the renowned poet and activist was recently acquired by HBO Documentary Films. (Black Girl’s Play: The Story of Hand Games, a short film directed by Stephenson and Brewster, also will play at Hot Springs). As previously announced, the opening night film is Relentless Ride, directed by Adam Harbottle and Brian Hill. HSDFF’s Centerpiece Selection will be Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss’s The Mission, the National Geographic documentary that premiered earlier this month at Telluride. Scroll for the full HSDFF lineup.

Mary Steenburgen
Mary Steenburgen

Steenburgen, who was born in Newport, Ark., will participate in the Southern Storytellers Screening and Panel, “one of a handful of special events and new initiatives featured at this year’s edition of the film festival,” HSDFF notes. “Other new initiatives include the previously announced Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB)-funded Filmmaker Forum, The Natural State – a new section focused on the environment, outdoor adventure, athletic achievement and the stories and people of Arkansas, a new film series added to the lineup – The Wellness Series, True Stories: A Live Storytelling Event, and a Secret Screening.”

Festival executive director Ken Jacobson said in a statement, “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. In addition, we are incorporating dynamic new programs and events to enrich the audience experience and support the documentary filmmaking community.”

Jacobson added, “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. We are thrilled to be launching these efforts alongside this year’s Honorary Chair, the extraordinary and beloved Arkansan, the multi-talented Mary Steenburgen.”

Arlington Resort Hotel and Spa in Hot Springs, Ark.
Arlington Resort Hotel and Spa in Hot Springs, Ark.

The festival is presented by Oaklawn. With the exception of the opening night film, which will screen at Oaklawn’s Event Center, all festival screenings will take place at the Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa.

The 2023 Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival official selections:

Opening Night

Relentless Ride

Director: Adam Harbottle, Brian Hill

Country: USA; Running Time: 97 min

In their thoroughly gripping documentary Relentless Ride, Arkansas-based filmmakers Adam Harbottle and Brian Hill follow a diverse group of determined bike racers attempting to complete the 2021 Arkansas High Country Race, one of the most challenging rides in the U.S.


The Mission 

Directors: Amanda McBaine, Jesse Moss

Country: USA; Running Time: 103 min

In this gripping cinematic exploration, Emmy-winning filmmakers Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine (Boys State) revisit the story of John Chau, a young American missionary who, in 2018, contacted one of the world’s most isolated Indigenous peoples with tragic consequences.

Closing Night

Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project     

Directors: Michèle Stephenson, Joe Brewster

Country: USA; Running Time:102 min

On the cusp of her 80th birthday, celebrated American poet Nikki Giovanni reflects on her life and the social movements influencing her fifty-year career.

Special Presentation

A Song Film by Kishi Bashi: Omoiyari [world premiere]

Directors: Justin Taylor Smith, Kaoru Ishibashi

Country: Japan; Running Time: 74 min

Crossing the American landscape in search of sites of former concentration camps, multi-talented musician Kishi Bashi undertakes a musical journey to explore the legacy of Japanese American incarceration during World War II, as well as his own identity.

Additional Features

1946: The Mistranslation That Shifted Culture           

Director: Sharon Roggio

Country: USA; Running Time: 92 min

Filmmaker Sharon “Rocky” Roggio explores the provocative thesis that when the word “homosexual” appeared in the 1946 Revised Standard Version of the Bible, it may have been a mistranslation of the original text. Winner, Audience Award, DOC NYC and Outfest LA.

A Disturbance in the Force      

Directors: Jeremy Coon, Steve Kozak

Country: USA; Running Time: 87 min

“The Star Wars Holiday Special” is the variety show George Lucas wishes never saw the light of day. This hilarious documentary exposes the making of the infamous Wookie-filled extravaganza.

A Thousand Pines        

Directors: Sebastian Diaz, Noam Osband

Country: USA; Running Time: 77 min

Trees are everywhere in Arkansas and so, too, are major tree planting operations. In this fascinating glimpse into a largely hidden world, we meet a group of Mexican workers, who, every year, uproot their lives to come north in the hopes of bettering their lives.

All of Our Heartbeats Are Connected Through Exploding Stars         

Director: Jennifer Rainsford

Country: Japan; Running Time: 77 min

Weaving together ruminative natural history vignettes with striking scenes of recovery, All of Our Heartbeats Are Connected Through Exploding Stars is a meditation on humanity’s connection to loss after the 2011 Japanese tsunami.

Art For Everybody       

Director: Miranda Yousef

Country: USA; Running Time: 99 min

Thomas Kinkade’s landscape paintings made him the biggest-selling artist of his day. His idyllic images mirrored a public persona entrenched in faith and family. Yet, after his untimely death, a vault of private paintings shatters his detailed façade, revealing a complex man battling inner demons.

Bad Press        

Directors: Rebecca Landsberry-Baker, Joe Peeler

Country: USA; Running Time: 98 min

When reporter Angel Ellis’ tribe, the Muscogee Nation, repeals free press protection in their media, she is spurred to action to protect the tenets of journalism.

Between Life & Death: Terri Schiavo’s Story   

Director: Nick Capote

Country: USA; Running Time: 89 min

A piercing, thoughtful re-examination of the complex story of Terri Schiavo, whose headline-grabbing right-to-die legal saga and media circus in the early 2000s electrified the nation, forcing Americans to confront the tangled intersection of personal faith and federal policy.

Between the Rains      

Directors: Andrew H. Brown, Moses Thuranira

Country: Kenya; Running Time: 82 min

Kole is a teenage shepherd in a region of Northern Kenya plagued by years of drought. Supported by stunning landscape imagery, Between the Rains explores coming of age in the time of climate change.

Black Barbie: A Documentary

Director: Lagueria Davis

Country: USA; Running Time: 100 min

Released in 1980, Black Barbie was the first time a black fashion doll was given the moniker Barbie. A rousing account of the untold story of how the doll came to market and the various voices behind the project.

Brother Horse

Director: Marcel Barrena

Country: Spain; Running Time: 73 min

Santi Serra is a horse whisperer, training his equine friends to perform in shows worldwide.  But with the pandemic halting public performances, one rescued grey stallion proves to be an unexpected standout.

Confessions of a Good Samaritan       

Director: Penny Lane

Country: USA; Running Time: 105 min

Acclaimed filmmaker Penny Lane (“Listening to Kenny G”, “Our Nixon”) captures her experience as an “altruistic” donor — a living person who donates a kidney to someone they don’t know — to create an intimate portrait examining our donor system and the state of altruism in American society.

Dusty & Stones            

Director: Jesse Rudoy

Country: USA; Running Time: 83 min

Gazi “Dusty” Simelane and Linda “Stones” Msibi — cousins from the tiny African Kingdom of Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) — fall in love with country music, become a polished musical act, and end up making the journey all the way to Nashville and Texas to pursue their unlikely dreams.

Four Daughters           

Director: Kaouther Ben Hania

Countries: France, Saudi Arabia, Germany; Running Time: 107 min

Winner of the L’Oeil D’or prize at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, this fascinating hybrid weaves documentary and stylized fiction to explore the shocking story of a Tunisian matriarch whose two eldest daughters suddenly go missing.

Going Varsity in Mariachi       

Director: Alejandra Vasquez & Sam Osborn

Country: USA; Running Time: 104 min

The wonders of regional Mexican folk-music are celebrated by a team of passionate high school musicians in South Texas who rehearse year-round to battle it out in the world of competitive scholastic mariachi.


Director: Ibrahim Nash’at

Country: USA; Running Time: 91 min

Filmmaker Ibrahim Nash’at is granted terrifying access to document the high-ranking Taliban inner circle as they begin to take over a former US military base in Kabul in this chilling eye-witness account.


Directors: Silvia Del Carmen Castaños & Estefanía “Beba” Contreras

Country: USA; Running Time: 78 min

Set in a sweltering Texan border town, two rebellious best friends, Beba and Silvia, fight passionately against the systems working to control their lives, bodies, and citizenship — all while enjoying the dog days of summer.

It’s Only Life After All  

Director: Alexandria Bombach

Country: USA  Running Time: 123 min

A heartwarming music doc celebrating the legacy of the Americana folk duo Indigo Girls. It’s Only Life After All intertwines forty years of home movies, interviews, and performances to craft a charming look into a group that feels more like a movement than simply a band.


Director: Emily Sheskin

Country: USA; Running Time: 90 min

Jesselyn “JessZilla” Silva, a three-time national junior boxing champion, is on the cusp of making the U.S. Olympic team. When life takes an unthinkable turn, she is forced to redefine what it means to fight.

King Coal         

Director: Elaine McMillion Sheldon

Country: USA; Running Time: 79 min

A sensitive portrait of a community and culture defined by industry, King Coal showcases the beauty of the coal region of Appalachia through the eyes of an inquisitive child.

La Lucha                      

Director: Violeta Ayala

Country: Bolivia; Running Time: 89 min

Traversing the Andes on foot and in wheelchairs, a group of disabled activists make their way across Bolivia, on a quest to garner support from the government in the form of a pension.

Let the Canary Sing     

Director: Allison Ellwood

Country: USA  Running Time: 96 min

When Cyndi Lauper exploded onto the pop music scene in the 1980s, her distinctive voice and style became instantly recognizable. But there is so much more to the story. Alison Ellwood’s intimate portrait paints Lauper’s “true colors”.


Director: Elan Golod

Country: USA; Running Time: 79 min

For the past 70 years, artist Nathan Hilu has illustrated his experiences guarding Nazi war criminals during the Nuremberg trials. Now 90, his urgency to share his story and solidify his legacy increases, but can his waning memories be trusted?

One With the Whale   

Directors: Peter Chelkowski, Jim Wickens

Country: USA, United Kingdom, Portugal; Running Time: 83 min

In this striking coming-of-age story, Chris Apassingok is a typical American teenager, except in one way: to feed his family and Indigenous Alaskan community, he must venture into the icy Bering Sea to hunt for whales.

Open Heart                 

Director: Jonathan Hock

Country: USA; Running Time: 75 min

New York Rangers’ star goalie Henrik Lundqvist had become so popular with New Yorkers that he was known simply as King Henrik. But when the King is diagnosed with a potentially fatal heart condition, he suddenly is forced to face his own mortality.


Director: Jude Chehab

Country: Lebanon; Running Time: 93 min

Lebanese American filmmaker Jude Chehab’s evocative debut boldly turns her camera on her own mother — an enigmatic woman who has spent decades fervently devoted to a mysterious all-female religious order.


Director: Frank Marshall

Country: USA; Running Time: 95 min

The life, work and legacy of broadcast journalist and news anchor Dan Rather is chronicled in this stirring portrait charting his rise to national prominence at CBS through to his stunning public downfall and surprising come back.

Razing Liberty Square 

Director: Katja Esson

Country: USA; Running Time: 86 min

When the effects of climate change threaten the affluent Miami Beach area, developers invest in Liberty City — a historically Black community outside the floodplains. Despite promising to bring the long-underserved community economic growth, investors’ vision of progress may result in residents’ displacement and permanently alter the city’s culture.

Sex with Sue    

Director: Lisa Rideout

Country: Canada; Running Time: 90 min

Sex With Sue is a fitting tribute to trailblazing Canadian radio and TV personality Sue Johanson, nurse turned sex educator. Her approachable persona and comedic attitude have demystified sex for millions.

Silver Dollar Road       

Director: Raoul Peck

Country: USA; Running Time: 100 min

In North Carolina, land developers exploit legal loopholes to claim family properties passed down for generations without a will. But when the Reels family refuses to relinquish the land, they’ve owned for over a century, it sparks a decades-long battle with a developer intent on acquiring their waterfront property. Silver Dollar Road, directed by Academy Award®-nominated director Raoul Peck (I’m Not Your Negro), is a biting exploration of a legal system turning a blind eye to predatory practices that have contributed significantly to Black Americans’ rapid land loss and the resulting economic disparity.

Smoke Sauna Sisterhood         

Director: Anna Hints

Country: Estonia; Running Time: 89 min

An intimate glimpse into the bathing rituals of a group of women in southern Estonia. Seeking refuge in a smoke sauna, the women can share their deepest secrets while finding strength and safety in the sanctity of female companionship.

Songs of Earth

Director: Margreth Olin

Country: Norway; Running Time: 90 min

A film as gorgeously made as the breathtaking Norwegian landscape that it depicts, filmmaker Margreth Olin embraces the inescapable reality that the time she has left to spend with her beloved, aging parents is rapidly slipping away.

Stamped From the Beginning

Director: Roger Ross Williams

Country: USA; Running Time: 94 min

From Academy Award-winning director Roger Ross Williams (“Music by Prudence, “Life Animated”), Stamped From the Beginning is a thoughtful and candid examination of the origin, evolution, and continued impact of racist anti-Black narratives on American policy and culture.

Story & Pictures By     

Director: Joanna Rudnick

Country: USA; Running Time: 84 min

The colorful, luminous world of children’s picture books takes center stage in this richly creative look at the past, present, and future of this uniquely specific and highly essential art form.

Thank You Very Much

Director: Alex Braverman

Country: USA; Running Time: 99 min

Will the real Andy Kaufman please step forward? Peeling back the layers of this fascinating, brilliant, and often misunderstood comedian, filmmaker Alex Braverman shows us all over again why Andy Kaufman matters. Winner, Best Documentary, Venice International Film Festival.

The Disappearance of Shere Hite       

Director: Nicole Newnham

Country: USA; Running Time: 116 min

Considered “a sexual revolution in 600 pages,” The Hite Report is one of the bestselling books in history. It spurred a cultural phenomenon upon release, but what became of its author, Shere Hite?

The Echo          

Director: Tatiana Huezo

Country: Mexico, Germany; Running Time: 103 min

Tucked away in the rolling hills and pastures of Mexico, three close-knit rural farming families search for hope and contend with the land while living in an enigmatic village mysteriously named “The Echo.” Winner, Berlinale Documentary Film Award.

The Gullspång Miracle            

Director: Maria Fredriksson

Country: Sweden, Norway, Denmark; Running Time: 109 min

Two pious sisters begin to unravel a long-held family secret when a divine sign leads them to purchase an apartment from a woman who looks identical to their deceased sister.

The Hidden Power of Purpose

Director: Elliot V. Kotek

Country: USA; Running Time: 72 min

It is the rare documentary that presents compelling personal stories and highly practicable information. Elliot Kotek’s inspiring film asks, “What does it mean to live a life driven by purpose?” Warning: you may leave the screening with a renewed sense of purpose yourself.

The People v. Profits [World Premiere]

Directors: Jack Lofton, Jeff Dailey

Country: USA; Running Time: 97 min

Arkansas filmmaker Jack Porter Lofton’s revelatory new documentary does something amazing: it gets you all fired up about… tort law. Go behind-the-scenes with the hotshot lawyers who are taking on some of the world’s biggest corporations and find out what’s at stake for all of us.

The Pigeon Tunnel      

Director: Errol Morris

Country: United Kingdom; Running Time: 92 min

Academy Award® winner Errol Morris delves into the life and career of former British spy David Cornwell — better known as John le Carré — author of such classic espionage novels as “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold” and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”.

The Tuba Thieves        

Director: Allison O’Daniel

Country: USA; Running Time: 93 min

This groundbreaking debut by d/Deaf filmmaker Alison O’Daniel follows an odd case of tubas being stolen from high schools across Southern California. O’Daniel deploys a fascinating form of captioning like you’ve never seen before, reorienting the viewer to sound in a thrilling new way.

Your Fat Friend            

Director: Jeanie Finlay

Country: USA; Running Time: 96 min

Don’t call her big boned. Aubrey Gordon is a writer, activist, and podcast host. And she’s fat. Aubrey started the Twitter account “Your Fat Friend” to bring awareness to anti-fat biases and advocate for equity. With its authentic and often humorous tone, “Your Fat Friend” becomes a phenomenon for the ages.

Documentary Series

A Town Called Victoria [World Premiere]

Director: Li Lu

Country: USA; Running Time: 164 min

After a mosque is burned to the ground in a small Texas town, residents rally to support the local Muslim community. But is this an inspiring news story or something far more nuanced and complicated? This intricately woven, fascinating 3-part docuseries tells the full story.

Short Films

Baseball Behind Barbed Wire [World Premiere]

Director: Yuriko Gamo Romer

Country: USA; Running Time: 32min

Between Earth & Sky  

Director: Andrew Nadkarni

Country: USA; Running Time: 25 min

Big Buffalo Golden Gals          

Director: Misty Langdon

Country: USA; Running Time: 20 min

Black Ag          

Director: Andy Sarjahani

Country: USA; Running Time: 12 min

Black Girl’s Play: The Story of Hand Games    

Directors: Joe Brewster, Michèle Stephenson

Country: USA; Running Time: 18 min

Boca Chica                  

Directors: Ái Vuong, Samuel Díaz Fernández

Country: USA; Running Time: 13 min

Breaking Silence          

Directors: Amy Bench, Annie Silverstein

Country: USA; Running Time: 18 min

By Water         

Director: Iyabo E. Kwayana

Country: Singapore; Running Time: 12 min

Camp Courage

Director: Max Lowe

Country: USA; Running Time: 31 min

Cash Crop

Director: Lorenzo Dickerson

Country: USA; Running Time: 11 min

Chicken Stories            

Director: Jonathan Pickett

Country: USA; Running Time: 17 min

Echoes of the Rio                    

Director: Jackie Barragan

Country: USA; Running Time: 8 min

For The Record            

Director: Heather Courtney

Country: USA; Running Time: 35 min

Goodbye, Morganza   

Director: Devon Blackwell

Country: USA; Running Time: 16 min

In Exile             

Director: Nathan Fitch

Country: USA; Running Time: 11 min

Joe Barry Carroll         

Director: Ethan Payne

Country: USA; Running Time: 9 min

Liturgy of anti-tank obstacles

Director: Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk

Country: Ukraine; Running Time: 12 min

Love, Jamie     

Director: Karla Murthy

Country: USA; Running Time: 20 min


Director: Master Sterling

Country: USA; Running Time: 10 min


Director: Anthony Sneed

Country: USA; Running Time: 11 min

Myth and The Art of Maintenance     

Director: Ian Frank

Country: USA; Running Time: 13 min

Nǎi Nai & Wài Pó (Grandma & Grandma)      

Director: Sean Wang

Country: USA; Running Time: 17 min

Nina & Irena   

Director: Daniel Lombroso

Country: USA; Running Time: 22 min

Parker Sharon 

Directors: Liese Hohhman, Catherine Hoffman

Country: USA; Running Time: 13 min


Director: Jessica Bishopp

Countries: United Kingdom, Iceland; Running Time: 20 min

Quilted Education       

Director: Kayla Robinson

Country: USA; Running Time: 10 min

Really Good Friends    

Director: Adam Sekuler

Country: USA; Running Time: 10 min


Director: Zaire Love

Country: USA; Running Time: 17 min

Slower Animals           

Director: John C Kelley

Country: USA; Running Time: 7 min

Sunflower Siege Engine          

Director: Sky Hopinka

Country: USA; Running Time: 12 min

The Arkansas Accent Project   

Director: Ben Corbett

Country: USA; Running Time: 27 min

The Bear Coast            

Director: Andrew Ackerman

Country: USA; Running Time: 17 min

The Crawfish Trap       

Director: Nathan Willis

Country: USA; Running Time: 6 min

The Last Repair Shop  

Directors: Ben Proudfoot, Kris Bowers

Country: USA; Running Time: 39 min

The Right to Joy          

Directors: Jay Melena, Tim Kressin

Country: USA; Running Time: 20 min

Under G-D       

Director: Paula Eiselt

Country: USA; Running Time: 24 min

Waking Up In Silence  

Directors: Mila Zhluktenko, Daniel Asadi Faezi

Countries: Germany, Ukraine; Running Time: 18 min

Well Worn Life with Dani Reyes-Acosta          

Director: Daniel Mitchell

Country: USA; Running Time: 6 min

Will You Look at Me    

Director: Shuli Huang

Country: China; Running Time: 20 min

You Can’t Shrink Love  

Director: Veena Rao

Country: USA; Running Time: 6 min

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