By Michael McCray – Oct. 22, 2022 – Once a respite for gangsters during prohibition, Hot Springs is a destination for documentary film lovers. Hollywood descended on Arkansas for the 31st Annual Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival (HSDFF) this week. HSDFF had an auspicious beginning in 1991 with the screening of 10 Academy Award-nominated documentary films. This Academy Award qualifying event presented five U.S. premiere and seven global premiere documentaries. In addition, eager festival goers experienced some of the very best amenities that Arkansas has to offer, including Lake Hamilton, racing/gambling nostalgia, and a national park.
Steeped in history, mineral baths and gangster memorabilia, opening night included a film screening, panel discussion, and the career achievement award presentation to the late Brent Renaud, who died covering the war in Ukraine. HSDFF renamed its career achievement award to recognize this Arkansas favorite son. Brent has spent the past two decades producing films and television programs with his brother, Craig.
The Renaud brothers’ work has won many top awards in television and journalism, including a Peabody Award, two Columbia DuPont Awards, two Overseas Press Club Awards, an Edward R. Murrow Award, an IDA Award, a DGA nomination for Best Directors and multiple Emmy nominations. Their films have also received critical acclaim in Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, Forbes, USA Today, the New York Times, Filmmaker Magazine, the Los Angeles Times and American Cinematographer.
The Renaud Brothers are best known for telling humanistic stories from the World’s hot spots. Their projects have covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the earthquake in Haiti, political turmoil in Egypt and Libya, the fight for Mosul, extremism in Africa, cartel violence in Mexico, and the youth refugee crisis in Central America. Craig and Brent also founded the Little Rock Film Festival and the Arkansas Motion Picture Institute.
In addition, the HSDFF also announced a new presenting sponsor, Oakland Casino & Resort, which proclaimed a three-year commitment to support the film festival. The opening night reception/party was held at the event center at the new resort facility. This year’s festival run/program was tremendous. However, we were most interested in the festival itself, as an Arkansas-based film festival. Mario Troncoso, an industry expert, described various Arkansas-based film festivals, i.e., Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, Bentonville Film Festival, Rogers Short Film Festival, Fayetteville Film Fest, and Little Rock Film Festival.
Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival
The Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival (HSDFF) is the longest-running and perhaps most influential and prestigious Arkansas-based film festival. HSDF is one of only 38 festivals worldwide that has been designated an Oscar-qualifier in the category of Documentary Short Subject by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Actor James Whitmore attended the first event and spoke of a bright future for HSDFF.
Rogers Short Film Festival
The Rogers Short Film festival lets you compete against your peers in categories based on your experience and budget. Beginning filmmakers can watch their films screened at the dazzling Victory Theater and explore the entertainment district in historic downtown Rogers. It’s a non-stop weekend filled with screenings, networking, workshops, food, music, and entertainment.
Fayetteville Film Fest
The Fayetteville Film Fest, now in its fourteenth year, is an advocate for films and filmmakers as they enter the marketplace. FFF offers a full schedule of panels and other events to complement the film screenings. In addition, FFF is committed to expanding and supporting filmmaker relationships and sister festivals throughout the state. FFF is an artistic festival with market potential that strives to establish a unique personality so the festival audience can have a memorable experience.
Little Rock Film Festival LRFF was founded in 2005 by Little Rock natives and documentary filmmakers Brent and Craig Renaud, along with Owen Brainard and Jamie Moses, to promote the film industry in Arkansas. The first three years of the Little Rock Film Festival (LRFF) screened more than 250 films from three dozen countries, conducted filmmaking workshops, held panels with industry leaders, and hosted notable actors, directors, and producers from around the globe. The LRFF devoted screenings and programs specifically for southern and Arkansas films. In 2010, Movie Maker Magazine included the Little Rock Film Festival on its annual list of The Top 25 Film Festivals “worth the entry fee.” The magazine cited prize money, distribution opportunity, and a chance to be a part of a large event. In addition, LRFF hosted parties, panels, workshops, and youth programs for aspiring filmmakers. LRFF ran for nearly a decade.
Mario Troncoso said he believed that the Little Rock Film Festival (LRFF) waned as Brent and Craig Renaud got more documentary film assignments working for Vice [channel] and did not have the time or interest to continue the festival. Tragically, a bullet entered Brent’s neck in Ukraine. It had come in a fusillade from the roadside, which sounds like an ambush. Putin’s troops had been targeting journalists. And Brent, as the first American they killed, became a story himself. “My brother Brent Renaud died giving a voice to those in need. His story should be told too,” said Craig Renaud
Bentonville Film Festival
The Bentonville Film Foundation, in collaboration with founding partner, Walmart, and presenting sponsor, Coca-Cola, announced narrative, documentary, short film, and episodic selections premiering in-person at the 2022 Bentonville Film Festival’s competition program. The annual festival is a globally recognized platform amplifying female, non-binary, LGBTQIA+, BIPOC, and people with disabilities voices in entertainment. Clearly, several film festivals are thriving in Northwest Arkansas.