If the crowd of this year’s Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival came searching for truth, they might have found one on opening night: Corn liquor and Mountain Dew Code Red is a foul, foul combination.

It was served instead of the traditional champagne as a nod to the opening night’s film, “Homemade Hillbilly Jam,” a feature-length documentary about the members of the band Big Smith and the musically gifted Ozarks clan they descend from.


Fortunately, both the film and the band’s performance afterward went down much, much easier than the moonshine.

This year’s festival is the first under new executive director Brenda Hawkes. She already knows one area she wants to focus on: expanding the “institute” aspect of the Hot Springs Documentary Film Institute, the official name of the organization.


“I want to turn it into an institute of learning,” she said.

Hawkes’ background is in administration, fund-raising and community development. But watching her first full-length documentary in a theater this year, “I was just overcome with the magnitude of what I had the possibility to do,” she said.


The opening weekend’s films included the Academy-Award-nominated short documentary “Autism is a World,” a 40-minute portrait of an autistic college student who was believed to be retarded until she learned to communicate at age 13 by pointing out letters on a small keyboard. It’s showing again at 11:55 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 30.

Three of the films nominated for feature-length documentary are also showing this weekend: “The Story of the Weeping Camel,” at 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29; “Tupac: Resurrection” at 8:05 p.m. the same night, and “Twist of Faith,” a look at the Catholic Church’s priest sex abuse scandal, at 10 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 30.

A slew of films with Arkansas connections are on the weekend’s schedule as well. “Off to War: Welcome to Baghdad,” made by two brothers from Little Rock about an Arkansas National Guard unit and the families they left behind when they went to Iraq (1:20 p.m. Saturday); a second screening of “14 Women,” directed by Mary Lambert, sister of Sen. Blanche Lincoln, which explores how the 14 women in the U.S. Senate juggle the responsibilities of everyday life (1 p.m. Sunday), and a day-long program of short films (10:05 a.m. Sunday).

A gala with producers and other moviemakers and their fans starts at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29, at the Arlington Resort Hotel. Tickets are $150; proceeds support the festival.


For more information call 501-327-4747 or visit www.hsdfi.org.