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Citizen Ashe by Samuel D. Pollard and Rex Miller
Citizen Ashe by Samuel D. Pollard and Rex Miller

Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival will kick off its 30th edition with the Opening Night presentation of Samuel D. Pollard and Rex Miller’s Citizen Ashe, followed by the Centerpiece Selections of E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin’s The Rescue and CJ Hunt’s The Neutral Ground, with Julie Cohen and Betsy West’s Julia screening on Closing Night.

The 2021 HSDFF Career Achievement Award will honor the prolific and influential documentarian Samuel D. Pollard; the 2021 HSDFF Impact Award celebrates recent Academy Award nominee Garrett Bradley (Time), and this year’s Honorary Chair will be Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences CEO, Dawn Hudson.

“Our thirtieth anniversary program reflects the values we aspire to as a festival. We’re moving into the next thirty years with a renewed vision of documentary creation and the impact documentary filmmaking can have on our world,” said HSDFF Executive Director, Jennifer Gerber. “There is always a heightened energy and anticipation during anniversary years and this year’s films, our stellar trio of honorees, and the panels, events, activities, parties, and more that our staff has put together point to a truly exceptional film festival.”

The festival will mark a return to in-person/in-theater screenings as part of this year’s expansive hybrid approach, and will take place October 8-16.

2021 Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival Official Selections


Citizen Ashe
Directors: Sam Pollard, Rex Miller
Country: USA; Running Time: 95 min

Arthur Ashe is remembered as a pioneer and important human rights activist, but he didn’t start out that way. In the beginning of director Sam Pollard’s new film, Citizen Ashe, the titular subject makes it clear that while he wants to be the “Jackie Robinson of tennis,” he’s plenty happy to just leave it there. Though obviously aware of the difference between himself and the “symphony of white” as he called it, Ashe initially wasn’t interested in being anything other than a successful tennis player. As his star rose, it became clear that being the first comes at a cost regardless of one’s personal desire to keep the focus on the game. Ashe was soon seen as only out for himself compared to other major Black athletes of the day, including the likes of Muhammad Ali and John Carlos. So, despite the additional burden that being a famous and outspoken Black person in the spotlight carries, his evolution as an activist became his defining characteristic. Though his life was tragically cut short, Ashe would move beyond his status as a star athlete and become a hero to more people that he could’ve ever imagined.


Directors: Julie Cohen, Betsy West
Country: USA; Running Time: 95 min

Betsy West and Julie Cohen, the directing team behind the Oscar nominated film, RBG bring another vibrant tale of a woman breaking new ground, not only for her gender, but for her entire industry. Julia Child is known for an array of contributions. Chief among them the creation of the classic cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and the popular TV show, The French Chef. Becoming a TV-star at the age of 50 in a male dominated industry is only one of the biographical details that set Julia Child apart. Her impact on the notion of the celebrity chef cannot be overstated. From her seemingly innate ability to creatively problem solve in the moment, to her infectious joy, it is clear that she was always destined to be a household name. Utilizing television archives, personal correspondence, and interviews with her contemporaries and admirers, Julia is a worthy deep dive into the life of an icon.


The Rescue
Directors: E. Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin
Country: UK; Running Time: 114 min

In 2018, a boys soccer team found themselves trapped in a rapidly flooding cave system. Despite the efforts of multiple governments and a team of professional divers, the boys remained stranded without food, water, or light for weeks. The Rescue looks at the unprecedented undertaking from intense planning sessions to failed attempts to brief moments of triumph. In a departure from their typical up-close-and-personal style, decorated directors E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin detail the rescue effort that dominated global headlines.


The Neutral Ground
Director: CJ Hunt
Country: USA; Running Time: 90 min

In 2015, spurred in part by the murders of nine Black, Charleston church-goers by a white supremacist, New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu spearheaded the removal of four statues originally built to commemorate failed secessionist leaders of the Civil War. In the lead up to the removal, tensions reached a high point in the city, puzzling New Orleans resident, comedian, and filmmaker CJ Hunt. With critical thinking at the forefront of every interaction, Hunt employs knowledge, empathy, and a sense of humor as he works to find out why anyone would support memorializing figures with monstrous histories.


Boulevard! A Hollywood Story
Director: Jeffrey Schwarz
Country: USA; Running Time: 85 min

Two songwriters find themselves caught in an unexpected whirlwind when film icon Gloria Swanson hires them to write a stage musical version of Sunset Boulevard.

The First Step
Director: Brandon Kramer
Country: USA; Running Time: 90 min

What does it cost to accomplish bipartisan reform in Washington, D.C.? Van Jones discovers the price might be higher when you’re a Black man negotiating with the Trump White House.

The First Wave
Director: Matthew Heineman
Country: USA; Running Time: 94 min

This heart wrenching story documents the first four months of the COVID-19 Pandemic in New York City from the eyes of the medical professionals saving lives every day.

Keep the Cameras Rolling
Directors: William T. Horner, Stacey Woelfel
Country: USA; Running Time: 98 min

In 1994, MTV’s iconic show “The Real World” picked seven strangers to live in a house; one of them was HIV/AIDS activist Pedro Zamora.

North by Current
Director: Angelo Madsen Minax
Country: USA; Running Time: 86 min

When a filmmaker begins documenting his family after the shocking death of his infant niece, a complex web of generational trauma slowly emerges in rural Michigan.

Storm Lake
Directors: Jerry Risius, Beth Levison
Country: USA; Running Time: 85 min

Graduation announcements, tractor sales, Pulitzer prize-winning editorials — it’s all vital to the publishers of the locally owned newspaper in Storm Lake, Iowa fighting to keep it running.

Television Event
Director: Jeff Daniels
Country: USA; Running Time: 90 min

A behind-the-scenes account of the making and controversial release of the TV movie The Day After (1983), depicting the fallout of nuclear war on a small Kansas town.

Director: Max Lowe
Country: USA; Running Time: 92 min

Almost 20 years after the death of his father, famed mountaineer Alex Lowe, Max Lowe unearths the personal details behind what became a salacious media story.

Try Harder!
Director: Debbie Lum
Country: USA; Running Time: 85 min

Five talented students attending San Francisco’s top-ranked public high school navigate the stressful and competitive process of college applications, hoping to secure admission to their dream university.

When Claude Got Shot
Director: Brad Lichtenstein
Country: USA; Running Time: 96 min

When an aspiring lawyer is shot by a teenage carjacker, his life is turned upside down as he negotiates crime and punishment as a Black man in the legal system.

Who We Are
Directors: Emily Kunstler, Sarah Kunstler
Country: USA; Running Time: 117 min

Touring the country with his stirring and personal Anti-Black history series, ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jeffery Robinson draws a line from slavery to contemporary times.


The 8th
Directors: Aideen Kane, Lucy Kennedy, Maeve O’Boyle
Country: Ireland; Running Time: 94 min

Irish women fight to repeal the 8th amendment, which criminalized abortions, bolstering some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world.

Director: Eva Orner
Country: Australia; Running Time: 86 min

A history of government inaction on climate change in Australia results in the “Black Summer” of 2019-2020, when 59 million acres burned in uncontrolled bushfires.

Captains of Zaatari
Director: Ali El Arabi
Country: Jordan; Running Time: 73 min

Fawzi and Mahmoud’s dream of becoming professional soccer players finds a flicker of hope when a renowned sports academy visits the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan.

Director: Andrea Arnold
Country: UK; Running Time: 93 min

Set on a British dairy farm, the hardscrabble life of Luma the cow and her newborn calf unfold in this raw and daring observational portrait.

Director: Jonas Poher Rasmussen
Country: Denmark; Running Time: 83 min

What if your friend suddenly revealed their entire life story was a lie told out of necessity? Trace the story of Amin as he endures the extreme in pursuit of sanctuary.

Director: Paola Calvo, Patrick Jasim
Country: Mexico/Germany; Running Time: 93 min

Follow three female wrestlers who decide to take matters into their own hands despite the chaotic and dangerous environment they must live and work within.

The Return: Life After ISIS
Director: Alba Sotorra Clua
Country: Spain/UK; Running Time: 90 min

Seduced by the Islamic State’s propaganda and stuck in Syria, women across North America and Europe call for asylum as citizens of countries that no longer want them.

Seyran Ates: Sex, Revolution and Islam
Director: Nefise Özkal Lorentzen
Country: Norway; Running Time: 81 min

Seyran Ateş is a pioneering Muslim feminist, lawyer, activist, and founder of Germany’s first liberal Mosque advocating for inclusivity, who fights for the radical modernization of Islam.

Soy Cubana
Directors: Jeremy Ungar, Ivaylo Getov
Country: USA; Running Time: 79 min

An all-female Cuban quartet travel to Los Angeles for a music festival on the brink of American/Cuban policy changes from the Trump Administration.


7 Days
Director: Nathan Willis
Country: USA; Running Time: 59 min

Through an empathetic lens, explore the reality of opioid addiction in the heart of the United States.

Director: Dan Chen
Country: USA; Running Time: 92 min

At the TM Landry Prep School in Louisiana, 100% of the students get accepted into college. Could it be too good to be true?

A Good Campaign
Directors: Gerard Matthews, Kathryn Tucker
Country: USA; Running Time: 59 min

It is often said that failure teaches us more than success. Democrat Clarke Tucker may find out if that is true as he runs for Congress in the heart of Trump country.

Broken Wings
Director: Jonathan Sutak
Country: USA; Running Time: 70 min

In Hot Springs, Arkansas, Adonis is a well-known, one-winged member of the community. Caretaker Jayne and her roommate Ann find parallels to Adonis’s story and, perhaps, a path forward.

Forever Majestic
Director: Michael Schwarz
Country: USA; Running Time: 75 min

The Majestic Hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas represents a piece of American history that many long to return to. What obligation does a community have to the past’s place in the popular imagination?

On the Divide
Directors: Maya Cueva, Leah Galant
Country: USA; Running Time: 79 min

Three people connected to the Whole Women’s Health — the last clinic on the US/Mexico border to provide legal abortions — try to balance their faith with the reality of a woman’s right to choose.

Shared Resources
Director: Jordan Lord
Country: USA; Running Time: 98 min

Crafted over a period of five years, a Southern family attempts to move forward after declaring bankruptcy in this self-reflexive examination of debt and disability.

Socks on Fire
Director: Bo McGuire
Country: USA; Running Time: 93 min

A filmmaker crafts a loving, playful ode to his recently passed grandmother as his wildly homophobic aunt and drag queen uncle battle over her estate.

United States vs. Reality Winner
Director: Sonia Kennebeck
Country: USA; Running Time: 93 min

NSA contractor Reality Winner leaks a classified document on Russian interference in the 2016 US Elections sparking a media firestorm and a treason investigation.

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