Documentary daze 

Hot Springs’ film festival is as dizzyingly packed with great films as ever.

By Fritz Brantley and Lindsey Millar

Reason number 14 that, despite out-of-state opinion, we live in a culturally progressive area: the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival. One of the country's most vibrant, the festival annually brings in dozens of documentaries of all stripes from around world. This year's theme, “Passport to Open Minds,” reflects a special push for diversity, incisive material and controversial subject matter.

The festival kicks off Friday night and runs through the following weekend. (You might consider playing hooky from work sometime next week.) Below we preview the 15 films we're especially charged to see. On page 26 we outline the Arkansas-related docs, and on page 27, we give you the first half of the festival's schedule. Go watch something.

“American Music: Off the Record”

Come for the discussion on the corporatized world of music production and distribution, stay for the celebrities! Led by Noam Chomsky and Douglas Rushkoff, “American Music: Off the Record” takes viewers on a tour through the paradox of the “music industry” — the industrial production of an art form — and finds some disquieting facts. Along the way, we meet Mission of Burma, David Allan Coe, Sonic Youth and other musicians who have found their own, idiosyncratic ways through the sweatshop stage of the capitalistic arts.


During the early 20th century, when Jim Crow still ruled, dozens of cities and towns banished entire black populations virtually overnight. Churches were dynamited, homes were burned and blacks were threatened, shot at and, in some cases, lynched. Veteran documentarian Marco Williams traces the legacy of the sad chapter of history by interviewing descendants of the displaced families and revisiting three of the communities that forcibly removed their black residents — Pierce City, Miss.; Harrison, Ark., and Forsyth County, Ga., all of which remain all-white.

“Born in the Honey”

n Ninety-three-year-old Pinetop Perkins is one of the last of the blues greats. The hour-long documentary traces Perkins from his days on the Honey Island Plantation in Belzoni, Miss., to his present-day life in Austin, Texas. With interviews with contemporaries like Bobby Rush, Ike Turner, Taj Mahal and more, “Honey” offers a rare portrait of the struggles and triumphs of the world-famous piano man.

“The Devil Came on Horseback”

In 2004, a ceasefire was declared in a Sudanese civil war, but the killings never stopped. Former Marine Capt. Brian Steidle witnessed endless atrocities, was taken hostage, and found himself unable to intervene in the defense of the defenseless as a United Nations military observer. Frustrated by the inaction of global peacekeeping forces, he took his findings to the court of public opinion. Through his harrowing photographs, he returned to the U.S. to start a highly publicized peace movement.

“Dispensing Cannabis: The California Story”

One state is offering a unique test case in the battle over marijuana. California grants medical dispensations of marijuana, even in the face of a Supreme Court ruling allowing federal prosecution for possession and distribution. Strange bedfellows have been made in the fight to keep pot on the streets: heavy smokers like NORML, patient advocacy groups like ACT UP, traditional research scientists and an increasingly weird set of celebrities (Montel Williams? Rick Steves?). Ann Alter, a professor at Humboldt State University, has chronicled this fight with an admitted slant. “We are not trying to present a balanced view on the legitimacy of medical cannibis. The legitimacy is assumed in the documentary.”

“Fighting Cholitas”



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