Hot Springs Hosts Documentary Fest

Thursday, October 12th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (AP) — A glimpse into the private life of Saddam Hussein. The struggles of a small boy with AIDS. The emotional struggles of a New York woman on her 30th birthday.

The roster at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, which starts Friday, ranges from heartbreaking to hilarious.

``What makes these films so interesting is that you know they are real,'' said festival director Linda Blackburn.

Hot Springs is one of a handful of film festivals in the United States that focus exclusively on documentaries.

``Documentaries usually don't make much money, which is why in many ways we are seen as the stepchild to the rest of the movie industry,'' said Betsy McLane, director emeritus of the International Documentary Association.

``When you think about some filmmaker who has spent five years trying to film a worm in the middle of the Amazon, it's so great for that person to realize there is support out there for their work.''

This year, 90 films were selected from 800 entrants from around the world. The festival runs through Oct. 22 in this Ouachita Mountains town best known for its natural springs and ornate Bathhouse Row.

``When I first heard about Hot Springs, I thought it was a strange place for a festival,'' said Grace Ouchida, interim executive director of the Los Angeles-based International Documentary Association. ``But the location seems in sync with the personalities documentary film attracts, because it is unique.''

The festival opens with ``Pop & Me,'' by twentysomething Chris Roe and his father, Richard, who traveled the world talking to other fathers and sons.

Richard Roe, of Los Angeles, said Hot Springs is important because it gives documentary filmmakers the chance to have their films shown on big screens before large audiences. ``It makes the filmmakers feel good and gives us a chance to shine.''

``Pop & Me'' was named the best feature-length film at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival and the best nonfiction film at the Aspen Film Festival. Roe said, ``Having Pop & Me chosen as the opening film at Hot Springs is by far the biggest honor we have so far.''

Other offerings include ``Travis,'' about Travis Jefferies of the South Bronx, a boy living with AIDS. Travis is expected to attend the festival, as are Soler and Beth Landau, whose film ``Does Life Get Better After 30?'' looks at the search for meaning, optimism and humor associated with getting older.

For ``Uncle Saddam,'' filmmaker Joel Soler smuggled videotapes out of Iraq that show private footage of the Iraqi leader.

The Hot Springs Documentary Film Institute received a $175,000 private grant last year to help buy and renovate the two-screen, 600-seat Malco Theater, a 1930s art deco building it had been leasing.

When the festival began eight years ago, coordinators called filmmakers and begged for permission to show their movies. Ten Academy Award-nominated films were shown that year.

``Each year it just got bigger and bigger, and now people are coming to us because they know about the film festival,'' said festival volunteer Marlys Moodie.