Photography by Dero Sanford
Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival celebrates its 25th anniversary this year with special guests and films to delight an array of cultural preferences. When it was established, the festival gained recognition as the first of its kind, making it a premier international destination event for film enthusiasts. The festival continues to attract more than 10,000 attendees annually, including film aficionados, filmmakers and celebrities who enjoy and participate in a variety of documentary films and related activities.
The festival wouldn’t be possible without its dedicated volunteers, notes Executive Director Courtney Pledger. As this year’s chairman and a beloved Hot Springs resident, Don Gooch shares his charisma and adoration of his community – offering true Southern hospitality – he makes visitors to the Spa City feel welcome and appreciated.
“Don is one of those rare combinations of business acumen, artistic talent, instinct and compelling personality that make him invaluable to our efforts,” Courtney says. “Add to that his passion for the festival, and he is the ideal chairman as we take Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival to the next level and beyond.”
When he moved to Hot Springs as community bank president for Arvest Bank, the bank was already a major sponsor of the festival, Don says. “Dexter Doyne introduced me to this fascinating organization. In 2012 Dorothy Morris asked me to consider joining the board of directors. Working with Courtney Pledger and Megan Baker has been highly enjoyable.”
Don’s favorite thing about the film festival is its thought provoking nature and the variety of topics it highlights. “Attendees can go in with a mission to watch films about a certain subject or they can just let the film roll and be exposed to big ideas from around the world. The stories that are told at the festival can change lives.”
This year, he looks forward to celebrating the enduring love of the silver screen with the festival’s silver anniversary. “As an amateur musician, I think it would be super cool to play Let it Be for Freda Kelly, secretary and friend of the Beatles who will be here at the festival for a screening of Good Ol’ Freda.”
Something that may surprise readers about the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival is that it is an Oscar-qualifying festival, Don notes. “This year there are nearly 1,500 submissions from over 80 different countries.”