The Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival began as a cooperative effort between the Southern Film Alliance and a small group of Hot Springs volunteers in 1992. Academy Award nominated films were shown free of charge to the public in the Historic District of Hot Springs. The pioneer's of this cinematic innovation were Sy Gomberg of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and actor James Whitmore.
Encouraged by the enthusiastic public response the HSDFF was expanded in 1993 and screened 30 documentary films which included a gala fund- raiser featuring James Earl Jones. That year, the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival became a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization.
An audience of more than 5,000 attended the 1994 HSDFF, attracted by Academy Award nominees and winners in a total offering of 31 films. Fourteen leading filmmakers attended the festival, meeting with the audience following screenings of their films and participating in a lecture series. Year by year, the input of the attending filmmakers, helped the HSDFF organizers in establishing high standards of film selection and presentation to the public.
The 1995 HSDFF was attended by more than 10,000 Viewers. By 1996, with the generous donation of theatre equipment by First International Theatres, Inc, and a lease/purchase option with Sidney Nutt, owner of the Malco Theatre property, the HSDFF had its first permanent home. This acquisition provided a solid foundation on which the HSDFF began to build its future and realized the ambitious aims stated in its mission.
History of the Historic Malco Theatre
The Historic Malco Theatre was built on the site of the Princess Theatre which had occupied the location at 817 Central Avenue, Hot Springs from 1910 until it burned on Christmas Eve in 1935. Sidney Nutt, Sr. bought the Princess Theatre from the original owners in 1927.
In 1929, Mr. Nutt updated the Princess to include "talkies", just beginning to make their appearance as replacement of silent motion pictures. After the disastrous fire, Mr. Nutt rebuilt the theatre. It was purchased by the Malco Theatre group and renamed the Malco Theatre. The word "Malco" is an acronym, made from the initials of M. A. Lightman.
It re-opened on February 22, 1946, the Malco Music Hall was known as the showplace of the South with 1140 seats, and had the finest projection and sound equipment. There were two entrances; one on Central Avenue and one on the Broadway side for "Coloreds" who sat in a section of the balcony. The segregated arrangement ended with the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. In researching the Malco for the National Register of Historic Places, it was learned that the "Princess" entrance to the theatre may be one of only 2 in the United States still in existence. In 2010 the Malco Theatre was put on the National Register.
The 30,000 building space to the right of the theatre has three stories; the first floor contains commercial spaces. The second floor was originally occupied by a radio station, KWFC, owned by Clyde Wilson Furniture Company. Directly behind these spaces was a small hotel, which has been empty since the 1940s.
The Malco remained the local cinema showcase until the 1980s. At that time, the Malco was divided into twin theatres. Since the early 1990s it has been the home of the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival as well as the year-round events presented by the Hot Springs Documentary Film Institute.
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“If you want to tell the untold stories, if you want to give voice to the voiceless, youve got to find a language. Which goes for film as well as prose, for documentary as well as autobiography. Use the wrong language, and youre dumb and blind.”
—Salman Rushdie (b. 1948)