Students' "world got bigger" at Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival

Release Date: 10/25/2013

(Editor's Note: Dr. Rhonda Shook, assistant professor of communication, recently took one of her classes to the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival. Here is her first-person account of the experience.)

Trey Butler's eyes were enormous. "I feel like my world just got bigger!" he said. I had to smile, because I knew exactly what he meant.

On Friday, October 18, the six students enrolled in my Interviewing in Professional Settings class loaded into an Ozarks van and headed for the 22nd Annual Hot Springs Documentary Film Institute. While there, they conducted interviews with filmmakers, producers, subjects, artists, and business owners. They also watched films. A lot of films.

"Win or Lose," for example, is a documentary by Daniel Koehler. It follows renowned photographer Curtis Brown in his journey to capture people who support marriage equality and are opposed to North Carolina's Amendment On. Daniella Ruiz interviewed Koehler because she was curious about what kind of person could win the 2013 Student Academy Award. She was not disappointed.

Kourtney Risher interviewed Bill and Gail Lennon, cast members of the film "We Always Lie to Strangers." He said he chose them because "the film they were in depicted the very entertaining and intriguing life of Branson entertainers. They were both featured very prominently in the film and gave a lot of insight into what it was like to perform in Branson for a living."

The film Annabel Fidler found most intriguing was "Breaking Through," a documentary which explores the powerful personal stories of elected officials who ran as openly Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transsexual (LGBT) —and won. She chose to interview Cindy Abel (producer/director) and Michael Bruno (editor/director of photography) because theirs was a film from a very different point of view than any other LGBT work she had seen.

Nick Conard took a different approach. He chose to interview a Hot Springs art gallery owner to see how the Documentary Film Festival affected area businesses. That person was Dishongh Scavo, co-owner of Blue Moon Art Gallery. Nick said that interviewing in the gallery had an unforeseen advantage: it made a beautiful backdrop for his on-camera interview. Blue Moon Art Gallery has been in downtown Hot Springs since 1997, and Nick found Scavo incredibly knowledgeable.

Anaeli Rodas knew who she wanted to interview long before she ever left Clarksville.  "In a small cottage on the northern coast of Scotland, Megan Boyd twirled tiny bits of feather and fur, silver and gold into fishing flies that were at once works of art, magical - and absolutely lethal. Wherever men and women cast their lines for the mighty Atlantic salmon, her name is whispered in mythic reverence, and stories about her surface and swirl like fairy tales." Those words were written by Eric Steel about his film "Kiss the Water," and Anaeli was thrilled when he consented to her request to interview him in Hot Springs.

"I honestly felt like I was very privileged to be part of such a small group that was given so many economic and cultural benefits," Rodas said. "In summary, this weekend was a very important learning experience that inspired me to continue writing for my classes now, and to keep learning more about documentaries. I am determined to learn to make those animation effects that were in 'Kiss the Water.' They were beautiful."

Trey Butler was drawn to "The Storykeeper," the story of how René Psarolis took a life-changing event, the 1944 crash of a USAF B-17 over his Paris neighborhood, and assembled the story with a wider view that encompassed the whole truth.  The documentary shows Psarolis' journey as he searches for documents, eyewitness accounts, photographs and details that are the pieces of this puzzle, and fits them together with intricate care, to present these fascinating stories to the families of the crew. Trey knew, early on, that he wanted to interview Psarolis, but it was not meant to be. "The Storykeeper," himself, was in attendance at Hot Springs, but health issues prevented him from being interviewed. Not to be discouraged, Trey instead interviewed the writer, Erin Byrne, and adapted the questions he had prepared to his new interviewee.

I can't express how important this fieldwork was to these students. Putting theory into practice is invaluable, and I have so many people to thank. My university travel budget fell a little short of covering this weekend, but Susan Edens and KUOZ came to the rescue and paid for transportation and food for the students. Tiara Lamb, Treasurer of the Hot Springs Documentary Film Institute, donated 6 Film Buff passes, a $510 value!

Ozarks students stepped out of their comfort zones and  interviewed strangers on a broad range of topics. They employed critical thinking and crafted effective questions. They ran cameras for their classmates and critiqued their own performances. They watched films that provoked them, amused them, amazed them.  They watched as their world got bigger.

Hot Spring Film Festival

Several students from Professor Dr. Rhonda Shook's Interviewing in Professional Settings class spent a recent day working on projects at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival.