Partnership, insurance bring good things to film institute

By Wayne Bryan Published September 9, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Courtney Pledger, interim director of the Hot Springs Documentary Film Institute, is upbeat about the future of the organization’s film festival after an alliance was fashioned with the Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce.

— Having faced perhaps its hardest challenge in its 21 years of existence, the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival is looking at a brighter future and big things ahead under new management and a new partnership forged with the Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce.

“Many people in Arkansas don’t know the impact this festival has in the world of documentary filmmakers,” said Courtney Pledger, interim director of the Hot Springs Documentary Film Institute, which produces the festival. “I believe this festival can hold a place of influence in the region like the Crystal Bridges Museum and the Clinton Library. Filmmakers want their films to be seen here, and they want to see the films we have at the festival.”

This year is the festival will run from Oct. 12-21.

Pledger, from Little Rock, is “on loan” to the Hot Springs

institute from the Arkansas Motion Picture Institute, a nonprofit organization providing leadership in film education and promoting growth in the film industry in the state. She also serves as executive director of the state institute.

“The institute aids the state’s three film festivals: the Little Rock Festival, this one in Hot Springs and the Ozark Foothills Festival,” Pledger said. “The board of the AMPI loaned me here as our first act in helping the festivals.”

Pledger said she is working closely with the new chairwoman of the Hot Springs institute, Susan Alturi, director of marketing and development at the Little Rock Zoo and a part-time filmmaker.

“Susan and I have both loved this festival forever,” Pledger said.

The documentary institute got into financial trouble after purchasing the parking lot next to the Malco Theatre, which is home to the festival. The institute is now around $300,000 in debt and faced foreclosure on the parking property earlier in the year. The troubles caused a split in the organization’s leadership, and a new board was selected in March.

“A lack of leadership has led to a decrease in funding and decrease in support from donors,” Alturi said when the partnership was announced. “It caused a lot of financial trouble to come about for the institute. That is something we are working to change.”

Assisting the documentary institute to keep expenses down and add credibility to the expenses of the festival, the Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce offered help.

“To help with the operational pressure from the expense of having an office in the theater was an easy solution,” said David Byerly, CEO of the Hot Springs Chamber. “We let them have an office here in our offices that saves about $2,000 in utility bills. That was a simple decision that is important to their bottom line.”

Byerly said the office was already there, so it did not cost the chamber of commerce anything. In addition, the chamber has taken on the bookkeeping duties for the institute.

“With the challenged finances, there had been questions about the accounting of the institute,” he said. “Those accounts are now in our accounting system that will bring their handling of finances up to our standards with tight control, formal audits and transparency. It helps build confidence in the community for the institute.”

Keeping up with the bill paying for the festival and the institute will not be a major workload for the chamber accounting office.

“The festival is not real transaction-heavy, except for about 60 to 90 days around the festival,” Byerly said. “It will not be hard for us to reconcile the books.”

The chamber CEO also will have a seat on the documentary institute’s board of directors for the next two years.

“It is a display of our confidence in the board. Our goal is to see that the institute comes out as a sustainable organization,” he said. “We want to help them have an environment where people will want to be on their board.”

Byerly said the agreement will last five years.

He said the chamber is involved in the festival because it is one of the many things about Hot Springs that enhances the quality of life and helps attract new residents and businesses.

“I am excited to be a partner for the festival. It is one of the community’s treasures,” Byerly said. “This is part of the Hot Springs Metro Partnership strategy of supporting the arts as part of the unique character of the city.”

The largest problems came from a storm that struck Hot Springs on Aug. 5, causing extensive damage to the Malco.

“It was a microburst that hit,” Pledger said. “Along with a hole in a wall, we need a new roof, and the theater will need to be recarpeted and get a new ceiling. The seats will need some work, and there was water damage to the projectors.”

However, she said, what might have been a disaster a few years ago could turn out to be a blessing.

“Because of the foresight of the new board, the building had an active insurance policy,” Pledger said. “That will pay for the repairs and work that we wanted to do anyway.”

Pledger said even the damage would not stop the festival from bringing in hundreds of spectators to view documentaries from around the world.

“We will definitely have a festival, and we hope to have the majority of it at the Malco,” she said.

One of the things the festival will not have to worry about is the projectors to run the documentaries.

The Arkansas Motion Picture Institute owns impressive state-of-the-art sound and projection equipment. That actually will up the quality of the presentation for the festival.

Having the festival centered at the Malco Theatre is vital to the festival’s character, Pledger said.

“The Malco is the key image of the festival, as part of what makes Hot Springs unique,” she said. “The historic downtown, Bathhouse Row and the art galleries are a big part of the quality of Hot Springs as a setting for the festival.”

On Aug. 25, the film institute held its first organization meeting for volunteers.

“We have a group of people who never left us and who have worked selflessly for 21 years for the festival,” Pledger said. “We welcomed them back and invited new people with new energy who will be behind all the special events and activities of the festival.”

Pledger said the festival still needs more volunteers and donors that will help fund the festival.

To volunteer to be a part of the festival or to donate to the documentary institute, call (501) 538-2290 or email

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or

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