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Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival brings on Ken Jacobson as new Executive Director

By Tammy Reese

The Hot Springs Documentary Film Institute announced that veteran film festival programmer and documentary film influencer Ken Jacobson will be the film festival’s new Executive Director.

The Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, HSDFI’s signature event, has just concluded its 31st annual festival, having returned successfully to a robust in-person 9-day event. This year’s festival also marked its first with the Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort as HSDFF’s presenting sponsor. Jacobson comes on board having established himself, as a leader in the documentary film world thanks to his expertise as a documentary film programmer and through his influential work with leading documentary non-profit organizations, including the International Documentary Association and the American Film Institute.

Regarding the new position, Jacobson said, “When I first assisted on interviews with legendary leaders of the Civil Rights Movement as an intern on the series “Eyes on the Prize II,” I knew, deep down, that I always wanted to return to the South to connect the paths of documentary film and great Southern storytellers. After serving 15 years in the film festival and documentary non- profit worlds, I feel honored and thrilled to be joining Hot Springs Documentary Film Institute as the new Executive Director.”

Jacobson added, “I look forward to working closely with Board Chair Margaret McLarty, the rest of the Board, Festival Director Sheryl Santacruz, the staff, and our many partners to build on the strong foundation of the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival — one of the oldest documentary film festivals in North America — and, through the HSDFI, to expand our year-round programs and national reach. I am especially excited to be relocating to Hot Springs, a thriving arts community with a passion for documentary.”

Hot Springs Board of Directors Chair Margaret McLarty said, "The board and staff of the Hot Springs Documentary Film Institute are thrilled to have Ken join our team. Ken comes to us with a wealth of experience in the documentary film industry. During the interview process we were so impressed with his vision and look forward to working with him as we begin our fourth decade."

One of the top documentary film programmers and a leader in the documentary film world, Jacobson is currently serving as Senior Programmer, Documentary Films at the Sonoma International Film Festival. He has worked as the Documentary Film Programmer at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival (since 2017) and at the DocLands Documentary Film Festival (since 2019). He is also co-creator/co-host (with Michael Merrill) of the podcast “Top-Docs: Award-Winning Documentary Filmmakers” with presenting sponsor Netflix.

Previously, Jacobson was a senior member of the programming team at the American Film Institute (2018-2021) and Director of Educational Programs and Strategic Partnerships at the International Documentary Association (2013-2016). From 2008-2013, he was Documentary Programmer and Programming/Education Outreach Coordinator at the Palm Springs International Film Festival. He has served on numerous festival juries and as a grant reviewer for the NEA, NEH, Sundance Institute, and IDA Enterprise Fund.

Throughout his career, Jacobson has envisioned ways that the documentary field can maximize its potential and has cultivated collaborative partnerships with key stakeholders. At IDA, Jacobson was instrumental in the creation of the Getting Real Documentary Film Conference and in developing the organization’s innovative year-round programs.

For more information on the Hot Springs Documentary Film festival, please visit:


Each year, with the help of a small staff and over 100 dedicated volunteers, Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival attracts thousands of visitors to the 9-day multicultural and intergenerational event. Now concluding its 31st year as the oldest all-documentary festival in North America and one of the longest running non-fiction festivals in the world, the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival remains a prominent champion and protector of the documentary film genre.

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Tammy Reese began her career as a theater actress performing in 60 live stage shows a year with The Media Unit TV and Stage Production Company. She also directed the weekly live TV show Rough Times Live.

Eventually, she went to Empire State College to obtain her degree in media studies. After graduation, she did more theater and wrote and produced her own videos to spread awareness on social issues through the arts.

Tammy is an award-winning journalist and is best known for her legendary interviews with Sigourney Weaver, Meagan Good, Laurence Fishburne, Jackie Long, Omar Epps, Joseph Sikora, Tonya Pinkins, Carmen Electra, Giancarlo Esposito, Leon, Patina Miller, Nelly, RL, Neyo, Bobby V, Geena Davis, Michael James Shaw, Syleena Johnson, Courtney Kemp, Keith Robinson, Janet Hubert, Tom Arnold, Michole Briana White, Matt Cedeño, Raven Goodwin, Amber Riley, Serayah, and many more.

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