Person of Interest: Jennifer Gerber

The Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival’s interim executive director steps into the spotlight

“IF YOU’D ASKED ME a year ago if I was to be doing this, I wouldn’t have imagined it,” says Jennifer Gerber. After all, the Spa City native had spent more than 10 years working as a director in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles before returning home in 2013, immersing herself in the Arkansas film scene and teaching everything from production to screenwriting at the University of Central Arkansas. (Her first feature film, The Revival, which she produced alongside her students at UCA, debuted earlier this year in LA.) Turns out she’s a pretty quick study, though—this year’s Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival is slated to feature more world premieres than it ever has before, with appearances from industry legends such as Werner Herzog and Kathleen Turner. “The whole job just feels like I’m building all these cool experiences that I just can’t wait to share,” she says. “It’s almost like you go Christmas shopping, and you get that amazing gift for somebody, and you just can’t wait until you actually get to give it to them.”

On finding film

“When I first started film school, I think my family was very confused. They were like, You’re not a film person. But I’m a storyteller. So, I just found a way to do that with people in a way that’s really powerful.”

On finding her roots

“At Columbia University, I started—honestly, for the first time—reconnecting to my roots because they’re very focused on writing personal stories that only you can tell. I was the only one from Arkansas, so I had something to talk about that no one else did.”

On stepping into her new role

“I love it for the same reasons that I love making movies in Arkansas, which is there are really special and talented people here, and I get to show off the talent of this state to people that are coming.”

On world premieres

“There’s nothing like getting to screen a movie that’s never been screened before. There’s just something very special [about that]. And for filmmakers, it’s the first time to see it with an audience that’s not their own friends and family. You only get that once.”

Lightning Round

Favorite documentary?

Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man

Guilty pleasure film?

Strictly Ballroom. Whenever I need to feel good, I put that movie on.

Dream actor you’d love to work with?

Kathy Bates

Director you’d most like to have dinner with?

Darren Aronofsky

Favorite theater snack?

Milk Duds! That’s my thing because I feel like they last the whole movie.