The first Bentonville Film Festival aims to celebrate diversity in the movie industry and to raise awareness about just how far there is still left to go in achieving parity on the big screen.
Film festivals, like the films they screen, need the right leading actor to really work. The first Bentonville Film Festival (BFF), which will champion women and diversity in the movie industry, has that box checked in the form of co-founder and festival chair Geena Davis, a Hollywood veteran and advocate for diversity in cinema.
Scheduled for May 5 to 9, the festival will screen 50 to 75 films submitted by a wide range of producers from major studios to independent filmmakers. The goals of the festival are commercially focused, with the intent of raising capital to fund the development of films that celebrate diversity in American filmmaking.
Appropriately, Davis is known for her portrayal of strong female characters who push societal boundaries and break down stereotypes. She has played the president of the United States, a professional baseball player and an open-minded adoptive mother. Off-screen, she founded The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media to address what she believed was a level of representation of women and minorities in film that did not reflect the actual demographics of our society.
The institute’s research has shown there is only one female character for every three male characters in media aimed at family audiences. The institute is concerned that the repetitive viewing patterns of children ensure that negative stereotypes will become ingrained and imprinted through long-term exposure. Its work has been successful in bringing the issue to production companies and studios around the country with positive results.
In addition to showcasing diversity in film, the BFF is a place to make cross-industry connections to further support the diversity and gender-equality initiatives of the entertainment industry and the event’s corporate sponsors, Davis said.
“BFF is about connecting incredible artists, filmmakers and entertainment industry leaders with influential companies such as Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, Kraft and AMC Theaters that already have solid initiatives in support of women and diversity,” she said.
The films featured at the festival screenings will focus on mass audience appeal with a nod toward family-friendly themes and ratings. In fact, the requirements listed on the event’s website specifically state that submissions must be limited to films that would fall within the ratings of G, PG and PG-13 on the ratings scale published by the MPAA, or Motion Picture Association of America. Films are also required to portray women and minorities in a positive light and to deliver entertainment with an inspirational tone. The festival is also soliciting original screenplays to be judged for an award called “The Dernsie,” presented by actor Bruce Dern.
The films that win the categories of Best of Show/Audience Award, Jury Selection Winner and Best Family Film will receive a 25-screen distribution agreement from AMC Theatres, making BFF the only film festival in the world to offer guaranteed theatrical release to its winners. Additional participation awards will be given to films in four other categories: Best Documentary, Best Ensemble, Best Protagonist and Highest Diversity Score. Winners will be recognized at an awards show hosted by Davis.
Davis and festival co-founder Trevor Drinkwater, CEO of ARC Entertainment, put together a board of advisors for the festival that spans a wide variety of film and corporate backgrounds, some of whom will attend screenings and participate in community-based panel discussions during the festival.
Some of the heavy-hitters on the list include Axel Cabellero, executive director, National Association of Latino Independent Producers; Michelle Ebanks, president, Essence Communications Inc. and People en Espanol; Emilio Estevez, actor, writer and producer; Elizabeth Frank, executive vice president and chief content and programming officer, AMC Entertainment Inc.; Julianne Moore, Oscar-winning actress; Soledad O’Brien, award-winning journalist, documentarian, news anchor and producer; Jon Patricof, president and COO, Tribeca Enterprises; Gil Robertson, co-founder and president, African American Film Critics Association; and Nina Tassler, chairwoman, CBS Entertainment.
Beyond the one-week event in May, the Bentonville Film Festival will partner with the institute to create a complete calendar of events to be held at universities and colleges around the country, aimed at promoting women and minority filmmakers, talent and financiers. According to a press release from the institute, the festival will provide ongoing, turnkey mass distribution opportunities for women and minority-owned production companies, independent filmmakers and distributors.
In the release, Davis said the Bentonville Film Festival “is a critical component of how we can directly impact the quantity and quality of females and minorities on screen and behind-the scenes.”
For more information and a complete schedule of events, log on to the festival’s website at bentonvillefilmfestival.com For information on initiatives supported by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, log on to seejane.org.