Bentonville Film Festival Is in a ‘League’ of Its Own

Heading into year three May 2-7, the Bentonville Film Festival, co-founded by Geena Davis and ARC Entertainment CEO Trevor Drinkwater, continues to distinguish itself as a fest not only invested in promoting the ideals of gender equality and cultural diversity, but also as a launching pad for burgeoning artists to distribute their big- and small-screen projects.

“Our three winners — winners of the best narrative selected by jury, best family film and audience award categories — will receive guaranteed distribution, and that’s because of our partners,” says Davis, founder and chair of the nonprofit Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. “That means their films will be on screen in AMC theaters, on TV on either Lifetime or Starz or one of our other TV partners, on Vudu for digital, and they’ll be on DVDs in Walmart. We’re the only one in the world who offers that, and we’ve had filmmakers tell us that distribution is much, much harder than getting their movie made.”

To ensure a varied roster of projects at BFF, also sponsored by Coca-Cola, films can only qualify to compete if they meet two or more of seven characteristics, including having a female or diverse lead, female or diverse director, and gender and diversity-balanced crew.

To that end, the BFF programming committee, including fest director Wendy Guerrero, has selected a slate of diversified projects to screen at the northwest Arkansas event. This year’s films include “Blood Road,” Nicholas Schrunk’s documentary on ultra-endurance mountain biker Rebecca Rusch; Dorie Barton’s coming-of-age movie “Girl Flu”; and the world premiere of William H. Macy’s “Krystal,” about a young man who develops a crush on a stripper and joins her Alcoholics Anonymous meeting to get close to her.

The Weinstein Co.’s transgender drama “3 Generations,” starring Elle Fanning, Naomi Watts and Susan Sarandon, will open the fest, with Harvey Weinstein in attendance. The film is written by Nikole Beckwith and Gaby Dellal, who also directed.

“I like the element of three generations, because one of the problems in Hollywood that one finds out if one’s in the industry is finding those parts for older female actors,” says Davis. “It’s a real coup for us to have this film.”

Other highlights of BFF include panel discussions with Judy Greer, Meg Ryan, Jewel and a special 25th year anniversary screening of Penny Marshall’s seminal women’s baseball dramedy “A League of Their Own,” which Sony is re-releasing on Blu-ray. Several members of the film’s cast, including Davis and director Marshall, will take the field in the third annual “A League of Their Own” softball game in honor of the film, which put a spotlight on the professional female baseball league that thrived during WWII.

“Sony is helping us make a really big deal of this,” says Davis, who won an Oscar for her supporting role in “The Accidental Tourist” and most recently starred opposite Jon Hamm and Tim Robbins in “Marjorie Prime.” “In the town they’re building a mini baseball park with bleachers and a big movie screen. They’re going to screen Sony movies throughout the week, including ‘A League of Their Own.’”

For Davis, the push for on-screen diversity not only serves society as a whole, but the major film studios as well.

“It’s not just about showcasing a diverse group of people, we want to really impact the industry and show successful films that can have a very strong female presence and diversity in them reflecting the real world,” says Davis. “It’s more important than ever. At the [Geena Davis] Institute, we conducted research on 2015-16 films starring a female character, and what we discovered is that movies starring a female character made more money at the box office — a 16% higher intake — than movies starring men. This is important. It’s not just the right thing to do, to increase diversity in film, but also a way to make money.”

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