Academy Award winner and women’s rights activist Geena Davis is bringing her message of diversity in media back to Arkansas for the second annual Bentonville Film Festival (BFF), taking place May 3-8, 2016, in the art-soaked city-cum-global headquarters of fest founding sponsor Walmart.
Presenting sponsor Coca-Cola will also return to help shepherd the festival, with Arc Entertainment and AMC Theaters acting as co-hosts. The event, which drew an impressive 37,000 attendees and 50 filmmakers from around the world –— Catherine Hardwicke, Robert De Niro, Rosie O’Donnell— during its successful inaugural year, will feature a star-studded array of speakers and panelists during its sophomore run.
“The goal of the festival is not just to showcase women and diversity—it’s to really have a proactive and powerful effect on the industry,” says Davis, BFF co-founder and founder and chair of the nonprofit Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. “We’re intent on being extremely proactive in showing the films that include women and that are very commercial. Our goal is to show that this is the direction in which things are heading and we should get there sooner.”
The only fest to guarantee distribution for its winners’ projects—on theatrical, digital, TV and DVD fronts—the Bentonville sprocket opera, says Davis, is “effecting real change in how women and diverse filmmakers can get their stories in front of audiences.”
To wit, 87% of the films featured at last year’s fest landed some sort of distribution.
“These are incredibly high standards that we’ve set,” says Davis. “And that’s our goal— to have women and diversity in our films.”
With an advisory board featuring leading Hollywood A-listers and artists such as Shonda Rhimes, Viola Davis, Bruce Dern and Natalie Portman, BFF is expanding its already-robust screening slate to include short films, digital content and TV programming, as well as an awards ceremony and myriad community-focused concerts and fetes celebrating Bentonville’s rich cultural offerings. A major studio film premiere (to be named later) is also scheduled, as well as a rematch of last year’s popular “A League of Their Own” softball game.
“Last year we only had four months to pull this off so there a lot of things we wanted to do that we couldn’t do because of time constraints,” says fest co-founder Trevor Drinkwater. “Now we know what we’re doing in the town and we have a pretty big expansion idea. Our aspiration was always to do more than just film, so we’ll be launching a social-media campaign, and we’re doing a lot more of the town leading up to the fest. Bentonville has explored with arts and culture. By 2016, you won’t even recognize it.”
Film submissions for the festival open on October 1, 2015; films accepted into competition will be announced in March.
“We’re going to have fantastic attendance from celebrities and artists and lots of amazing events and panels,” says Davis. “It’s going to be very special.”
For more information about BFF, visit bentonvillefilmfestival.com