Geena Davis is teaming with ARC Entertainment to launch the Bentonville Film Festival with the aim of highlighting diversity in film.
The festival, set for May 5-9 in the Arkansas city, is touting itself as the only film competition in the world to offer guaranteed theatrical, TV, digital and retail home entertainment distribution for its winners.
The festival — hosted by ARC Entertainment, Walmart, Coca-Cola and AMC Theatres — will be chaired by Davis and screen approximately 75 films in competition. Members of the advisory board are Angela Bassett, Bruce Dern, Samuel L. Jackson, Randy Jackson, Eva Longoria, Julianne Moore, Paula Patton, Natalie Portman, Nina Tassler and Shailene Woodley.
Davis noted that she has been a longtime advocate for increasing participation by women and minorities in the entertainment industry.
“The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media is dedicated to improving the representation in gender and diversity of talent, filmmakers, and business leaders by growing awareness through research, education and advocacy,” she 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.”
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The winners of the Audience, Jury Selection and Best Family Film awards will receive a distribution agreement with a guaranteed traditional theatrical release on at least 25 screens from the AMC chain, which will also participate in the film submission and jury selection process.
Davis told Variety that she’s been driven to continue working on diversity issues due to continued concern that women are not represented equitably in films — with three of four speaking roles still given to men.
Walmart is based in Bentonville. Davis noted that she has been impressed with Walmart’s Global Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative.
Davis will also host the awards show for the festival, which will include panel discussions with celebrities and industry leaders, and family film night events that will be free to the public.
Following the festival, the Bentonville Film Foundation plans to launch a year-round event calendar to promote women and minority filmmakers, artists, directors, and producers at colleges and universities in partnership with the Geena Davis Institute.
Film submissions for the festival will open on Jan. 15, with films accepted into competition being announced in March.
“We are looking for films that can succeed commercially,” Davis added.
To qualify for the festival’s competition, a film has to meet two of seven requirements: female or minority lead; female or minority director; female or minority writer; female or minority production company; gender and diversity balanced cast; gender and diversity balanced crew; and family or shared viewing appropriate.