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The fourth annual Bentonville Film Festival, running May 1-6, will continue its overarching quest to increase gender equality and cultural diversity in the entertainment biz, both in front of and behind the camera.

The Arkansas-based event, co-founded by Geena Davis and Inclusion Companies CEO Trevor Drinkwater and sponsored by such companies as Coca-Cola, Walmart and AMC, has been committed to the ideals of pluralism in Hollywood well before the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements emerged on the scene. Davis herself has been at the forefront of instituting positive systemic change in media content since 2004 when she founded the nonprofit Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, the first research-based organization of its kind to, per Davis, “engage, educate and influence content creators, marketers and audiences about the importance of eliminating unconscious bias, highlighting gender balance, challenging stereotypes and creating role models and scripting a wide variety of strong female characters in entertainment and media.”

To that end, this year’s BFF slate of screenings and panels is inclusive on a wide range of fronts, beginning with Meg Ryan, who will receive BFF’s inaugural Legacy Award for her work as an actress and filmmaker.

To honor Ryan, making her third annual appearance at the fest, BFF will screen two of her classic films, “Sleepless in Seattle” and “You’ve Got Mail.” “I Feel Pretty” actress and Instagram breakout star Busy Phillips will host a conversation with Ryan about her career. Ryan will also join Davis for a panel discussion titled “Geena and Friends Talk About Reversing Gender Roles on Screen.”

“This year’s edition of the Bentonville Film Festival truly exemplifies our mission,” says Davis. “We are thrilled to honor industry pioneers, while at the same time recognizing current trendsetters and changemakers, and showcasing a new class of inclusive storytellers. To be able to bring them all together in one place to enact change — that is what BFF is all about.”
“One of the unique aspects of the Bentonville Film Festival is our focus on impacting the portrayal of diversity and inclusion in all forms of widely consumed media,” adds Drinkwater. “The BFF Discussion events are designed to create dialogue and inspire action. This year we are incredibly excited to be joined by decision makers from all aspects of the media industry. These industry leaders are speaking up because they are all committed to immediate action to assure the media they produce, market, distribute or support financially inspires all young minds to do great things.”

Other highlights of the fest include Elissa Downs’ “The Honor List,” which will premiere on the fest’s opening night. Lea Thompson’s “The Year of Spectacular Men,” which stars her daughters Madelyn Deutch (who also wrote the screenplay) and Zoey Deutch, will screen as this year’s Centerpiece selection. Special Spotlight selections include Carlos Lopez Estrada’s drama “Blindspotting,” which examines race and class in Oakland, Calif., and Sara Driver’s “Boom for Real,” a documentary about iconic New York City-based artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.

We are thrilled to honor industry pioneers, while at the same time recognizing … a new class of inclusive storytellers.
Geena Davis

Finalists of the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge Finalists will screen at the fest, followed by a Q&A with founder Nic Novicki, an actor and comedian who’s appeared in such TV series as “Boardwalk Empire.”

What further sets BFF apart from other fests is that it remain the only film festival in the world to offer guaranteed distribution to the winner of its narrative feature film competition. Additionally, the winner of the short film competition will win a feature film directorship opportunity from MarVista Entertainment. BFF’ s distribution partners include AMC Theatres, Lifetime and Starz. The winner of the documentary film competition will receive a mentorship prize package sponsored by ITVS, a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization.

“This is the year of the woman and BFF is proud to be at the forefront of this seismic change,” says Davis. “If they can see it, they can be it!”