×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Geena Davis on Bentonville Fest: ‘We’re About Gender and Diversity in Every Sense’

Bentonville Film Festival is marking its fifth anniversary as a space that highlights the work of filmmakers from underrepresented communities.

Co-founded by Oscar-winner Geena Davis, the festival isn’t just interested in spotlighting these artists. It wants to get their films out into the wider world. To that end, it guarantees distribution for its top prize-winners courtesy of AMC Theatres, Lifetime TV and streamer Vudu. At a time when major studios are being faulted for failing to be more inclusive, this Arkansas-based festival is committed to boosting the number of women and people of color in film production. Last year, 87% of the films that screened at Bentonville received some form of release. To mark the fest’s half decade, Variety caught up with Davis.   

What can audiences expect from this year’s festival?

We have so much going on, and we’re very excited to be kicking off things with a screening of a documentary that I executive produced and starred in, “This Changes Everything.” An important component of the film is how systemic the bias against women in front of and behind the camera is, and how stubborn [the system] can be. It speaks directly to our mission in Bentonville, because we’re about gender and diversity in every possible sense. LGBTIA+, differently abled, people of color and women — and all kinds of intersectional people as well.

How has the festival grown?

We’ve increased attendance tremendously, year over year. I think we’re one of the most well-attended festivals in the world now, which is spectacular after five years. We have more sponsorships and more people willing to participate. One of my dreams is that, eventually, people will start saying, “Hey, the Bentonville festival looks so great. Do you think if we hire a woman director or feature a person of color, we’ll get in?” I would love it to become a destination where people strive to get in. Our overall goal is profoundly not controversial. We don’t want to change the world; we just want our entertainment to reflect the world as it is — which is half female and incredibly diverse. That’s a really modest goal, if you think about it. It’s also completely doable.

How have your duties evolved at the festival?

As the co-founder and chair, I still have a lot of responsibilities. Early on, I decided, why should only people with the first name Robert have their own film festival? It could be somebody named Geena too. When I’m on the ground, I attend everything. I feel like an ambassador. It starts when I get on the plane. People flying to Northwest Arkansas immediately know why I’m on the plane.

You also are involved with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. What does that work entail?  

I’m meeting with entities like studios and networks and production companies, as well as directors and producers and writers. I have at least a couple of presentations a week. We’re working very closely with content creators on this work, sharing all of the data we collect at the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. It’s a bonus to talk about both the festival and the institution at these meetings.

How did you first get involved with this issue? 

This work started for me when my daughter was a toddler, and I noticed that there were far more male characters than female characters in what we’re making
for kids. 

As a mother in the 21st century, I thought surely by now we should be showing boys and girls equally — but we are profoundly not. I wanted to have research and have numbers before I went to work on this, and in terms of on-screen representation, that data has been absolutely everything. It’s astounding. The people making kids entertainment had no idea they were leaving out that many characters. They are horrified when they see the data. I had a big advantage because people who make media for kids do it because they love kids. 

Unfortunately, that doesn’t work at all for people behind the camera. Everyone has known the numbers — directors, composers, cinematographers, editors — for women [are] abysmally low. Knowing that does absolutely nothing to make people want to do better.

Where do you want to see Bentonville in another five years?

I would like to see every major studio having a significant film that conforms to our criteria that they want to show at the festival and make a big deal out of it.  

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Leonardo Dicaprio Once Upon a Time

    Leonardo DiCaprio's Earth Alliance Commits $5 Million to Amazon Fires

    Earth Alliance, an environmental initiative backed by Leonardo DiCaprio, has committed $5 million toward the preservation of the Amazon rain forest following an alarming surge in wildfires. After launching Sunday, the organization’s emergency Amazon Forest Fund is working to support local partners and indigenous communities in their efforts to protect the sensitive habitats within the [...]

  • (from left) Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson)

    Box Office: 'Hobbs & Shaw' Scores $102 Million Debut in China, Nears $600 Million Globally

    Universal’s “Hobbs & Shaw” returned to first place on the international box office charts, thanks to a massive $102 million debut in China. The “Fast & Furious” spinoff, starring Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, collected another $120 million overseas, boosting its foreign tally to $441 million. “Hobbs & Shaw” is nearing the $600 million mark [...]

  • Angel Has Fallen

    Box Office: 'Angel Has Fallen' Rises to No. 1 With $21 Million Debut

    “Angel Has Fallen,” the third chapter in Lionsgate and Millenium’s action franchise starring Gerard Butler, had a stronger opening weekend than expected, collecting $21.25 million during its first three days of release. Those ticket sales were enough to top domestic box office charts, bumping last weekend’s champ, Universal’s comedy “Good Boys,” to second place. Starring [...]

  • Amanda

    ‘Amanda’ Takes Home Best Int’l Film at 15th Sanfic

    SANTIAGO, Chile    French director Mikhael Hers’ “Amanda” scooped up the Best Int’l Film award Saturday (Aug. 24) at the 15th Santiago Int’l Film Fest (Sanfic), which reported a 20% audience uptick in the past two years and continues to grow its reputation as the most vibrant and prominent film festival in Latin America’s Southern [...]

  • disney d23

    Cruella, Kit Harington and Black Panther's Return: Everything We Learned at D23 Day Two

    Not to be outdone by the avalanche of series orders and casting announcements bolstering the new streaming series Disney Plus, Walt Disney Studios showed off its film wares in a marathon presentation at D23 on Saturday. The Anaheim, Calif. expo brought star power, if perhaps fewer surprises than Friday’s presentation, as fans in princess and [...]

  • Harvey Weinstein, Katie Holmes, Taylor Swift'The

    Taylor Swift Downplays Association With Harvey Weinstein

    Taylor Swift’s association with disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was among the topics the singer addressed in a revealing new interview with The Guardian. Weinstein held producer credits for the movies “One Chance” and “The Giver,” both of which featured Swift — in the former, a song, and in the latter, a supporting role. She [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content