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Bentonville Film Festival: Year 5

The Bentonville Film Festival has become a world-renowned event, bringing filmmakers, movie buffs, and celebrities to our area. The talent and passion displayed during the festival inspires others to chase their dreams. This was Bentonville Film Festival’s 5th year of embracing their mission to “influence mainstream media to immediately increase diversity in the content that is produced and distributed, because if they can see it, they can be it.” Many of the films presented this year were produced by female crews and the storylines and castings were focused on those who are underrepresented in the industry.

The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media is a partner of the film festival and provides important research statistics to its attendees. Geena Davis comes to the festival every year providing insight into the movements made within her fight to increase female and minority representation in the film industry. She has used her platform to spark change and create a call to action. While there have been great improvements, there is still room to increase inclusion. Geena Davis has created an atmosphere at the Bentonville Film Festival that allows writers, directors, producers, and actors to break the norm and use their voice.

We were able to attend the Bentonville Film Festival again this year and it did not disappoint! There were so many events, films, and discussion panels to attend during the 4-day festival that it was hard for us to choose what to see! The films screened were submitted into the festival to participate in competition based on these categories: Narrative, Documentary, Family, Shorts, and Episodic. The films competed to win a jury award which comes with some type of mentorship or distribution deal or an audience award. We were able to attend one of the Shorts Competition screenings and be apart of the audience vote. One of our favorite films, Flight, ended up winning an audience award! This short film told the story of a young boy living in a Jamaican community who had a dream of visiting the moon but was brought back to earth by his reality and the people around him. His father did not approve of his daydreams, but for one night agrees to dream with him and build a rocket ship. This film portrayed one of the festival’s mantras, “see it, be it.” We also attended a spotlight film which were films that have been named as favorites at other film festivals around the country. Most of these films have not yet had a theatrical release, so we were excited to get a first look! While we were able to vote on these, they were not included in the competition portion. We chose a film called Ophelia, which was a remake of the Shakespearean tragedy, Hamlet. The film followed the female lead of Ophelia and told the story from her point of view.

Another event we attended was the Samsung Create Short Film Competition. This competition, sponsored by Samsung, gave students from local high schools the opportunity to create 60 second films using only the new Samsung phones or tablets. The films were screened and voted on by judges based on their storylines, use of equipment, and most important, their ability to tie in the festival’s mission. We were impressed by the many short films we saw and the student’s abilities to create inclusive content with the little equipment they had! The winners of this competitions each received a new Samsung phone and tablet.

Some of the most informative and influential parts of the festival are the discussion panels and speaking events. Directors, actors, CEOs, and many prominent figures in society come to Bentonville to share their stories of success and even of failure. We attended two events, one was a live recorded podcast and the other was a discussion panel. Geena Davis joined the hosts of the Unladylike podcast which has over 1 million streams each month on platforms like Spotify, Apple podcasts, and Stitcher. The podcast is focused on bringing to light the issues females face in our society. Their goal is “to make inclusive, credible media that moves.” They explored Geena Davis’ journey to fame and what shaped her as an inspiring actress seeking change in the film industry. She shared stories of her childhood and specific events that led to her becoming invested in underrepresented groups in film. We also learned a lot about her preparation for movie roles as well as some obstacles she has had to overcome to be to where she is today.

The discussion panel we attended was called “If She can See It, She can Be It.” It was extremely encouraging as we heard from seven women who all sit in leading roles in their businesses and industries. These women have come from all walks of life serving as CEOs, best-selling authors, non-profit founders, news anchors, and many more prominent titles. The discussion was based on their desire to become something that was not a social “norm” for women. They broke the mold and limitations placed on women in the business and film industries. Now, with the positions and power they have, they are being a voice for women in their workplace. Their main message was to not let anyone place limitations on you and to continue to work for what you want in life no matter the challenge.

The Bentonville Film Festival is a very family-friendly atmosphere aiming to teach children that they can reach their dreams. Throughout the festival there are many free events such as an outdoor theater with kid-friendly movies, Inclusion Town, and a special event where kids learn how to critique a movie. The Sony and Orville Redenbacher Outdoor Theater featured movies such as Peter Rabbit, The Emoji Movie, The Amazing Spider Man, and many more. They had an Orville Redenbacher truck passing out popcorn and an M&M truck with candy adding to the movie theater experience. Inclusion Town took place in the Compton Gardens near the 21C Museum Hotel. They had vendors passing out free goodies like beauty products, granola bars, and kid’s vitamins. One of the highlights of Inclusion Town was the Puppy Village! Mars sponsored dog adoptions by bringing shelter dogs to interact with the attendees and find their forever home! One of the special kid events, How to Be a Kid Critic, taught kids how to analyze movies through hands-on activities. It was led by Betsy Bozdech from Common Sense Media which is a great platform that provides trustworthy reviews for parents about movies, tv shows, and books their children may be exposed to. These are just a few of the events that took place for families to experience. The Bentonville Film Festival can be a great outlet to inspire children and let them see people who have chased their dreams to get to where they are.

Geena Davis and her Co-Founder, Trevor Drinkwater, have created and expanded the remarkable event known as the Bentonville Film Festival. It is continuing to grow with no end in sight. The research they are doing on females and minorities in media is groundbreaking and shocking! The film festival does a great job displaying the research done throughout the year and incorporating events and speakers that support their mission. We had a great time experiencing all that the festival had to offer and we can’t wait to see how it continues to grow!

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