Nestled away in the northwest corner of Arkansas, Bentonville, the predominately white, quiet home of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., is currently the site of a four-day women and diversity film festival, which was co-founded by Hollywood actress Geena Davis.
The Bentonville Film Festival, which kicked off Tuesday, will spend the remainder of the week championing diversity in film and TV, by becoming the only film competition to promise theatrical releases for winning entries, per Davis.
She told the Associated Press prior to the festival’s opening: “It’s unheard of in the world, actually. It’s the only festival offering distribution across theatrical, digital and on TV and on DVD. …That’s just part of our push to show how commercial diverse films can be.”
The AP reports about 75 films will be screened over the duration of the event, which will also include panel discussions and a celebratory A League of Their Own baseball game, featuring appearances by Rosie O’Donnell and two other original members of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League.
According to the event’s website, the mission of the festival is to be a proactive influence in filmmaking and to ensure that the entertainment industry “represents the national audience and the growing diversity of the population of the United States.”
“As a research based and action oriented organization, the Festival’s primary objective is to provide a platform to significantly increase the commercial value of content produced with our mission in mind,” a mission statement reads.
To support that mission, BFF will seek to provide “ongoing turnkey mass distribution opportunities for women and minority owned production companies and independent content creators.”
Davis told the AP, “It’s very important to educate the next generation of content creators before they even start their professional careers… Once it’s brought to (filmmakers’) attention, once they hear the numbers, they’re just stunned and horrified … how much gender bias there is and lack of diversity.”
A chief complaint for Davis is what she describes as a lack of gender balance in both society and in film.
“In pretty much every sector of society, female leadership has stalled out in about the same range — interestingly, also around 17 percent,” Davis said. “It’s going to take a long time no matter how hard we work. We can’t snap our fingers and tomorrow Congress is 50 percent women.”
She continued: “But the one area of gross imbalance that can be changed overnight is on screen, because the very next movie somebody makes can be gender-balanced.”
The actress is the founder and chair of the non-profit Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, per her bio on the festival website. Her festival hopes to engage film and television creators to increase the percentages of female characters and reduce gender stereotyping in media made for children age 11 and under.
She is also the Chair of the California Commission on the Status of Women.
The BFF site states the goal of the competition is to champion “women and diversity in all aspects of filmmaking with engaged film industry leadership and major corporate sponsors,” and hopes to deliver commercially viable solutions and initiatives to positively support minority and women filmmaking and distribution.
Those corporate sponsors include Wal-Mart, Google, Coca Cola, Vizeo, Lifetime Network, and Kraft Foods, as well as a slew of major and mini major film studios and other industry partners.
The Bentonville Film festival will conclude Saturday, May 9.