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From the film screenings to the panel discussions to the community events between screenings and discussions, the Bentonville Film Festival stands out among film festivals as a champion for women and inclusive voices in all forms of media. Here are five reasons BFF is earning a reputation as one of the top film festivals in the country.

The 5th Annual Bentonville Film Festival will take place May 8th-11th, 2019

#1 The Film Screenings

If they see it, they can be it.

Geena Davis

Ater watching children’s TV with her young daughter, Geena Davis noticed that the majority of television shows lacked a large number of female characters. This inspired her to think critically about what American media showed to young children; and to eventually investigate the role of gender in media. In 2004, she launched the Institute on Gender and Media, a non-profit research organization that researches gender representation in media and advocates for equal representation of women. Since its inception, the non-profit has uncovered all kinds of sobering statistics. For instance, in the “Gender Bias Without Borders,” the first-ever global gender and media film study published in 2014, it was found that only 23.3% of the films evaluated had a woman as a lead or co-lead.

A year later, to complement the research contributions, Davis with ARC Entertainment executive Trevor Drinkwater, launched the Bentonville Film Festival. BFF has since evolved into one of the country’s top film festivals focused on diversity and inclusion, as the most recent competition selections showcase.

Female Directed

POC Director and/or Lead Cast/Subject

This year, of the 15 narrative films, 14 documentaries, and 9 episodic projects selected, 81% are female directed and 68% of the selections include a POC director and/or cast/subject in the forefront. To place these numbers in context, of the selections this year at Sundance only 40% were directed or co-directed by a woman and 39% were people of color.

#2 The Crowd

2018 Attendance

As a platform for the next generation of filmmakers seeking to put their films in front of large audiences, the Bentonville Film Festival attendance numbers speak for themselves. Since 2015, BFF attendance has grown by 144%, from 35,000 to 85,000+ this past year. Again, taken in context this is significant—the Sundance Film Festival welcomed 125,000 this past year while the Tribeca Film Festival estimated around 140,000 in attendance. This year, planners of the festival estimate attendance to exceed 100,000 generating an economic impact of over $8 million for the region.

#3 The Intersectional Voices

We have convened the best intersectional voices from many industries to come to BFF to help us affect change. From content creators to executives, athletes and experts, the most unique thing about BFF is that we are bringing them all together – under one roof. We invite everyone who champions women and inclusive voices to join us.

Geena Davis

Each year, the festival brings together celebrities, advocates, corporate change-makers, industry leaders, athletes and more for panel discussions that discuss innovative practices and personal experiences with inclusion and diversity in media. This year, discussion events will cover topics that range from how women and minority filmmakers can secure funding and distribution to the representation of the LGBTQ stories and characters on screen to how filmmakers can go beyond gender and race to be inclusive of those that are differently abled. Announced panelists span from award-winning actors to senior executives at some of the world’s leading brands.

Check out some of the discussion events happening this year:

  • AspireTV – Looking Through A Brown Lens: This panel will discuss the creative structure and thought that goes into telling a unique story through Black culture. Panelists will discuss what their “why” is for the films they’ve produced and what methods they utilized to create an emotional connection to the audience. They will also discuss the avenues of funding, casting and promoting their films and what their tactics were in making the films a reality.
  • Queer & Here to Stay: A recent study from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in media revealed that over the past decade of the top 100 largest grossing family films in the U.S, less than 1% of all lead characters were LGBTQ. This panel will look at the presence of LGBTQ+ characters and stories on screen, as well as what the future now looks like for gay, lesbian, and trans filmmakers and their projects at our multiplexes, arthouses, and on our TV screens.
  • Able & Willing: 18.7% people in the U.S. have a disability and are one of our largest minorities. However, the Geena Benchmark study which analyzed a decade of films from the Top 100 Largest Grossing Family Films found that less than 1% of all lead characters were characters with a disability. How do we, as filmmakers, broaden our creative landscape when conceiving characters or casting to more effectively add the differently abled to that mix – going beyond gender and race to those with disabilities as well?
  • If She Can See It, She Can Be It: As women represent 51% of the population and 52% of moviegoers, we have a social and business imperative to create media that values the stories of intersectional women. The Geena Benchmark report which analyzed the top 100 Family Films over a decade showed that females led films generated 55% more at the box office than similar male led films. This panel will showcase best practices from business leaders who have successfully created female-driven content.

“It’s exciting to watch the filmmaking community and senior industry executives come together to support women & diverse voices,” said Davis. “Word is traveling that BFF identifies these voices and connects them with partners who’ll ensure that their stories reach wider audiences. We look forward to presenting all forms of media and providing unique opportunities for storytellers.”

#4 The Question: Where Will They Go From Here?

BFF continues to distinguish itself as a fest not only invested in promoting the ideals of gender equality & cultural diversity, but also as a launching pad for burgeoning artists to distribute their big- and small-screen projects.

With support from founding sponsor Walmart and presenting sponsor Coca-Cola, as well as prize sponsors AMC Theatres, Lifetime, Starz and American Cinema International — BFF will remain the only film festival in the world to offer guaranteed distribution to its narrative feature film winner.

#5 The Scene In Between The Screens

The atmosphere of a festival which has taken diversity and inclusion as its starting point is something that can’t be described, but must be experienced—both during and in between screenings.
Check out some of the community events happening this year:

  • Breakthroughs – A Fashion Event Celebrating Women of Color: BFF in partnership with the Arkansas Fashion Council host a fashion event showcasing the original work of designer Linda Rowe Thomas, followed by a panel discussion on the impact of fashion and film with the designer and other guest panelists.
  • Outdoor Theater at Lawrence Park: Experience movies in the great outdoors! FREE films for the whole family play all week at the Sony & Orville Redenbacher’s outdoor movie theatre.
  • Women Shred: Hit the Oz trails at BFF with World Champion cyclists Caroline Buchanan, Anneke Beerten, Lael Wilcox and more at Women Shred, the first-ever bike festival focused on women, and female cyclist representation in film
  • Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers at 21c Museum + Hotel: Explore the barrier-breaking, women of early cinema who you most-likely haven’t heard of, despite their lasting mark on the films we enjoy today.
  • Puppy Village: Need a new friend? MARS Petcare will be sponsoring dog adoptions at their Better Cities for Pets booth. Help break theri goal of 67 adoptions from 2018!
  • Check Your Blind Spots: Hop on the bus and walk through a series of experiences designed to raise awareness around unconscious bias and how everyone can change behaviors in their everyday lives.

This is the Bentonville Film Festival.