Geena Davis is the co-founder of the Bentonville Film Festival (BFF).
With BFF, Davis is building on the extraordinary work she does with her foundation, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. The Festival, held in Bentonville, Arkansas and co-founded by Davis and ARC Entertainment CEO Trevor Drinkwater, aims to “champion women and diverse voices in media.” Their mission aims to reinforce the idea that if women see themselves in these roles, it will be easier for them to visualize pursuing them.
The BFF organizers are committed to a Festival line-up that showcases the work of women and minorities on screen and behind the camera. Through a partnership with AMC, winning films are distributed in theaters; a distinguishing feature between BFF Festival and other film festivals.
In a BFF press release during their inaugural season, Nikkole Denson-Randolph, AMC’s VP of Alternative and Special Content, called the BFF-AMC collaboration “a perfect compliment to [the] AMC Independent programming initiative” and expressed her excitement over the opportunity to promote and “provide a platform for women and minority filmmakers.”
The Festival is only in its second year of existence but has already garnered positive press and high-profile support. Its Board of Advisors includes equity-minded stars like Shonda Rhimes, Julianne Moore, Natalie Portman, Randy Jackson, Samuel L. Jackson, Nick Cannon, Eva Longoria, and Soledad O’Brien.
At this year’s Festival, which was held in late April and early May, things kicked off with a reunion softball game that brought the cast of A League of Their Own back together. The film, which Davis starred in, tells the inspirational true story of the All-Female Baseball League that sprang up during World War II. The movie, which has been lauded for its depiction of strong women upending stereotypes, was a perfect BFF-fit.
In addition to featuring films, the BFF Festival also hosts panel discussions. The events cover topics such as, media, pop culture, gender stereotypes, motherhood, and more. At one of the Festival’s signature panels, entitled “Geena and Friends,” Davis was joined on stage by Constance Wu, Kathy Najimy, Nia Vardalos, and Andrea Navedo. The women come together to “re-imagine” famous all-male scenes from top films; this year, they acted out all-female versions of scenes from Fight Club, Toy Story, and American Psycho.
This year, 34 films were shown as part of BFF’s competition line-up. Another set of films was “showcased,” — these films are shown but not counted as part of the contest. The competition films are separated into two categories — Narrative and Documentary. This year’s chosen submissions came from the United States, Bulgaria, Poland, Italy, Greece, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Canada, and Brazil, and included several world and US premieres.
The films typically showcase diverse perspectives and narratives, telling complex and fully-realized stories. This year, BFF-goers had the opportunity to learn about the 160+ women who join the MINUSTAH through the UN and make up the only “all-female, predominately Muslim peacekeeping units” worldwide (A Journey of a Thousand Miles: Peacekeepers). They could have taken in the story of a professional female golfer who goes back to Greece and gets back in touch with her roots (Swing Away), the quirky tale of a “neurotic jingle writer” who has to decide to marry her boyfriend or strike out on her own (It Had To Be You), the inspiring story of the remarkable Selvi, who broke out of a cycle of child marriage and subjugation to become the first woman to drive a taxi in South India (Driving With Selvi), or 30+ equally exciting others.
BFF is more than a festival — it’s a cultural game-changer, and the people at the helm are doing everything in their power to actualize their mission. From panel discussions to sponsorships, Davis and Drinkwater’s attention to detail means they’ve left no stone unturned in their quest to shake up the film industry. The Bentonville Film Festival isn’t just talking the talk, it’s actually instigating change, sparking dialogue, and making room for new kinds of stories from voices we’ve stifled for too long.