Geena Davis Unveils New Diversity-Minded Film Festival

The Bentonville Film Festival held in Arkansas will promote women and minority filmmakers, actors, and crew.

Geena Davis may be best known for her work onscreen—and will forever be beautiful baseball ace Dottie Hinson to this writer—but the actress is also a longtime staunch advocate for women, founding the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media and partnering with the UN to address issues of gender equality and female empowerment around the world. Now, Davis is launching a film festival specifically aimed at promoting women and minority filmmakers, actors, and crew.

The four-day Bentonville Film Festival (BFF) will debut May 5th in Bentonville, Arkansas, and is the only film competition of its kind where theatrical distribution is a part of the prize-winning packages. “I have been an advocate for women for most of my adult life,” Davis said in a statement. “The Bentonville Film Festival is a critical component of how we can directly impact the quantity and quality of females and minorities on screen and behind-the scenes.”

Submitted films must meet two of seven requirements listed, Variety reports: female or minority lead; female or minority director; female or minority writer; female or minority production company; gender and diversity balanced cast; gender and diversity balanced crew; and family or shared viewing appropriate. Davis has also emphasized commercial viability as being a factor in the decisions.

Davis’s efforts will undoubtedly benefit from the additional star power that BFF’s Advisory Board boasts, including Angela Bassett, Bruce Dern, Samuel L. Jackson, Eva Longoria, Julianne Moore, Paula Patton, Natalie Portman, and Shailene Woodley. WalMart, AMC, Arc Entertainment, and Coca-Cola have all signed on as partners as well.

“Women are seriously under-represented across nearly all sectors of society around the globe, not just on-screen, but for the most part we’re simply not aware of the extent,” Davis said last year in a statement released with research from her institute showcasing the gender divide. “And media images exert a powerful influence in creating and perpetuating our unconscious biases… How do we encourage a lot more girls to pursue science, technology and engineering careers? By casting droves of women in STEM, politics, law, and other professions today in movies.”

Among the findings? Forbes reported that: There are 2.24 male characters for every female character. Out of 1,452 filmmakers, 20.5% were women, but just 7% were directors. 19.5% of the writers were women, as were 22.7% of the producers. Comments about characters’ appearance were five times as likely to be directed at female characters than at male characters. And women are just as likely to be sexualized in a film if you are 13 or if you are 39.

In conclusion, the study looks to filmmakers to enact change in the industry, saying that they “make more than just movies, they make choices. Those choices could be for balance, for less sexualization, and for more powerful female roles. The choice could be for gender equality.”

Submissions for the Bentonville Film Festival will be accepted beginning January 15, with chosen projects revealed in March.


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