Geena Davis: Hollywood’s Unstoppable Cheerleader for Change and Representation!

  • Geena Davis is celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the Bentonville Film Festival (BFF), which focuses on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
  • The festival has faced challenges like securing funding but has made significant progress in gender, race, and ethnicity representation, though disability inclusion remains low.
  • Despite the political climate, BFF stays committed to its mission of showcasing underrepresented voices, fostering connections, and supporting filmmakers.

Celebrating a Decade of the Bentonville Film Festival: Geena Davis’ Journey Towards Inclusivity

Twenty years after kick-starting her Institute on Gender in Media, which laid down the groundwork for collecting data on inclusion and diversity, Geena Davis is celebrating another impressive milestone. This time, it’s the 10-year anniversary of the Bentonville Film Festival (BFF) in Arkansas, an event she helms alongside festival director Wendy Guerrero. The festival, slated for June 10-16, expects to attract a whopping 65,000 attendees this year. In an exclusive chat, the Oscar-winning actor spills the beans on her proudest moments, the significance of a DEI-centered festival amidst a volatile political climate, and her unshakeable belief that storytelling is a universal right.

BFF Turns 10: A Milestone to Remember

When asked how it feels to hit the 10-year mark with BFF, Geena can’t help but chuckle, “We truly can’t believe 10 years have already gone by. When we launched, Bentonville didn’t even have a movie theater. Now, the town is booming with art, culture, restaurants, and museums. It’s been amazing to see.”

The Unseen Challenges

Creating a festival from the ground up is no small feat. According to Geena, “Getting funding was the toughest part we didn’t anticipate. Walmart and Coca-Cola stepped up as founding and presenting sponsors, but making the experience meaningful for our filmmakers has been a massive undertaking.”

DEI-Centered Successes and Struggles

A core principle of BFF is its strict DEI-centered requirement for showcasing films from underrepresented groups. So where’s the most progress been made? “We’re seeing tremendous strides in gender, race, and ethnicity-based inclusion. However, representation for people with disabilities remains painfully low, even though one in four Americans identifies as being disabled,” Geena admits.

A Nod from the Oscars

It’s worth noting that since BFF’s inception, movies like Coda, Parasite, Moonlight, Everything Everywhere All at Once, and Nomadland—films that could fit perfectly in BFF’s lineup—have clinched the Best Picture Oscar. Geena beams with pride, “Those wins are very significant for us and show incredible progress. It’s funny, [Coda actor and Oscar winner] Troy Kotsur came to our first festival with a movie called Wild Prairie Rose! Watching his career blossom has been a thrill.”

Navigating the Stormy Political Seas

Given that BFF is happening in a politically charged climate and in a red state like Arkansas, does Geena find this milestone particularly meaningful? “I don’t want to delve into politics, but BFF has stayed true to its mission. Our corporate and studio partners haven’t wavered. The notion that you should be able to watch a movie and see yourself and your experiences reflected back is inherently not controversial.”

Measuring Success Beyond Metrics

How does BFF gauge the success of the filmmakers who debut their work at the festival? “Helping people present their first film to the public is very fulfilling. We hope it leads them to create a second film, which is why we partner with NBCUniversal on the ‘See It, Be It, Make It’ grant. Success is all about filmmakers making connections,” Geena explains.

Favorite BFF Memories

One of Geena’s favorite memories from the past decade is from 2016, “We hosted a League of Their Own reunion softball game and showed the movie on a big screen on the field. Rosie O’Donnell and a few other original Rockford Peaches came. It was super fun.”

Advice for Fellow Festival Programmers

Despite the lingering impacts of the pandemic, Geena remains optimistic about the future of film festivals. “I’m an incorruptible optimist when it comes to having high hopes for festivals. Our fierce commitment to our original mission, focusing on underrepresented voices, has been our guiding star. You need to be clear about your mission and stay passionate about it. Community enthusiasm is also key. Bentonville locals love the festival. Every year, people on the plane recognize me and say, ‘Hey, I know where you’re going!'”

Wrapping It Up

From navigating funding challenges to fostering a community of inclusion, Geena Davis’ Bentonville Film Festival stands as a beacon of hope and progress in Hollywood. Want to ensure more stories get told? Keep rooting for this powerhouse festival!

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