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Bentonville Film Festival and Diversity

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Film Festival

Approximately 63,000 seats filled at last year’s Bentonville Film Festival, according to the organization’s website.

After receiving a 200 percent increase in submissions, the Bentonville Film Festival will return to its patron city for its third showcase May 2, and like previous years, its content will focus heavily on inclusion and female empowerment.  

“We’ve got a lot of good stuff in store,” said Gina Allgaier, chief engagement officer for the festival. “We’ve had more (film) submissions this year than we’ve ever had in the past, so what we’ve got lined up is excellent.”

The festival, headed by actress Geena Davis, will once again provide star-studded, event-packed entertainment for Bentonville families and is expected to draw visitors from across the country.

The festival will hold screenings of close to 50 competitors and showcase films and will host panels featuring industry experts, Wal-Mart executives and talent from the films themselves.

Since its inception in 2015, festival executives have worked to incorporate themes of diversity and acceptance into its canon of films and general identity framework.

“One of our biggest things is that we take in all diverse forms of media, specifically from underrepresented groups,” Allgaier said.

An overarching goal of the creators, filmmakers and sponsors behind the festival has been to highlight the importance of helping deserving women get into STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) positions, Allgaier said. This year, the festival will feature a STEAM Lounge, sponsored by Samsung. The lounge will include interactive media approaches and kid-friendly activities to inspire young students to pursue STEAM careers.   

“The BFF is unique in that it emphasizes stories about and told by women, people of color, and others who have not always had opportunities for their stories to be told,” said Dr. Kara Gould, UA professor of journalism and media.

Each day of the festival will highlight a specific theme. These will include a diversity day, inclusion day, purpose-driven day and female empowerment day.  

“One of the films I’m looking forward to people seeing explores a group of women as they learn to become stand-up comedians,” Allgaier said.

The short film will show a comedy workshop in Los Angeles teach the women, recently released from prison, improv and stand-up comedy in preparation for a live show.    

The festival administers a thorough jury process to finalize its roster of screenings, which are even more extensive this year because of the increase in submissions, Allgaier said.

Another of the festival’s far-reaching goals is to help Bentonville become not only a destination for visitors and families, but a support center for aspiring filmmakers.

“I know there’s a film gearing up to shoot here in June, so that’s really exciting,” Allgair said.

The festival has always generated widespread support and participation from NWA communities and businesses. Sponsors like Wal-Mart, Samsung, the locally based Synchrony Financial help finance and promote the festivities. In return, the festival worked last year to generate $3 million for local businesses to boost positive economic activity, Allgaier said.

“I really like the film festival,” freshman Danny LaChance said. “I went last year and everything they have to offer was really cool … I didn’t get to watch any of the movies, I’m hoping to see some of them this year depending on time.”

Although based in Bentonville, Allgaier said the festival has historically seen extensive involvement from the UA community. Last year Geena Davis came to the campus and spoke at a Bentonville Film Festival-sponsored event.

Gould said the UA community can specifically benefit from being involved with the festival. “Every year, students, faculty and staff volunteer and are able to see the festival from the inside-out.” She said young minds can benefit from attending, not only to generate excitement about filmmaking, but to experience the quality of the works themselves.

Tickets for the festival can be purchased at bentonvillefilmfestival.com. Tickets for single screenings can be purchased online or in person at the box office during the event. Festival passes, which allow access to multiple screenings, panels and special-access activities throughout the event range in price from $100 to $2000.

Ryan Deloney is a staff reporter for the Arkansas Traveler, where he has been a staff reporter since 2016.

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