Bentonville sets the stage for inaugural film festival

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 151 views 

It is an event unlike anything Northwest Arkansas has ever seen. Hosted by ARC Entertainment, Walmart, Coca-Cola and AMC Theatres, and chaired by Academy Award-winning actress Geena Davis, the inaugural Bentonville Film Festival (BFF) is set to make its debut Tuesday (May 5) and continue through Saturday (May 9).

Championing women and diversity in film will be the festival’s focus. BFF's overall mission is to serve as "a positive and proactive influence in filmmaking to ensure that the American entertainment industry represent the national audience and the growing diversity of the population of the United States." This will be accomplished through film and screenplay competitions, as well as a number of special events, lectures, and panel discussions.

The event will draw industry leaders and some of Hollywood's most recognizable faces to the region. BFF festivities will be held throughout Bentonville, Rogers, and the surrounding area, and will consist of collaborations with a number of local organizations including local theater groups, the University of Arkansas, and Crystal Bridges Museum.

The festival will also launch a year-round calendar of events that will serve "to promote women and minority filmmakers, artists, directors, and producers at colleges and universities around the country in partnership with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, which is the official non-profit partner of the festival."

At the core of the event will be the film and screenplay competitions. Film entries were submitted prior to the festival, which organizers requiring that pieces be both inspirational and display women and minorities in a positive light. According to the BFF website, the festival will be unique in that it "will be the first and only film competition in the world to offer guaranteed theatrical, television, digital and retail home entertainment distribution for its winners."

BFF will feature approximately 50 films, with primary awards presented to three entries in the following categories; Best of Show /Audience Award; Jury Selection Winner; and Best Family Film. Secondary awards will also be handed out for  Best Documentary; Best Ensemble; Best Protagonist; and Highest Diversity Score.

Primary award-winning films will receive $25,000 or distribution agreements that will include a minimum 25 screen release sponsored by AMC Theaters; minimum marketing commitment; on-shelf and premium placement commitment from Walmart and Vudu; and national distribution in ancillary markets such as digital, VOD, PPV and Pay TV. Winners in the secondary categories will be awarded prize money.

Jurors for the event include a number of industry leaders and veterans. Gil Robertson, President of AAFCA, will serve as the BFF Jury President. Jurors will also include Soledad O'Brien, a  journalist/documentarian/ producer; Lauren DeCarvalho, assistant professor at the University of Arkansas; Emilio Estevez, actor/writer/producer; Josh Welsh, president of Film Independent; Michelle Ebanks, president of Essence Communications; Axel Caballero, executive director of NALIP; and writer Edie Hand.

The Dernsie’ Feature Film Screenplay Competition, sponsored by Kickstart Productions and Bruce Dern, will highlight scripts that are unique in nature. Submission guidelines note that entries must feature a female protagonist or a racially diverse protagonist; or are written by a woman or racially diverse individual.

The contest's name is derived from a Jack Nicholson term, which he used to describe co-star Bruce Dern’s acting technique when the pair were filming the movie "DRIVE." The actor explained a "Dernsie" as "anything you want to do, come up with, or embellish that isn’t on the script.” The event is open only to feature films, which were submitted through April 13.

The grand prize winner will be awarded $1,500 dollars and a custom award, presented by Bruce Dern during the festival award ceremony. The winner may also received an additional $1,500 for an 18-month option with Kickstart. Two second place finalists will each receive $500. The finalists may also receive an additional $500 for a 12-month option with Kickstart.

The festival will feature a full week of events that will include the five-day film competition and screenings. It will get underway with a special opening ceremony at Crystal Bridges on Tuesday (May 5). Activities will also consist of a family movie night, a number of "sneak peak" events and premiers, panel discussions, and a closing ceremony awards show.

Festival passes sold out more quickly than expected. However, those wanting to attend do have the option to attend individual ticketed screenings. Films will be shown at a number of venues throughout the region including at Northwest Arkansas Community College's White Auditorium, the Four Points by Sheraton Bentonville, Malco-Pinnacle Hills, Story Theater at Grace Point Church, the Rogers Little Theater, the NWACC Walmart Room, and the Bentonville Public Library. Tickets to individual movie film showings are $8 per person and can be purchased online by visiting the BFF film schedule.

Lectures and special panels will also be held over the duration of the festival. Highlights will include "Remembering the Artist: Robert De Niro, Sr.," which will feature a discussion by world-renowned actor Robert De Niro, Jr. and art advisor Megan Fox Kelly. The two will explore the work the senior De Niro, an American abstract expressionist painter, whose work was brought back to the spotlight thanks to his son.

Chair Geena Davis also heads up a panel that will include fellow celebrities Rosie O’Donnell, Alysia Reiner, and Khandi Alexander. The women will take part in a table read style scenario where they will "re-imagine" dialogue from several significant all-male movies to "demonstrate how powerful, unique and perhaps refreshing a female voice can bring to the characters."

Among the many other panels, topics will focus on "Supporting Women Economic Empowerment;" "Women in Advertising;" 'Reel vs. Real Diversity in Hollywood'" and much more. A number of the discussions and lectures are sold-out. Admission to those with tickets remaining are $15.

On Thursday (May 8), Davis and fellow "A League of Their Own" co-star Rosie O'Donnell will reunite at Arvest Ball Park for a special softball game. The two will manage opposing teams, which will include Gina Casey and Alice Fracasso, members of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League which inspired the 1992 movie.

They will be joined by a number of VIP players, including Olympic medalist Jennie Finch, and Walmart President and CEO Doug McMillon. Country singer Sara Evans will also attend to perform the national anthem.

The week will wrap-up on Saturday (May 9) with a star-studded awards ceremony where winners will be announced and prizes will be awarded in each of the aforementioned categories.

Film won't be the only form of entertainment at the festival. BFF will also host a nightly concert series at the Ice House of Bentonville throughout the festival. Each night, different artists, from throughout the country will take the stage.

The series will kick off on Monday with a concert by Jon Foreman, lead singer, guitarist, main songwriter and co-founder of the alternative rock band Switchfoot. Shawnee native Samantha Crain will also perform. Other acts will include country/pop duo Meg & Liz, Arkansas singer Barrett Baber, Breaking Silence, Funk Factory and more.

Tickets for the Ice House series will go on sale Monday (May 4). Costs is $50 per night or  $150 for a week pass. A complete list of featured acts and performance times is available online.