Geena Davis' Bentonville Film Fest Sets Hybrid 2020 Edition to Boost Inclusion (Exclusive)

Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for Bentonville Film Festival
The Bentonville Film Festival in 2018.

The Arkansas event, backed by Walmart and Coca-Cola, will showcase films by underrepresented voices.

Geena Davis' Bentonville Film Festival has unveiled plans for a hybrid online-physical model for its sixth edition, with 80 percent of its 68 competition selections — including narrative features, documentaries and episodic projects — coming from women directors.

The seven-day Arkansas event, backed by Walmart and Coca-Cola, will also take place from Aug. 10 to 16 after being delayed from its original April 29 to May 2 dates by the coronavirus pandemic. This year's reimagined Bentonville festival will pair digital screenings, panels and events alongside select on-the-ground premieres and conversations.

The Bentonville Film Foundation also said its program will aim to boost diversity and inclusion in film, entertainment and media. "Within the context of a pandemic, and the continued fight for social justice, we renew our deep commitment to underrepresented storytellers around the world. This year’s virtual structure presents a unique opportunity that is not lost on us as we use the power of the digital world to share BFF’s messaging to far-reaching global audiences, arguably more than we ever have," Bentonville Film Foundation co-founder and chair Geena Davis said in a statement.

The sixth edition of Bentonville will also see 65 percent of the film lineup directed by Black or Indigenous filmmakers or people of color, while another 40 percent of the projects are by LGBTQ filmmakers. This year's Spotlight features include the festival's opening night pic, Oge Egbuonu's documentary directorial debut, (In)visible Portraits, which tackles the invisible otherizing of Black women in America; and a U.S. premiere for Philippa Lowthorpe's Misbehaviour, where Keira Knightley, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Jessie Buckley star as women caught up in the 1970 demonstration against the Miss World pageant.

The third Spotlight feature will be Cheryl Horner McDonough's Parkland Rising, a feature documentary about a teen-led gun-reform movement following the Florida tragedy from exec producers Katie Couric and will.i.am.

Other movies to screen at the Bentonville festival this year include a world premiere for Sujata Day's Definition Please, starring Katrina Bowden and LeVar Burton; Lisa Donato's Gossamer Folds; Lanie Zipoy's The Subject, starring Jason Biggs, Aunjanue Ellis and Anabelle Acosta; and Hisonni Johnson's Take Out Girl, where a desperate 20-year-old Asian girl parlays her Chinese food delivery expertise into a profitable drug hustle.

Other documentary features booked into Bentonville include Jen Rainin's Ahead of the Curve, about Curve magazine founding publisher Franco Stevens; Sonia Lowman's Black Boys, about being born Black and male in America; and Geeta Gandbhir's Hungry to Learn, a investigation into U.S. college students without food or a roof over their heads owing to tuition fee debt.

Wendy Guerrero, president of programming at the Bentonville Film Festival, said the 2020 edition, while refashioned as a hybrid in-person and digital event amid the pandemic, would still "champion underrepresented voices, which has grown even more urgent as we continue these challenging circumstances. ... The films in this year’s lineup showcases what we’ve known all along: representation in media, means better content for all."

The full 2020 film program is available on the Bentonville festival website.