words: Hayleigh Worgan
image: courtesy Intercut Productions/Bentonville Film Festival

The fourth annual Bentonville Film Festival (BFF) returns May 1-6, in the heart of the city’s downtown district. While the BFF provides tons of entertainment during the week, they do have a mission. The founders and organizers want to make sure there’s support for filmmakers whose casts and scripts are inclusive. Much has been reported about women and minorities being underrepresented in the film industry, and many scripts have faced criticism for their negative portrayal of stereotypes related to both groups. For people of all ages, but especially children, representation is key.


The BFF has a creative team that’s joined forces with like-minded sponsors to achieve this goal. Created by Geena Davis, Academy Award®-winning actor, Founder and Chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, along with Trevor Drinkwater, President and CEO of Inclusion Companies, they have set out to create a legacy to inspire generations to come.


President of Programming, Wendy Guerrero, explains, “Geena had established the Institute on Gender in Media and wanted to expand that inspiration into a wider platform that included diversity and inclusion in media. Then, Walmart came on board. BFF aligns with issues that Walmart is working on regarding women empowerment, diversity, and inclusion.”


Screen Shot 2018-03-31 at 10.19.35 PMCoca-Cola added its sponsorship to the long list of supporting businesses. Big names on this list include Procter & Gamble, Sony Pictures, Disney, Marvel, Universal, and Samsung. As companies continue to add their names to this list, it is clear that people from all industries are concerned about diversity on the big screen. Movies like Hidden Figures, Coco, and Black Panther are changing the entertainment industry, proving with their success that audiences are looking for more than an intriguing story. They are seeking complex characters in realistic roles. Children from all backgrounds want to see a hero that looks like them.


Films will be shown over the course of the festival at the 21c Museum Hotel, CineTransformer mobile cinemas, and Skylight Cinema. This year, the festival will feature its Legacy Film Series, highlighting “films that pioneer diversity on the big screen and change the national dialogue.” Attendees will also experience Showcase Films that feature recognizable talent who support the mission of encouraging diversity in the media. Competition films will showcase the work of up-and-coming creators. In 2018, 750 films were submitted from around the world for the competition series. They range from international productions to some selections shot in Arkansas.


In the past, many films screened at BFF have gone on to receive distribution, and BFF is committed to supporting their work. In 2018, BFF was named by MovieMaker Magazine as one of the Top 50 Film Festivals worth the submission fee for its dedication to championing diverse media.


Screen Shot 2018-03-31 at 10.19.49 PMSome of the most important aspects of this festival are the panels and discussion events throughout the week, held at Record, a modern event space in downtown Bentonville. Panel discussions will cover a variety of topics and feature everyone from celebrities and changemakers to CEOs. This is a great opportunity for those who are interested in being part of the change, and adapting solutions that can have an immediate impact on making the media we consume more diverse and representative of the world around us. The goal is to start a conversation, and ultimately, inspire action.


For the filmmakers entering the competition, there’s also a chance to have their career launched. “Our partners at AMC Theaters have established a distribution prize for our winner, so our award-winning narrative feature film will receive a distribution package offer that is unique to our festival,” Guerrero said. “It’s another great example of our concrete efforts to getting these voices out there, and continually working with partners to devise other ways, including additional awards to help filmmakers with financing and distribution. We are also dedicated to making sure that our prizes are supportive of real access and change for filmmakers who submit to the festival.”


The festival will feature music on the Coca-Cola Soundstage at the Meteor and entertainment events with well-known artists every evening. Previous years have included special guests like Meg Ryan, William H. Macy, Terry Crews, and Jewel. According to their website, BFF 2018 “already is experiencing high demand from those in [the] entertainment industry who champion inclusion.” With an arts and culture hub like Bentonville as the host for this event, attendees can expect big things from their lineup.


“Last year, we had over 75,000 attendees come through the festival over five days. This year, we are expecting the same, if not more,” adds Guerrero.


Ideally, you could spend the entire week in Bentonville, but even a day or two is worth it. Between festival activities, get out and explore the city that is a hub for art, culture, and education. Enjoy wood-fired pizza at the Pedaler’s Pub or grab a glass of wine at the Two 25 Gallery and Wine Bar. Take a walk through the Crystal Bridges Museum, the Museum of Native American History, or the Arend Arts Center.


Several kid-friendly films will be shown outside, and there will be family-friendly activities and giveaways surrounding the festival. On Sunday, attendees can enjoy a family-themed day that will include a bike ride and a cookout.


Tickets to BFF are available for individual events, as weekly passes, patron badges, and foundation badges. Regular tickets cost just $15, and these ticket holders are allowed to reserve a seat for one event. They can choose from movies (Competition, Showcase, Legacy, and Studio Premiere), discussion events (panels, talks, and workshops), spotlight (studio sneak peeks), and select celebrity events. Weekly pass holders ($275) can choose twenty events to attend throughout the week. Patron badge holders ($775) can choose forty events (including a Welcome Breakfast, Filmmaker Happy Hour, and access to the Filmmaker Lounge). Foundation badge holders ($1,575) may choose up to sixty events (including a VIP Pre-Award Show Party and the Opening Ceremony). For more information on the rules and terms of ticket categories, visit


Purchase your tickets in advance to receive further information on how to reserve your seat for the events you wish to attend. Festival organizers recommend purchasing tickets in advance since films do sell out. However, you can purchase tickets on-site if there are seats available. Download the Bentonville Film Festival app for up-to-date information.


Visit for more information on what to expect throughout the week, and to purchase tickets. 



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