Geena Davis’ career and life have taken some dramatic and unexpected turns since she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for 1988’s The Accidental Tourist. Davis made an unexpected and, let’s be honest, not terribly successful transition from quirky, acclaimed dramatic/comic actress to badass action star when she divorced quirky, acclaimed first husband Jeff Goldblum and married The Adventures Of Ford Fairlane director Renny Harlin, who directed her to massive commercial failure in Cutthroat Island and The Long Kiss Goodnight. Davis then decided to give archery a try and began pursuing the sport in earnest in her early 40s, and was gifted and ambitious enough to unsuccessfully try out for the 2000 Summer Olympics team. In the last decade, Davis shifted her emphasis from film to television with lead roles in the short-lived vehicle The Geena Davis Show and the initially buzzed-about but also short-lived Commander In Chief, where she played the first female president of the United States.
The last decade has also found Davis increasing her feminist activism. With the Women’s Sports Foundation, she launched the Geena Takes Aim campaign to increase female participation and fight gender discrimination in high-school sports, and in 2007 she started The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, which was just like The Geena Davis Show, only instead of being a television show, it was an institute on gender in media.
Now Davis is continuing her ongoing campaign to increase the roles and opportunities for women and minorities in the media, particularly film, by helping launch The Bentonville Film Festival in Bentonville, Arkansas as part of her work with the Institute on Gender In Media. The festival is unique in at least two regards:
- According to a press release, “Films that receive the Audience, Jury Selection and Best Family Film awards at the Bentonville Film Festival will receive a distribution agreement with a guaranteed traditional theatrical release on a minimum of 25 screens from AMC Theatres. AMC Theatres will also participate in the film submission and jury selection process.” But The Bentonville Film Festival isn’t just promising theatrical distribution, it’s also promising “television, digital and retail home entertainment” distribution for all winning films.
- In order to qualify for the festival’s competition portion, a film must meet two or more of the following criteria: It must have a female or minority lead, a female or minority director, a female or minority writer, be the product of a female or minority production company, have a gender and diversity balanced cast, a gender and diversity balanced crew, and finally, be “family or shared viewing appropriate” (i.e, no frontal male nudity).
So, alas, should Donald Trump decide to write, direct, star, and self-distribute a film called I, Donald, where he rants at the camera for 100 minutes in one unceasing take about how Barack Obama is a foreign-born Communist out to destroy America, his film will not be welcome in the competition section of the Bentonville Film Festival. And maybe it’s just because I watched Some Like It Hot yesterday, but reading the criteria filled my mind with screwball images of some sassy, irrepressible, white male filmmaker cross-dressing, Sorority Boys-style, or engaging in C. Thomas Howell-style blackface (yes, we’re laying the entire disgraceful history of blackface at Howell’s feet) in order to get past the entrance requirements.
AMC will distribute and help select the participating films, and this isn’t the only place where good intentions meet business-minded pragmatism. The main sponsor for the festival will be Walmart, which isn’t exactly known as a champion for women or diversity, although in the press release, Davis raves, “I’m honored to collaborate with ARC Entertainment, Walmart, AMC and Coca-Cola to launch this important initiative. I have been so impressed with the commitment Walmart has made to support Women through their Global Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative, which has as one of its goals to source $20 billion from women-owned businesses in the U.S.”
So, you know, that’s something. Film festivals can make for some odd marriages between idealism and capitalism, so it’ll be interesting to see how this unusual one pans out.
The inaugural festival will take place from May 5-9, and will begin accepting submissions Jan. 15. So if you’re all about gender- and diversity-balanced casts and gender- and diversity-balanced crews and are looking for automatic distribution, this could be your big chance.