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Bentonville: Geena Davis, Jamie Brewer, and the Fabulous Freddie Mercury

Part 1 of 3 by Nathaniel R

"Include," was scrawled across every sign at the 5th annual Bentonville Film Festival which just wrapped up. As part of the logo, it was hard to miss. More noteworthy is the fact that you would have been able to hear that message loud and clear at any of the screenings and events even if you'd never seen the logo. Oscar winner Geena Davis launched the festival five years ago. It's a smart offshoot of the actresses work at the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media... and that advocacy reaches beyond gender to include film industry representation for multiple minorities: queer people, people of color, and disabled people, too.

Bentonville, sight unseen at least, is an odd locale for a film festival. That is until you see how much money that corporate sponsor WalMart, headquartered right there, has poured into the festival. The Film Experience has had the pleasure of attending several regional festivals across the years and Bentonville is definitely among the most well-funded / well-run. The attending filmmakers even got a mini-retreat before the festival began for industry networking opportunities. The town itself is a little slice of Americana with little shops, cute restaurants, a charming town square, and a lux gorgeous museum named Crystal Bridges.

Geena Davis in the house!

Crystal Bridges is where the trademark opening event "Geena and Friends" is held...

Reader, I did roll my eyes a bit when the Walmart logo was bigger than the title of the event on the projection screens but sponsors will sponsor! The festival always kicks off with Geena and a handful of attending actresses doing comic skits in which they read all-male scenes from famous movies.

Doing a scene from "City Slickers"

This year's "Friends" were Jordana Spiro (Ozark), Sydelle Noel (GLOW), Jackie Cruz (Orange is the New Black), and Jamie Brewer (American Horror Story), all of whom also had movies playing at the festival. They did scenes from Jaws, City Slickers, Avengers Infinity War, and Monsters, Inc. The humor can be quite corny and the actresses were over-mic'ed leading to a couple of fuzzy sound issues but it was a kick to see statuesque Geena being so silly (we've definitely missed her comic chops and unique personality onscreen!) and it gets the noble but sarcastic point across: There's no good reason whatsoever that movies should have so few women in them when women make up half the human race! 

The opening night festivities ended with a joyful rocking concert "The Fabulous Freddie Mercury Tribute" starring Randall Shreve at a local bar called The Meteor. So many great songs and Shreve was at least as good as Rami Malek at mimicking the Queen frontman's dance moves and sexier. The crowd was really worked up during "Fat Bottomed Girls," "Radio Gaga" and "Bicycle". Plus, he totally did his own singing! Where's his Oscar?

I'll admit that I left before (presumably) "We Will Rock You" and "Bohemian Rhapsody" ended the concert but the biggest hits have been officially done to death at this point and I had woken up at 4 AM for my flight that morning so it was looong past bedtime.

Over the next couple of days I'll share a few more notes on the festival and its films but since the festival just wrapped  here are the winners...

Best Narrative Film: YELLOW ROSE (Diane Paragas)
Best Documentary Film: SAME GOD (Linda Midgett)
Best Family Film: SWEET INSPIRATIONS (Brittany Yost)
Best Short Film: ME TAMBIÉN (Valerie Vallejos)
Best Episodic: HYSTERICAL WOMEN (Whitney Uland & Nora Kay)

Best Narrative Film: OLYMPIA (Gregory Dixon)
Best Documentary Film: OUR QUINCEAÑERA (Fanny Veliz Grande)
Best Short Film(s): FLIGHT (Kia Moses & Adrian McDonald) and MADE PUBLIC (Foster Wilson)
Best Episodic: HYSTERICAL WOMEN (Whitney Uland & Nora Kaye)
Best of the Fest: THE GARDEN LEFT BEHIND (Flavio Alves)

You'll definitely be hearing more about The Garden Left Behind. This is its second festival win, having also taken the audience prize at SXSW. It's a tearjerking trans drama about a young woman and her grandmother in NYC from a rising gay Brazilian director.


Samsung Create Award: Abigail Durkin, Austin Johnston, Peter Schwammlein, Isabelle Tindall  of The Thaden School
Rising Star Awards: Jadiel Dowlin, Michela Luci
See It, Be It Award: Jamie Brewer
Autism “Can Do” Award: Garret Nichols

You'll recognize Jamie Brewer from her multiple seasons of American Horror Story. She was a special honoree for her advocacy for people with developmental disabilities and also co-starred in the film Carol of the Bells (more on that one later) which played at the festival. I realized, listening to her speak at a panel on disabled actors, that I knew precious little about Down Syndrome and had some notions about it that were less than accurate. Brewer, for example, is highly functioning and a quick wit. It should not have come as such a surprise (given her career success) that she was such a joy on discussion panels and in performance events like 'Geena and Friends'. My own ignorant surprise reminded me of the need for the kind of panels and advocacy that this festival regularly engages in.

Part 2 tomorrow to talk about the films...

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Reader Comments (5)

Glad you're enjoying your time at the Festival! It sounds just wonderful.

May 13, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTyler

Geena Davis is always a delight. I've been able to see her once after a film screening and she was a real treat.

May 13, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

It really sounds like a great film festival!
And YES we do need more Geena Davis in our lives. I can't even think of the last movie I saw her in... Can I just say how obsessed I was with her nuanced and complex performance in Thelma and Louise growing up?

May 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterFrenchToast

I do love this knowing how great those other actors must feel being able to share a stage with somebody like Geena Davis. It must be a real treat. Can't wait to hear about the films.

May 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

‘Fat-Bottomed Girls’, not ‘Black-Bottomed Girls’. Big difference.

May 16, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTallsonofagun

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