Lights, Cameras, Audiences

Lights, Cameras, Audiences

Be It Resolved

Northwest Arkansas film festivals continue to expand their reach, fostering artists and films that receive national attention.

The Past

540 Film Fest was the area’s first film festival. Hardscrabble and grassroots-organized, it was meant to be a one-off to highlight local filmmakers’ work, but organizers were so motivated by the experience they decided to make it a yearly thing. Since then, the film fest has changed names a few times — from 540 to Offshoot to Fayetteville Film Fest — but the heart and the talent have remained.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Bentonville Film Festival launched in Bentonville in 2015, with the full force of multiple corporate sponsorships and big Hollywood names, including that of its founder, Geena Davis.

The Present

Fayetteville Film Fest executive director Morgan Hicks says the event continues to grow at a rapid pace.

“We did have a big year,” she says. “We had a record number of submissions — over 200 — and had several films that were sold out or standing room only. We also had nearly twice as many filmmakers in attendance. Two of the films that were at the 2017 [event] are going into wide release. ‘American Folk’ will be available on iTunes next month. ‘Dayveon’ — the film that won our ‘Best of Fest’ award and also played at Sundance Film Festival — is now available on iTunes and Amazon streaming.”

The original 540 Film Fest screened 34 total films, says board member Jason Suel, while the 2017 festival boomed at 39 short films and 12 feature-length films.

The Bentonville Film Festival had a record year as well, says spokesman John Wildman.

“Attendance at the 2017 BFF grew to 73,000,” says Wildman. “Highlights of the festival included the 25th anniversary celebration of ‘A League of their Own,’ with a celebrity-studded softball game [featuring] visiting filmmakers and special guests including Meg Ryan, William H. Macy, Judy Greer, Jewel, Terry Crews and, of course, our founder, Geena Davis.”

The BFF’s emphasis on “championing inclusion in all forms of media” was well-supported in 2017, says Wildman.

“Of the award-winning films and filmmakers, 82 percent were female and 64 percent were non-white ,” he says.

“We were thrilled to welcome Patty Jenkins, director of the smash hit ‘Wonder Woman,’ as a panelist before the film’s wide release. The film was not only a box office success but has been named in several best of the year lists . And official documentary selection ‘Unrest’ has made the shortlist of documentaries that will qualify for the Academy Award.”

The Future

“We do have some pretty big plans cooking for next year,” says Hicks. “This will be our 10th anniversary year, so we want to throw a really great party. We’re excited to be returning to the Global Campus Theater on the square after a major renovation, which will allow our audience to enjoy world-class films in a state-of the art screening space.”

“We also have some great partnerships in the works. We hosted a Night of Middle Eastern Films last spring in partnership with Canopy Northwest Arkansas and were able to raise funds for their organization. This spring we hope to do that again — partner with PRIDE to screen LGBTQ films. And we are planning a special one-day festival focused on accommodations for members of our audiences that are hearing impaired.

“We are thrilled to see so many films in production and cannot wait to open up submissions to see what people have been creating.”

BFF co-founder Trevor Drinkwater says, “The fourth annual BFF is going to be bigger and better,” with plans to include more major studio screenings. Those screenings will no doubt be aided by the addition of the brand new Skylight Cinema, an upscale, six-screen movie theater located in downtown Bentonville. Also in the works, says Wildman, is a Legacy series, aimed at celebrating the anniversary of films the “helped pioneer diversity on screen.”

— Lara Hightower


Up Next

Bentonville Film Festival

May 1-6, 2018

Fayetteville Film Fest

Nov. 1-4, 2018

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