Once defined by red carpets, packed theaters, and exclusive locations, film festivals are going virtual in 2020. Some people might find this disappointing, but for film lovers that have never had a chance to attend a festival, it’s a dream.
This week was Bentonville Film Festival (BFF), based in Arkansas. Founded in 2015, the fest is focused on showcasing the voices of diverse storytellers. This year they boast their most diverse and inclusive line-up ever, with 80% of films directed by women; 65% BIPOC and 45% LGBTQIA+.
BFF is all about inclusion, so it seems fitting that this year’s slate was more accessible than ever. Viewers across the country were able to tune in and watch a film or two and see what it was all about, and the slate did not disappoint. Here are some of our favorites from the fest.
The Bentonville Film Festival online watch portal was organized into several categories, including four sets of competition shorts programs. Covering a wide array of subjects and experiences, there was something for everyone in this section.
In Hollywood Land was a wacky spin on the Alice in Wonderland story applied to the stressful process of auditioning as a budding actor. Velvet offered a quick look into an outlaw couple following a heist and attempting to make a getaway in the midst of learning some upsetting info about each other. At only 10 minutes it had me wondering where they’d be going next and wanting to learn more.
There were of course a few definite standouts. First there was Single, a lighthearted look at dating while disabled. The main actress was phenomenal, carrying herself with the utmost confidence and a quick wit that made her wisecracks all the more enjoyable. In just 15 minutes it’s easy to become invested in the protagonist and her relationship with her date.
On a more serious note, there was the gorgeous City of Widows. In a narrative style, you are told the very true story of widows in India. As one of the most disrespected and marginalized groups in the world, Indian women that find themselves widowed can often find themselves outcasted by their families, or simply alone in the world. While this film follows the story of one woman, it is clear her story applies to so many. It ends on a high note, showing that even in the darkest times, widows have found each other and made their own safe spaces. As the narrator affirms, “our spirits are still alive.”
Finally the jury award winner Broken Bird was a simple yet captivating short. This beautifully shot short follows Birdie, a young biracial Jewish girl preparing for her Bat Miztvah. As she is preparing to take a step towards adulthood, she reconnects with her father. Despite her reservations she invites him back into her life, showing confidence and independence.
If the shorts were enough of an indication of the wide array of content BFF had to offer this year, the feature length films further support this fact. With both documentaries and narrative features, they gave just as much range as the shorts, serious and fun.
One of the Spotlight features was Parkland Rising, a documentary looking into the March for Our Lives movement and the students and parents behind it. It balances being inspiring and uplifting while also hitting hard on the gravity of the effects the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting had on the survivors. There are many moments that feel so real and raw, reminding us that at the end of the day, these kids went through an unimaginable and traumatizing experience. Nonetheless, the fact that these kids were able to take a horrible situation and advocate for change is admirable. The youth needs to be leading the charge, and this film shows why that is so necessary.
Next up, Misbehaviour, a narrative film depicting the events of the 1970 Miss World competition in London. Starring Keira Knightley as real life activist and historian Sally Alexander, and Dud Mbatha-Raw as beauty queen Jennifer Hosten, the film bounces back and forth between the contestants preparing for Miss World as well as the activists planning a demonstration during the pageant. While I did feel like there was something missing, it was an enjoyable watch with a killer ending.
The standout was the incredible documentary (In)Visible Portraits. What starts as a deconstruction of stereotypes and depictions of Black women throughout history transforms into a poignant and necessary conversation on healing and self-love. Black women in America are often neglected, unheard, and unseen. This reclaims the narrative, allowing so many women to tell their stories, dismantle present-day interpretations, and celebrate their heritage. Once it’s over, the feeling is hopeful and cathartic.
Bentonville Film Festival had it all. From fun shorts, to incredibly timely and necessary documentaries, there was so much to take in. As film festivals continue to tackle this new world of film, it is important to keep underrepresented voices at the forefront. They are creating something new, exciting, fresh, and most of all 100% authentic.
Cover photo: Bentonville Film Festival