Bentonville Film Festival, May 3-8, brings out the stars

Don't be surprised next week if you bump into Meg Ryan grabbing a cup of coffee or Geena Davis strolling around the Bentonville square.

They are just two of the celebrities traveling to Northwest Arkansas for the second annual Bentonville Film Festival Tuesday through May 8. Some of the stars will be here to promote their work while others attend just to support the festival's mission, said Trevor Drinkwater, event co-founder.

"Our whole message is diverse voices," he said. "We're not trying to change the world; we just want media to reflect the world we live in."

Drinkwater said the goal of promoting diversity made Davis a natural fit as festival co-founder. She heads the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.

"When she talks, people listen," he said. "People want to talk to Geena Davis, not Trevor Drinkwater."

Katie Kelting, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Arkansas, said having a celebrity spokesman helps promote a brand because it builds credibility and recognition.

"Having a famous face that is associated with film and entertainment in general is a good fit for a film festival," she said. "Reliability and trustworthiness are effective for the brand."

Drinkwater said celebrities aren't paid to attend the event, but the festival does pick up the tab for travel and accommodation costs.

The star power helps draw people to the event, a point Drinkwater said makes the Bentonville Film Festival unique. Most film festivals are pretty exclusive, he said, while the Bentonville event offers many free and low-cost community events.

"We are all about inclusion. You can come to the BFF and be part of it, even if you don't go to any films," he said. "This is one of the only film festivals in the world that allows people to drive in and be part of it."

Kelting said people can be obsessed with seeing celebrities, in part because they want what appears to be the stars' dreamy lives.

"At some level consumers see celebrities as their friends because they know so much about them," she said. "It's become more of a relationship."

Starting the week's parade of celebrity events is "Geena and Friends" from 3 to 5 p.m. Tuesday at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, 600 Museum Way, Bentonville. A select group of women will join Davis reading classic dialogue from all-male movie scenes. Names of the other participants have not been released.

The film competition will feature 34 films: 16 documentaries and 18 narratives. The event also features special showings of a select number of films and several panel discussions. Each panel is designed to reveal facts and insights to develop actionable plans to accelerate the depiction of diversity in all forms of media.

Ryan is coming to town to promote her directorial debut, Ithaca. The film will be screened at 6:30 p.m. May 6 at 21c Museum Hotel followed by a question-and-answer session with Ryan. Cost is $10 and the hotel is at 200 N.E. A St. The film also stars Tom Hanks and is about a 14-year-old bicycle telegraph messenger in 1942.

Additional Hollywood stars participating in festival events include Nia Vardalos, Bruce Dern, Kimberly Paisley, Andrea Navedo and Kathy Najimy and Harry Connick Jr.

Vardalos will lead a question-and-answer session following a free 6 p.m. showing of her film, My Big Fat Greek Wedding II, Friday at Old High Auditorium.

Dern takes center state at 1:30 p.m. Friday at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art with "Conversation with Bruce Dern." Tickets to the event featuring the two-time Oscar nominated actor are $25.

Connick Jr. will be on the Bentonville square Friday during the Girls that Grill competition.

Hollywood will be well represented across all aspects of the entertainment industry, including writers, directors and producers, Drinkwater said.

"We have some real big decision-makers coming," he said. "You may not recognize all the names, but these are important people."

The festival is provides an opportunity for people to share ideas and work on solutions, he said.

"One of the reasons people listen to Geena is she doesn't shake her finger at companies and tell them 'You are doing a bad job,'" he said. "She asks everyone to talk about the issues."

Panel discussions

The Bentonville Film Festival features many panel discussion with celebrity and industry decision makers focused on how to champion diverse voices in media. Each panel is designed to reveal facts and insights to develop actionable plans to accelerate the depiction of diversity in all forms of media.

Below is a list of panels scheduled as of Thursday. All discussions are at 21c Museum Hotel unless otherwise noted. Tickets for each panel discussion are $15 and must be purchased at the door. Full description of each discussion is available on the Bentonville Film Festival's mobile app and online at


• 9:30-10:30 a.m. -- Progress Vs. Perfection. Moderator, Jess Weiner. Panelists: Davis; Kathleen McLaughlin, Walmart Foundation president; Lisa McNight, Mattel senior vice president, marketing brand; Dean General, president of Kraft-Heinz Walmart and Sam's Club customer business team,; and Stephen Quinn, Alliance for Family Entertainment chairman

• Noon-1 p.m. -- VUDU-- I want my OTT: The future of content distribution and its role in diversity. Moderator: Jeremy Verba, vice president and general manager for VUDU and video games, Panelists: Nick Hall, HBO senior vice president for original programming; Scott Weitz, Driver Digital founder and CEO; and Megan Colligan, Paramount president of worldwide distribution and marketing

• 2-3 p.m. -- Social-tainment. Moderator: Vanessa DeLuca, Essence editor in chief. Panelists: Yolanda Sangweni, Essence deputy director; Fadia Kader, Twitter Music Partnerships North American lead; April Reign, founder of the hashtag #Oscarssowhite; and Luvvie Ajayi, writer, speaker and digital strategist

• 4-5 p.m. -- Between Us Girls. Moderator: to be determined. Panelist: Wendy Raquel Robinson, actor


• 10-11 a.m. -- Hotel From the Director's Chair. Moderator: Malina Saval, Variety associates features editor. Panelists: Jennifer Yuh Nelson, Kung Fu Panda 3 director; Meera Menon, Equity director; Maggie Kiley, director

• 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. -- Tales from the Script. Moderator: Alex Cohen, co-host of NPR's "Take Two." Panelists: Melissa Cobb, Kung Fu Panda 3 director; Aida Croal, writer of Marvel's Luke Cage; Shannon McIntosh, producer of Hateful 8 and Meet the Blacks; and Wendy Calhoun, co-executive producer and writer of Empire

• 1:30-2:30 p.m. -- Jack of the Red Hearts: Case Study. Moderator: Alex Cohen, co-host of NPR's "Take Two." Panelists: Janet Grillo, director; Trevor Drinkwater, Bentonville Film Festival co-founder; Louis Greth, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. senior director of merchandising; Elizabeth Frank, AMC chief content and programming officer; and Danielle Carrig, Lifetime senior vice president of publicity and public affairs


• 10-11 a.m. -- Reel vs. Real Diversity. Moderator: Tiffany Smith-Anoa'i, CBS Entertainment executive vice president of diversity, inclusion and communications. Panelists: Julie Ann Crommett, Google entertainment industry educator in chief; Dennis Williams, HOB vice president of corporate social responsibility; Stuart Kronauge, Coca-Cola senior vice president of customer marketing

• 3-4 p.m. -- Changing the Lens: Why Diversity Matters. Moderator: Alex Cohen, co-host of NPR's "Take Two." Panelists: Gil Robertson, African American Film Critics Association president; Nikkole Denson-Randolph, AMC vice president of special and alternative content; Chevonne O'Shaughessy, owner of American Cinema International; Kristofer McNeeley, producer of Marvista Ent; and Constance Wu, Fresh off the Boat actor

• 5-6 p.m. -- Ladies Who Launch (TV Shows). Moderator: Dana Harris, Indiwire editor-in-chief and general manager. Panelists: Karin Bailey, Starz senior vice president of Original Programming; Maril Davis, Co-EP Outlander; Tichina Arnold, Actor; Teyonah Parris, Actor; Heather Zuhlke, Writer, Power; Victoria Mahoney, Writer, Survivors Remorse


• 10-11 a.m., Vudu Lounge -- Keeping up with the Kids. Moderator: Madeline Di Nonno, Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media CEO. Panelists: Davis; Betsey Bozdech, Common Sense Media's Ratings and Reviews executive editor; Anne Marie Kehoe, Wal-Mart's vice president of toys; Jinko Gotoh, executive producer of Lego 2; and Ripley Sobo, Kid Witness actor

• 2:30-3:30 p.m, Vudu Lounge -- Calling the Shots. Moderator: Kate Fagan, athlete and ESPN writer. Panelists: Cobi Jones, soccer player and sports analyst; Monica Gonzalez, soccer player and sports analyst; and Daniele Anastacion, director of ESPN Film Fellow

Discussion will also follow the showing of:

• 5:30-8 p.m. Wednesday, cineTransformer Mockingbird -- God's Compass (2015, 104 mins). $10 stand by

• 8:30-11 p.m. Wednesday, 21c Museum Hotel -- Priceless (2016, 90 mins). Tickets are $10 and are available online

• 6-8 p.m. Thursday, 21c Museum Hotel -- The Five Heartbeats (1991, 121 mins). Free

• 8-11 p.m. Friday, Old High -- Maggie's Plan (2015, 92 mins). Free

• 8:30-10:30 p.m. Friday, 21c Museum Hotel -- American Wrestler: Wizard (2016, 117 mins). Tickets are $10 and available online

NW News on 04/29/2016

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