Gloria Mercer: My Experience at Bentonville Film Festival
By Gloria Mercer
This May, I took my film Bombing to the Bentonville Film Festival (BFF). Bombing is a short narrative drama that I made in my fourth year of the Film program at the School for the Contemporary Arts. It features an unmotivated comedian who spends an unexpected weekend with her estranged young daughter. Like most in my class, I shot it over the last two semesters of my program. We spent about 6 months in post production, working on things like sound design and colour correction. I wrote it over the summer before. The whole process took about a year, and features the collaborative and dedicated work of many students from the Film program.
As an independent, fledgling filmmaker, attending film festivals is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have – though notably more difficult for low-budget filmmakers. It’s an opportunity to meet other filmmakers and see great independent films. While Bentonville, Arkansas may seem like an unlikely hub for this type of gathering, the Bentonville Film Festival has successfully set up shop there for the past three years, attracting an impressive lineup of guests and films. Three years is young for a film festival, but through the enormous efforts of its founders, sponsors, and staff – the 2017 festival felt like it had been around for years.
A well-known advocate against perpetuating gender and race biases within Hollywood, Geena Davis co-founded the festival. She is also the founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media (GDIGM). The Institute’s mandate is “to engage, educate, and influence content creators to dramatically improve, gender balance, reduce stereotyping and create diverse female characters in entertainment”. According to the GDIGM website, they have “amassed the largest body of research on gender prevalence in family entertainment, spanning more than 20 years.” Sharing a similar goal, the Bentonville Film Festival also supports women and diversity in film. It was great to see so many underrepresented demographics at this year’s festival.
For a low budget student film, being accepted into a film festival like this is huge. A lack of resources is one of the biggest barriers to independent filmmakers, and festivals are saturated with submissions from all over the world. For me - a soon-to-be graduate with a major in film production and a minor in gender, sexuality, and women’s studies - the festival offers an opportunity to share stories that normally aren’t told in mainstream Hollywood, and the filmmakers behind these stories.
My experience at BFF was overwhelmingly positive. The festival did a great job of making the filmmakers feel welcome. They took over the town, facilitating numerous events across Bentonville – all of which were open to me and my assistant director. BFF also put on a bunch of awesome panels including talks on Hollywood’s role in sustainability, the representation of gender norms, the representation of disability, and many more. They brought together important figures and used the film festival format to both celebrate filmmaking and challenge it to discuss its potential as a vehicle for change. The panelists came from diverse backgrounds and perspectives which lead to stimulating, thought-provoking conversations.
Independent films bring great creativity and innovation to cinema. The only real place to see independent films on a big screen is at film festivals, and these films don’t often go on to get distribution. That is why a film festival that prioritizes the narratives of women, people of colour, disabled people, non gender-binary people, and other marginalized people is critical. This is not to say that the indie world is perfect, but a festival that incorporates intersectional feminist themes into their programming is a step in the right direction. Having my film accepted to the Bentonville Film Festival was an amazing privilege, and I hope I can go back in the future to see them flourish.