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Academy Award-Winner Marlee Matlin Honored with ‘Rising to the Challenge’ Award; The Disappearance of Mrs. Wu Actor Lisa Lu to be honored with ‘See It Be It’ Award 


Spotlight Film CODA To Feature Exclusive Conversation 

with Director Sian Heder & Star Marlee Matlin; Riz Ahmed’s Mogul Mowgli to Screen Opening Night... 

BENTONVILLE, AR (SMI-WOMEN-ENTERTAINMENT, 07.29-08.08.21)—The Bentonville Film Foundation today announced the all-star lineup for Geena & Friends along with selections for the Spotlights, Special Events, and Panels program for the 2021 Bentonville Film Festival, August 2-8. Marlee Matlin is also set to be awarded the Festival’s Rising to the Challenge Award, which honors an artist who has shown true impact and success supporting indie film projects, both on and off screen. Lisa Lu, star of BFF’s Narrative Feature Film Competition selection The Disappearance of Mrs. Wu, is set to receive the Festival’s See It Be It Award, recognizing those who influence pop culture on screen, or through their own creative content, that makes visible stories that are otherwise overlooked or underrepresented. Structured as a hybrid event, this year’s Festival will offer virtual film screenings, panels and special events, along with select regional, in person events and screenings. 


The Festival will feature the 7th edition of Geena & Friends, a stand out event featuring Geena Davis joined by Margaret Cho, Yolanda Ross, and Shohreh Aghdashloo reimagining iconic memorable dialogue from male-dominated movie scenes and deconstructing gender stereotypes to expand our worldview. This special virtual event will be followed by a moderated conversation with the cast on Saturday, August 7. 


“We are delighted to showcase this year’s Festival program to both in-person and virtual audiences come August,” said Geena Davis, Bentonville Film Festival Chair. “We’ve curated a program of groundbreaking works from a broad range of diverse storytellers, and we are honoring two special recipients for their dynamic and notable voices; Marlee Matlin and Lisa Lu with our ‘Rising to the Challenge’ and ‘See It Be It’ awards respectively!” said Davis. 


“As we enter our 7th year we have an opportunity to further our mission to change the status quo for the types of stories that are told in film. We’re continuing to prove that there is a rich community of not only filmmakers with heartfelt stories to tell, but there are vast audiences hungry for fresh, new narratives that reflect all corners of the world around them,” said Wendy Guerrero, President of Bentonville Film Festival and Foundation. “This year’s lineup exemplifies that through its exciting, hybrid program of film and conversations,” said Guerrero. 


Since 2015, the Bentonville Film Festival has been an annual Festival and globally recognized platform amplifying female, non-binary, LGBTQIA+, BIPOC, and people with disabilities’ voices in entertainment. The week-long Festival, presented by the Bentonville Film Foundation, in partnership with founding sponsor Walmart and presenting sponsor Coca-Cola, is known for its dedication to championing marginalized and underrepresented voices in film. 


In 2020, the Bentonville Film Festival’s hybrid virtual program saw more than 30,000 attendees over the course of the Festival. 

The following projects are confirmed as selections for the 2021 Bentonville Film Festival program: 



Music stories can have a cultural impact, and at this year’s Bentonville Film Festival, the Spotlight Feature program will showcase some of the best independent films from filmmakers using music to create connection and change.


COAST, (Directors: Jessica Hester, Derek Schweickart, Writer: Cindy Kitagawa) Desperate to escape the trappings of her small coastal farming town, 16 year-old Abby falls for the lead singer of a touring rock band and must decide whether or not to leave her family and friends behind. Cast: Fatima Ptacek, Mia Frampton, Mia Xitlali, Kaylee Kamiya, Kane Ritchotte, Ciara Bravo, Eduardo Roman with Cristela Alonzo, Melissa Leo 


CODA, (Director/Writer: Sian Heder) 

As a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults) Ruby is the only hearing person in her deaf family. When the family's fishing business is threatened, Ruby finds herself torn between pursuing her love of music and her fear of abandoning her parents. 

Cast: Emilia Jones, Troy Kotsur, Daniel Durant, John Fiore, Lonnie Farmer, Kevin Chapman, Amy Forsyth, Marlee Matlin 


FALLING FOR FIGARO, (Director: Ben Lewin, Writers: Ben Lewin, Allen Palmer) A brilliant young fund manager leaves her unfulfilling job and long-term boyfriend to chase her lifelong dream of becoming an opera singer in the Scottish Highlands. 

Cast: Shazad Latif, Danielle Macdonald, Hugh Skinner, Joanna Lumley, Gary Lewis, Rebecca Benson, Ian Hanmore, Margaret Fraser 


LANGUAGE LESSONS, (Director: Natalie Morales, Writers: Natalie Morales, Mark Duplass) A Spanish teacher and her student develop an unexpected friendship. World Premiere Cast: Natalie Morales, Mark Duplass, Desean Terry 


MOGUL MOWGLI, (Director: Bassam Tariq, Writers: Riz Ahmed, Bassam Tariq)

On the brink of his first international tour, Zed, a British Pakistani rapper, decides to fly home to the UK to visit the family he has not seen in two years. In the midst of trying to reconnect with his parents, he is suddenly struck down by an autoimmune disease. As his condition worsens and his big breakthrough moment is in danger of vanishing into thin air, Zed descends into a physical and emotional crisis, amplified by vivid hallucinations. Opening Night Selection

Cast: Riz Ahmed, Anjana Vasan, Aiysha Hart, Nabhaan Rizwan, Alyy Khan, Sudha Bhuchar, Kiran Sonia Sawar, Hussain Manawer, Dolly Jagdeo, Mitesh Soni




THELMA & LOUISE, 30th Anniversary Screening (Director: Ridley Scott, Writer: Callie Khouri) Two best friends set out on an adventure, but it soon turns around to a terrifying escape from being hunted by the police, as these two girls escape for the crimes they committed. 

Cast: Geena Davis, Susan Sarandon, Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, Christopher McDonald, Stephen Tobolowsky, Brad Pitt, Timothy Carhart 


CHANGING THE GAME, Hulu (Director: Michael Barnett) 

Journeying into the lives of three high school athletes at different stages of their athletic seasons, personal lives, and their unique paths as transgender teens. Their stories span across the U.S.; from Sarah, a skier and teen policymaker in New Hampshire, to Andraya, a track star in Connecticut openly transitioning into her authentic self, and to Mack Beggs, who made headlines last year when he became the Texas State Champion in wrestling. 


JESUS MUSIC, (Directors: Andrew Erwin, Jon Erwin, Writer: Jon Erwin) With stirring songs of faith, love, and hope, Jesus music rose from America’s 1960s counterculture movement to become a worldwide phenomenon. This fascinating documentary reveals the music’s uplifting and untold story — from its humble beginnings at the Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California through its transformation into the multibillion-dollar industry of Christian Contemporary Music today. Directed by the Erwin Brothers ("I Can Only Imagine", “I Still Believe”, “American Underdog”), THE JESUS MUSIC is the definitive love letter to CCM fans that features intimate interviews with the genre’s biggest stars including Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, TobyMac, Kirk Franklin, and Lauren Daigle. With stories of trials and triumphs, the universal power of music from these artists shine through from their messages of passion, sacrifice, and redemption that inspire millions of devoted listeners. Sneak Peak Film

Cast: Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, TobyMac, Kirk Franklin, Lauren Daigle


FEELING THROUGH EXPERIENCE, (Director/Writer: Doug Roland) 

Feeling Through, the first film to star a DeafBlind actor, is a coming of age story that follows Tereek, a teen wandering the streets of New York, desperate for a place to crash when he encounters Artie, a DeafBlind man in need of help getting home. From an awkward meeting between strangers emerges an intimate bond, and a journey that forever changes Tereek. 

Cast: Steven Prescod and Robert Tarango 



Queer Stories 


AT LAST, (Director/Writer: Lorena Gordon) 

A timid high school girl reveals her truth during the most important night of the year. Cast: George Lopez, Zack Gottsagen, Katie Burton, Marlene Forte, Tricia Brooks 


GOD’S DAUGHTER DANCES, (Director/Writer: Sungbin Byun) 

A transgender female dancer, Shin-mi, gets a call from the Military Manpower Administration, to attend for the Military Service Examination. Shin-mi, with everything in readiness, takes her steps to the Military Manpower Administration.  


IN THE IMAGE OF GOD, (Director: Bianca Rondolino) 

The fourth generation in his family to be born intersex, Jewish Rabbi Levi was assigned the female gender at birth and grew up thinking he was sick and defective. IN THE IMAGE OF GOD tells the story of his struggles and transitions, culminating today in a life as a religious leader and an LGBTQI+ activist living happily in Los Angeles with his wife. 


KINGS & QUEENS, (Director: Elmer J. Howard, Writer: Melissa Martin) 

A lesbian down on her luck finds solace in a local drag community while searching to find her authentic self.  

Cast: Emily Kokidko, Sara Brophy, Thomas Smallwood, Melissa Martin, Michelle Martin 


MARIAM, (Director/Writer: Reem Jubran) 

Zaid, a young Arab-American amateur drag queen, has to confront his conservative father and Alzheimer's grandfather about his identity. 

Cast: Maz Siam, Beto Ochoa, George Jubran 


TAFFETA, (Director: Lovell Holder, Writer: Roger Q. Mason) 

Based on their play "Lavender Men," playwright-performer Roger Q. Mason explores questions of identity and vicious cycles of addiction in their short film "Taffeta." As a toxic phone sex relationship spirals out of control, the titular Taffeta must confront whether they will be able to break out of the destructive habits and crippling loneliness that have haunted their life. World Premiere 

Cast: Roger Q. Mason, Charlie Thurston 


TELL ME ABOUT ORANGE, (Director: Robin Noonan-Price, Writer: Rachel Ament) When his best girl friend expresses her romantic feelings, a blind teenage boy struggles to express his. He realizes that sometimes love really is blind. 

Cast: Ian Toppell, Vivian Pope, Liam Hamilton, Talia Williams, Carly Dagilis, Jack Haley 


TO THE FUTURE, WITH LOVE, (Director: Shaleece Haas, Writer: Hunger “Pixel”Jimenez

To the Future, With Love is an animated self-portrait of 19-year-old Hunter “Pixel” Jimenez, a nonbinary trans boy caught between the expectations of his Guatemalan immigrant family and his dreams of living happily ever after with his long-distance boyfriend Damienne. World Premiere 

Cast: Hunter "Pixel" Jimenez 


VESTIRSE, (Director: John e. Kilberg) 

Jacky is trying to get dressed to meet their mother one late afternoon. 

Cast: John e. Kilberg, Cristina Alvarez Kilberg 



The 7th annual Bentonville Film Festival Virtual panels will be free with a suggested donation of $10 in order to help us to continue to support inclusive stories and storytellers through our year long programming. 2021 Virtual Panels are presented by Mars, Inc. All panels will be presented virtually. 



Join us for the launch of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media’s new groundbreaking research study: I Am Not a Fetish or Model Minority: Redefining What it Means to be API in Entertainment. This inaugural study investigates Asian American and Pacific Islander (API) representation in the largest grossing family films in the U.S. along with a landmark survey of API entertainment content creators. This study will provide critical insights to drive progress for more authentic representations. 

Moderator: Craig Robinson (EVP and Chief Diversity Officer, NBCUniversal) 

Panelists: Margaret Cho (Comedian, Actor, Musician, Advocate and Entrepreneur), Christopher Kahunahana (Filmmaker and Award-Winning Artist), Christina M. Kim (Executive Producer & Co-Showrunner), Kung Fu, Jane Lee (Manager of Original Animated Series, Netflix), Fawzia Mirza (Writer/Creator/Director) 



A showcase of best practices from industry executives, content creators, and actors who have successfully worked with female driven content. In partnership with GDIGM, this annual panel discussion is moderated by Madeline Di Nonno, President & CEO, Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and features BFF Chair, Academy Award winner – Geena Davis.

Moderator: Madeline Di Nonno (President and CEO, Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media)

Panelists: Geena Davis (Academy Award-winning Actor, Founder and Chair, Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media), Marlee Matlin (Academy Award Winning Actor), Beth Paretta (Paretta Autosport Owner), Lisa Lu (Actor), Kelly Burgland (Starz Heels)



The true power of media can change minds, challenge traditions, and create movements by making deep emotional connections that stir and motivate audiences to take action. Join us for a dialogue with brand leaders on how they are amplifying social issues through their channels and the impact of their campaigns in different communities. 

Moderator: Madeline DiNonno (President and CEO Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media) 

Panelists: Dr. Brent Ridge (Entrepreneur, Beekman Farms), Josh Kilmer-Purcell (Entrepreneur, Beekman Farms), Janey Whiteside (EVP/Chief Customer Officer, Walmart) 



In celebration of the 30th Anniversary Screening of Thelma and Louise, there will be a conversation with film star Geena Davis and screenwriter, Callie Khouri, of Thelma and Louise.

Moderator: Tomris Laffly (Freelance film critic with Variety and

Participants: Geena Davis (Academy Award Winning Actor), Callie Khouri (Academy Award-winning Screenwriter) 



A conversation highlighting the importance of prioritizing mental health whilst maintaining a career in the film and entertainment industry, especially during the pandemic. Invited speakers will include leading experts in the industry and advocates.

Panelists: Justin Hillian (Creator, The Chi), Steven Levenson (Creator, Dear Evan Hansen), Anna Shinoda (Author) 



A dynamic discussion highlighting animation. Invited speakers will include changemakers in the entertainment industry. 

Moderator: Alexandra Whyte (Kidscreen)

Panelists: Chris Nee (TV screenwriter and producer), Margie Cohn (Dreamworks), Audrey Diehl (Warner), Liz Bartels (Global Content Planning and Strategy, Lego) 



A dynamic discussion highlighting film scoring, soundtracks and how music shapes the story. Invited speakers will include changemakers in the entertainment industry. 

Panelists: Pierce Freelon, Antonina Armata (Rock Mafia), Rickey Minor (Emmy Award Winner), Mirette Seireg (President and founder of MPATH)



A conversation highlighting the importance of authenticity in the representation and inclusion of trans voices on and off the screen. Invited speakers will include on and off-screen talent, as well as activists in the industry. 

Moderator: Nick Adams (GLAAD) 

Panelists: Alex Schmider (GLAAD, Producer), Samantha Rogers (TG Detroit), Mari Walker (Writer, Director, See You Then), Brian Micahael Smith, Ian Alexander



Shorts Program


BOSSBABES, (Directors/Writers: Corey Clifford, Ryan Lagod) 

A dark comedy about the cultish worlds of multi-level marketing schemes. Lacey Anne was promised success, friends and the life of a #bossbabe, through the multi level marketing company Cliff & Roe. What she got was boxes of unsellable product, loneliness and an empty bank account. Ready to reclaim her life Lacey decides to quit the company. Unfortunately leaving proves harder than simply sending an email. After weeks of failed attempts and repeated charges to her debit card, Lacey is out of options. She heads to the house of Laura Jane the “Queen Bee” of the company where a simple interaction turns heated. Lacey will do anything to get out of her contract, but this MLM will do anything to keep her in it. Cast: Monica Sherer, Corey Clifford, Jenna Doolittle 


LULLABY, (Director/Writer: Claire Barnett) 

When a grieving musician receives a notice of foreclosure on her home, she must face the ghosts of her past in order to escape the dreamworld she's lost herself within. 

Cast: Sophie Barnes, James Basham and Celeste Barnes 


REMEDIOS, (Directed by: The LatinX Theatre Project (LXTP) )

Remedios is a video project that explores the different ways of healing through art, and meant to reveal how opportunity and access, and the lack thereof, can effect the change and outcome of how stories are told and perceived in communities. LatinX Theatre Project (LXTP) is a socially engaged theatre group of professionals and young artists-in-training that is committed to continuing an inclusive conversation about community identity through its devised theatre performances, Focused on authentic representation of the latinx communities of northwest arkansas, LXTP is supported by regional stakeholders, including the Walton Family Foundation, and is an artistic affiliate of Theatre Squared. 


RIDE OR DIE, (Director/Writer: Josalynn Smith) 

PAULA and JAMIE are on their way to Thebes—Thebes, Kentucky that is. As Paula drives Jamie through the Midwest, they make a few stops along the way that deepen their relationship. Their romantic night reaches its peak at the drive-in movie theatre. Near the end of their journey, Paula wants nothing more than for Jamie to change her mind about seeking revenge on her father. Jamie, prioritizing her own trauma, tells Paula that they will continue on to her father’s house… 

Cast: McKenzie Moser, Kazia Steele 


SELF PORTRAIT, (Director: Connor Allen Smith, Writer: Texas Smith) 

Over the course of a day, Time moves through a young couple as everyday matters of cohabiting in a 2020 city persist. World Premiere 

Cast: Connor Allen Smith, Tania Cordova 


THESE FLOWERS, (Director/Writer: Rebecca Lowman) 

A woman struggles to regain control as she's pulled in the wake of a murder she doesn't understand. Cast: Rebecca Harris, Wendy Stetson, Finola Weller 




HAVE A NICE LIFE, (Director/Writer: Prashanth Kamalakanthan)

After hitting dead ends in life, Jyothi, an Indian housewife, and Sophie, a stoner musician, find themselves on the run from the law, together on a wild, surreal American road trip from Durham, North Carolina to Montreal, Canada.

Cast: Lucy Kaminsky, Jagathi Kamalakanthan and Onur Tukel

About The Bentonville Film Festival 

Chaired by Academy Award® winner Geena Davis, the Bentonville Film Festival is a one-of-a-kind annual event that champions inclusion in all forms of media. BFF is a year-long platform with the BFFoundation, culminating with a six-day festival, in collaboration with the founding sponsor, Walmart, and presenting sponsor, Coca-Cola. The Bentonville Film Festival is held annually in Bentonville, Arkansas and the surrounding region of Northwest Arkansas. 

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