The 2021 Bentonville Film Festival (BFF) is upon us (running August 2-8), the seventh installment of the event that celebrates inclusion in all forms of media. The BFF is chaired by Academy Award winner Genna Davis, whose Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media is a primary research partner of the BFFoundation. The foundation is “a non-profit organization focused on promoting underrepresented voices of diverse storytellers. We champion female, non-binary, LGBTQIA+, black, indigenous, people of color, and people with disabilities’ voices in entertainment and media.”
This year’s hybrid digital and in-person festival truly embodies diversity:
- 71% of the projects are directed by women, 75% by people that are BIPOC or AAPI, and 33% by people of the LGBTQIA+ community
- 70% of these films are written by women, 70% by people that are BIPOC or AAPI, 30% by people of the LGBTQIA+ community
- 87% feature a female lead, 81% a BIPOC or AAPI lead, and 30% an LGBTQIA+ lead. 96% of these films have a cast and crew that was made up of more than half of people from these same communities
Guy At The Movies will be covering the festival all week on GuyAtTheMovies.com and on Instagram (@guyatthemovies). Below is a preview of those films I am most looking forward to. Be sure to follow along throughout the week and check out bentonvillefilm.org for more!
7 Days (United States)
Synopsis: Ravi is set up on an arranged marriage date with Rita by their traditional Indian parents. When the circumstances of quarantine force them to shelter together, Ravi discovers that Rita is not quite the traditional girl of his dreams.
Why I’m Interested: This is one that I missed during the Tribeca Film Festival this year and seems to be an intriguing look at cultural norms under the pressures of quarantine.
Catch The Fair One (United States)
Synopsis: A former boxer embarks on the fight of her life when she goes in search of her missing sister.
Why I’m Interested: Word has it that Kali Reis delivers a knockout performance and that the film tackles much more than meets the eye.
The Disappearance of Mrs. Wu (United States)
Synopsis: Aware that her time is running short, irascible Wu family matriarch Lily (Lisa Lu) is eager to repair the strained relationship with her adult daughter Mary (Michelle Krusiec) and help her shy 18-year-old granddaughter Emma (Rochelle Ying) find her voice. As her final wish, she persuades longtime friend Charlotte (Joely Fisher), Emma and Emma’s best friend Karen (Tiffany Wu) to spring her from her L.A. nursing home and take a wild road trip up the California coast to a special place from her past. Along the way, long-held secrets are revealed and Mary and Emma each come to understand the painful choices their mothers made in this funny and touching multi-generational story about family, forgiveness and being true to oneself. World Premiere
Why I’m Interested: The synopsis for this world premiere is bursting with heart.
I’m Fine (Thanks For Asking) (Unite States)
Synopsis: In this exhilarating, poignant debut feature, Danny (played by co-director Kelley Kali in a star-making performance), a recently widowed woman barely makes ends meet by braiding hair and making deliveries on roller skates. Having convinced her 8 year old daughter they are ‘camping out’ in a tent for fun (in a nod to “Life is Beautiful”) she manages to save enough money for a downpayment on a new apartment. When a client is unable to pay her, she realizes that if she can’t raise $200 by day’s end she will lose the apartment and have to admit to her daughter that they are actually “houseless”. What follows is an intense, manic and frayed day until the final reckoning. In a world where we need more underrepresented voices telling their own stories, this movie hits the mark. Equal turns funny and heart wrenching, this is a soaring, urgent achievement that announces the co-directors, co-writers, and leading cast as major forces in a work that will have audiences cheering.
Why I’m Interested: The synopsis alone is enough to hook me as a mother is attempting to shield her daughter from the realities of their situation through both humor and heart.
Ludi (United States)
Synopsis: Ludi, a hardworking and exhausted nurse, battles coworkers, clients and one impatient bus driver to learn her self worth as she chases the American Dream in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood.
Why I’m Interested: Any film that tackles the American Dream from the eyes of someone working to achieve it from outside of the country is immediately of interest as our own views of the United States are skewed.
See You Then (United States)
Synopsis: Kris, a transgender computer programmer, and Naomi, an Asian-American performance artist, used to date in college. They haven’t seen each other for 15 years, since Kris left town without a word. Over the course of a one night encounter, they engage in a series of increasingly intimate and revealing conversations, before a revelation sends everything spiraling out of control. See You Then focuses on the universal truth that no matter how much you change, a part of you will always stay the same.
Why I’m Interested: MORE TRANSGENDER STORIES, PLEASE!
Waikiki (United States)
Synopsis: When a Native Hawaiian hula dancer escaping her abusive boyfriend crashes her beat-up van into a mysterious homeless man, she finds herself flung into a surrealistic journey of self-exploration and enlightenment. Director Christopher Kahunahana’s eagerly awaited feature debut breaks down the enduring, stereotypical image of paradise we have of Waikiki to reveal a vulnerable and authentic portrait of indigeneity. Leaving behind the touristic image of paradise and island culture, WAIKĪKĪ tackles the often-unspeakable generational trauma of postcolonial cultures through a mixing of genre conventions, experimental storytelling, and perspectives.
Why I’m Interested: The cultural clashes promised to be explored here, as well as the mention of “experimental storytelling,” has me excited.
A Fire Within (United States)
Synopsis: A Fire Within chronicles the incredible, true story of three Women who are immigrants from Ethiopia and torture survivors, who one day discover that their torturer is in the U.S…working at a hotel in Atlanta, Georgia. It is a thrilling story about three immigrants, three refugees, three survivors taking a stand to make their voices heard and their courageous fight to bring a notorious torturer from Africa to justice — right here in America.
Why I’m Interested: My heart already hurts for these women and this story must be told.
Workhorse Queen (United States)
Synopsis: By day, Ed Popil worked as the manager of a telemarketing center in post-industrial Rochester, New York for 18 years. By night, he transformed into drag queen Mrs. Kasha Davis. Not your average aspiring pop star drag queen, Mrs. Kasha Davis is a 1960’s era housewife trying to liberate herself from domestic toil through performing at night in secret – an homage to Ed’s own mother. After seven years of auditioning to compete on reality television show RuPaul’s Drag Race, Ed Popil was finally cast onto the show and thrust into a full time entertainment career at the late age of 44. Workhorse Queen explores the complexities of mainstream television’s impact on queer performance culture. In addition to following Ed’s life and career before and after being cast onto RuPaul’s Drag Race, the film focuses on the growing divide between members of a small town drag community – those who have been on television, and those who have not. Throughout the film, Ed Popil navigates the exciting highs and devastating lows of pursuing the fame promised by a reality television platform. With one foot inching toward Hollywood’s doorstep and the other cemented firmly within her beloved Rochester community, Mrs. Kasha Davis finds a surprising new audience at home as she works toward becoming the queer role model for children that Ed didn’t have and desperately wanted growing up.
Why I’m Interested: I’m always up for a good drag queen documentary!
Mogul Mowgli (United States)
Synopsis: 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.
Why I’m Interested: First, Riz Ahmed. Second, Bassam Tariq has been hired for Marvel’s Blade, so I am desperate to see his talents.
Coast (United States)
Synopsis: 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. With live music performances and an exciting ensemble cast, COAST is about female friendships, finding your truth, and letting the music take you home.
Why I’m Interested: Coming-of-age… music… a female-centered picture… yes, please.
CODA (United States)
Synopsis: Ruby, 17, is the only hearing member in her deaf family. When the family’s fishing business is threatened, Ruby finds herself torn between her love of music and the obligations she feels to her family.
Why I’m Interested: How I have not seen this yet is beyond me!
Synopsis: Lily Cruz, a DACA recipient, travels on a medical volunteer mission and upon returning to the USA a TSA agent isn’t so welcoming.
Why I’m Interested: The DACA saga is one that will forever be a stain on the United States, but not many people are aware of the specifics regarding the program. I welcome any project showcasing the struggles.
Synopsis: A group of teenage girls who find a way out though America’s favorite sport…for men.
Why I’m Interested: Challenge. The. Norm.
I Am Normal
Synopsis: A sane woman fakes the symptoms of a mentally unstable patient in order to be admitted into a mental institution for a secret psychiatric experiment. Inspired by the Rosenhan Experiment of 1973.
Why I’m Interested: This seems like an unhinged picture to me and is immediately intriguing.
I Am A Vampire
Synopsis: In and amongst the confusion created by the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, 8 year-old Jackie believes she is turning into a vampire. As her suspicion is reinforced by her parents’ bewildering behavior, the imaginative girl creates her own plan to survive the confinement.
Why I’m Interested: A unique premise that hooked me immediately.
Korean Ghost Story
Synopsis: In this supernatural horror tale based on a Korean ritual starring Margaret Cho and Lyrica Okano, a woman entertains a macabre offer that would let her pursue her dreams, for better or for much much worse.
Why I’m Interested: Margaret Cho in a ghost story? Sign me up.
Synopsis: A prehistoric family’s desperate search for a mythical source of life turns into tragedy when the egos and obsessions of their male members rise to the surface.
Why I’m Interested: Does this tackle toxic masculinity? It sounds like it does, and I am here for it.
Synopsis: Based on a true event preceding the Larry Nassar trials, an unlikely pair come together at a dystopian pizza party for sexual assault survivors. #42; A quiet high schooler meets #1; A quick-witted litigator due with her first child any day now- flanked lovingly by her husband Max. Their relationship blooms and #42 becomes #1’s greatest teacher. Through solidarity, #42, #1 and every woman in the room begins to reconcile with and acknowledge the innocence that was taken away from them. Opening a portal into a dream-like world of leotards and little girl cries, of strength, joy and unrelenting fury.
Why I’m Interested: This story needs to be told.
When The Leaves Fall
Synopsis: Triggered by a haunting childhood memory, a homeless woman living inside an abandoned bus shelter loses her grip on reality, ultimately putting herself and those around her in imminent danger. Based on true accounts, When the Leaves Fall is a gripping story that explores the intersectionality of mental illness and racism, exposing the dangerous fallout that can arise for people when symptoms are ignored or neglected. This is a thought-provoking film that hopes to bring awareness to those who suffer from mental illness and to ignite a powerful conversation around the pervasiveness of racism in today’s society.
Why I’m Interested: “Based on true accounts” was all that I needed to see. The intersectionality of mental illness and racism is often not discussed and needs to be.
Learn more about everything showing at this year’s Bentonville Film Festival here.