You may remember Geena Davis when she was on the lam in Thelma and Louise, or as Dottie the baseball-playing dairy farmer in A League of Their Own. She also played the President of the United States in the television show Commander In Chief.
Davis has played a lot of great, complex roles but knows that good parts for women are far too few. Ever since she's worked in Hollywood, she's heard talk that certain movies -- often ones she starred in -- would improve availability of roles for women in the industry. But the momentum just never seemed to be there.
Davis made personal appeals to studio executives and filmmakers, without much luck. Then, watching television with her young daughter one day, she realized the gender disparity on screen wasn't just in movies for grown ups, it was happening right from the beginning -- in TV for young children.
That's when Davis knew she needed some hard facts and numbers to make her case. To conduct the research no one else was doing, she founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.
Now, Davis has moved beyond research by partnering with Trevor Drinkwater, an entertainment executive with experience in consumer products. Drinkwater heads ARC Entertainment, a company with an emphasis on making movies to sell products. His largest customer? Walmart.
Last year, Walmart and Drinkwater came up within the idea of hosting a festival with a focus on diversity. They figured it's good for the company and good for business. And they'd host it right in the town of Bentonville, Arkansas -- the home of Walmart.
Drinkwater pitched the concept to his friend Geena Davis, and right away she said yes.
In addition to Walmart, the Bentonville Film Festival boasts other big sponsors like Coca Cola and Kraft. Films in competition will be evaluated on their commercial potential, and the top winners will be guaranteed theatrical distribution through AMC, something no other film festival offers.
The Bentonville Film Festival runs May 5-9, 2015. Davis and Drinkwater hope it will be the first of many.