2021 Bentonville Film Festival – Preview

This year has afforded me an excellent opportunity to “attend” a number of film festivals without ever leaving my hometown and how fun to get a chance to participate in a forward-thinking one such as the Bentonville Film Festival, now in its 7th year. Chaired by Oscar-winner Geena Davis and held in Bentonville, Arkansas and other areas of the Northwest part of the state, the week-long event aims to champion the underrepresented voices in media and they’ve routinely been heralded for making good on their commitment. One of the Top 10 film festivals reaching over 85,000 attendees each year, content includes Movies, TV, Digital Content, Books, Music, Games and Technology.

Check out the Bentonville Film Festival website for more info!

Stay tuned for reviews from the creative line-up of movies in the narrative and documentary categories — the programmers have curated an eclectic mix and I’m having trouble narrowing the field down to fit everything in with my limited schedule! Below, is a look at several of the movies I have my eye on…and you should too!

Narrative Features

Appearing as one of Bentonville’s first Spotlight films, COAST comes with the good buzz out of its initial run at the 36th Santa Barbara International Film Festival back in April. Centered on a group of girls from different cultural backgrounds within the same community growing up in a California coastal town and infused with an authentic edge courtesy of a rock score and fresh performances, it’s easy to see why this would rise to the top of the list to secure a place in a spotlight. Iman Zawahry’s AMERICANISH takes places in Jackson Heights, New York and and is billed as a “reimagination of and critical divergence from the classical romantic comedy.” Um, sold. I recently re-watched the criminally (at the time) underappreciated The Joy Luck Club from 1993 and count Lisa Lu’s performance as a standout among a cast of peerless talents so her casting as an “irascible” matriarch out for a wild road trip to help restore some broken bridges in THE DISAPPEARENCE OF MRS. WU (directed by Anna Chi) sounds like a can’t miss occasion. From Lissette Feliciano comes the period-set WOMEN IS LOSERS and what drew me to this one is not the Janis Joplin song reference of the title but the summary which sets-up an interesting view of women’s rise to power in the ’60s and the revolution that followed. Finally, Ben Lewin’s FALLING FOR FIGARO simply looks like a good time and I’m just waiting for that one role for star Danielle Macdonald that really puts her on the map. She’s so good in everything she does, but it winds up being in films that might sputter out too early (French Exit).

I’d also be a complete failure to not point you toward CATCH THE FAIR ONE and THE NOVICE, two films I saw earlier this summer at the Tribeca Film Festival that feature incredible performances by their lead actors. CATCH THE FAIR ONE is an excellent little revenge thriller with the dynamite Kali Reis as a former boxer plunged into a series of dangerous situations while looking for her missing sister. Reis, a boxer in real life, wrote the script along with the director and gives the kind of powerhouse debut you only rarely get in film. In THE NOVICE, star Isabelle Fuhrman won the Best Actress award at Tribeca and with good reason. As a college athlete that becomes obsessed with success on her college rowing team, this is unforgettable work and here’s hoping Furhrman and the film stay on the radar through the end of the year. For lighter fare, 7 DAYS is a cute little romantic comedy about two strangers set up by their Indian matchmaking parents that wind up being forced to shelter-in-place during the pandemic. It bounces along on the charm of its stars…for a while, but it doesn’t quite make it to seven days in my book. I’d say five days, max.

Documentary Features

There’s one doc in this bunch that I’ve already seen at the AFI DOCS Festival, TRY HARDER!, and if you aren’t too stressed watching a bunch of college hopefuls be put through the ringer as they do nothing but angle their way into the best college, then this well-done doc is for you.

There are three other documentaries I’m going to try to fit in and I tried to pick a range of emotions in my selections so I didn’t go too light or too dark in tone. I think A FIRE WITHIN from Christopher Chambers sounds like a devastating watch, so I’m either going to focus on that one first or save it until near the end and follow it up with the more lighthearted WORKHOUSE QUEEN from Angela Washko. The Chambers doc tells the story of three Ethopian immigrants that came to the U.S. after fleeing torture in their own country, only to find the individual responsible for their terror working in the same hotel they do. Heavy stuff that shouldn’t be forgotten and that’s not to say Washko’s feature on drag queen Mrs. Kasha Davis is meant to clear the mind…it just could balance things out a bit. I’ve already seen one documentary (BEING BEBE) on a former RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant so it will be interesting to compare the two. Finally, Ida Joglar’s KILI BIG feels like it could be a strong bit of inspiration to close out the fest for me, watching the Curvy Kili Crew (20 plus-sized women) train for and then climb a titanic mountain in Africa.

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