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Geena Davis on why a town with no theaters is perfect for the Bentonville Film Festival

Actress Geena Davis attends the World Childhood Foundation USA Symposium In Partnership With Inwood House at NASDAQ MarketSite on May 9, 2012 in New York City.
Actress Geena Davis attends the World Childhood Foundation USA Symposium In Partnership With Inwood House at NASDAQ MarketSite on May 9, 2012 in New York City.
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Geena Davis is perhaps best known for her role as Thelma in the 1991 film, "Thelma and Louise."

Now, Davis has formed the Geena Davis Institute, and her own film fest. The Bentonville Film Festival kicks off on May 3, and highlights films that champion diversity and equity in front of — and behind — the camera. This is the second year for the film festival.

Davis, who launched the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media in 2007, joined host Alex Cohen to discuss the Bentonville Film Festival, and the films that will be showcased.

Interview Highlights

On the female characters (or lack of) when she was growing up:

"There weren't any female characters that I wanted to pretend to be. I actually, I really liked Ginger from 'Gilligan's Island.' But my best friend and I, after school, would play 'The Rifleman,' we would pretend to be the characters, I'd be the father, she'd be my son. And it's only in hindsight now that I realize there weren't any female characters that we wanted to act out that we saw at least, which is interesting."

How her daughter inspired her to start the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media:

"I think she was about 4, and we were watching 'Mulan,' and it came to the part where they find out she's a girl in the army, and they throw her out and they were very rude and say, 'You can't be in the army because you're a girl.' And she looked up at me with this unbelievably heartbroken expression and said, 'Mommy, why can't girls be in the army?' And I answered the question of course, I said, 'Well back then, they thoughts girls couldn't be in the army.' But, this crashing realization came down on me that she doesn't know yet that people historically and still to a lesser extent think women can't do the same things that men can, and that women are second-class citizens and definitely were, and she has to learn that, and I'm so depressed that it's not fixed before she has to learn that."

On how the Bentonville Film Festival came to be, and why Bentonville, Arkansas was chosen:

"Well I'm from Bentonville… No I'm not [laughs]. It was because our founding sponsor is Walmart, and their headquarters is there, and also, Bentonville happens to be an incredibly beautiful, sort of quintessentially small town, with a little town square and everything, very excited about the festival and hospitable. It has a lack of movie theaters, which is not a great quality in a town you want to have a film festival in, but we have totally worked that out and they're getting a movie theater by next year… They [Walmart] actually have a lot of diversity and inclusion initiatives and programs for empowering women entrepreneurs and businesswomen, but saw this need in their own dealings with the public, you know, 'How can we do better? How can we have product that reflects better the diverse — incredibly diverse, and half female — population of the United States?' And so, the idea all came together through their initiative and willingness to support it, and we have so many incredible sponsors now, pretty much anybody you can name. We have Coke, and AMC, and Procter & Gamble, and Lifetime and Starz are our TV partners. So we're able to offer something that's unheard of in the entire world of film festivals, which is guaranteed distribution to the winners. So they get to be in AMC theaters, they get to be on TV, either on Starz or Lifetime, they get to be digital on Vudu, and have their DVDs in Walmarts. So it's a really, really big deal. I've had so many filmmakers tell me it's harder getting distribution than making the movie, and so we're offering a prize that's really exceptional."

To listen to the full interview, click on the blue audio player above.