Bentonville Film Festival Selection Highlights Homelessness During Pandemic

The film is one of several BIPOC-led projects being screened at the week-long festival.

Black woman laying upside down on a blue slide hugging a teddy bear
Kelley Kali directs and stars in "I'm Fine (Thanks for Asking)" which will be screened at the Bentonville Film Festival. Courtesy Photo.

One morning during lockdown in 2020, Los Angeles-based director Kelley Kali woke up with a “pressing feeling that something had to be made.” Armed with a stimulus check and some unemployment money, Kali rounded up some friends and created her first, feature-length film I’m Fine (Thanks for Asking), which will be screened at the Bentonville Film Festival this week.

In the film, Kali plays Danny, a recently widowed hairdresser who is houseless and living in a tent on the side of the road with her eight-year-old daughter. During the course of the movie, Danny skates around Los Angeles trying to find enough work to pay the deposit on an apartment. 

Kali wrote, produced and directed the film with Angelique Molina, and Kali says they tend to lean toward stories that have a social impact. Homelessness is huge in Los Angeles and watching the crisis grow during the pandemic is one reason they felt this was a relevant story to tell.

“It’s even worse today, I’m seeing it even more,” Kali says. “It hasn’t gotten better yet, so we’re hoping that a film like this will start to bring more awareness to the issues.”

To be safe while filming during the pandemic last year, Kali and Molina cast themselves and their friends to keep the crew small and made sure no more than 10 people were on set at a time. 

“COVID was very influential on how we ended up making it, but it was also influential on the fact that we made it,” Molina says. 

I’m Fine (Thanks for Asking) made its debut at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival in March. BET Her will premiere the film on its network at 7 p.m. Aug. 7. You can also see the film this week at the Bentonville Film Festival. Bentonville is a “dream festival” that Kali has wanted to be a part of for some time because of its focus on underrepresented storytellers.

“This festival is exactly our cup of tea. It’s exactly our people. It’s exactly our flock of birds,” Kali says. “This is where we want to be, we need to be and I’m so glad they recognized our film and the work that our whole team did and these issues that matter.”

This year, 75 percent of the competition titles at the festival are directed by filmmakers who are members of BIPOC or Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. Seventy-one percent of the films are directed by women.

The duo has been strategic about what festivals they apply to. It’s important, Molina says, to be part of platforms that not only lift up and showcase their work, but also help connect them with other filmmakers who are on the same journey.

“The fact that we have to talk about it and that we’re not just a part of it in an immersive way and that we are still the other is reason enough that Bentonville is important, that our stories are important and that they need this platform,” Molina says.

The 2021 Bentonville Film Festival is Aug. 2-8 and will include both virtual and in-person events. I’m Fine (Thanks for Asking) can be screened in person at 10 a.m. Aug. 5 at Skylight Cinema. The film can also be viewed virtually this week.

A full schedule of events is available at www.bentonvillefilm.org.

Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is Editor-in-Chief of Arkansas Soul, the host of the Affirmative Action podcast and a Northwest Arkansas-based journalist. She has covered race, culture, politics, health, education and the arts in Arkansas for nearly 15 years.