When the student organizers of the Reynolda Film Festival asked actress Viola Davis if she would speak at the annual art event, they knew it was a long shot due to the actress’s busy schedule and high demand.
“We thought we might as well go for it,” said co-president Emily Jo Williams.
But respond she did, and after some finagling and financial help from their 25 co-sponsors, the students secured Davis as the keynote speaker for the annual film festival. This will be the actress’s first time speaking on a college campus.
Davis’ attendance at the event shows how far the festival has come since its founding in 2007.
“In years past we have struggled as an organization to find our audience on campus,” said co-president Sam Tarde. “Previously we have brought in some prominent speakers like Spike Lee and Edward Burns, but quickly realized that the film niche that we were hoping to attract was simply not very present on our campus.”
In order to gain a greater audience in both the Winston-Salem and Wake Forest communities, the student-run executive board decided to try to bring a keynote speaker that might reach a broader audience. We decided that in order to give our festival more credibility and interest, we needed to bring in a keynote speaker that would reach a much broader audience than our beloved cinephiles.
“By bringing in an actress as big as Davis, we had hoped to flourish this idea of wider recognition while further perpetuating our mission of social justice through film,” Tarde said.
Securing Davis seems to have worked, based on the local response to her speech this upcoming Saturday.
“Having Viola Davis as our keynote speaker has definitely put Reynolda Film Festival on the map, so to speak,” said senior Madeline Stone, the festival’s public relations chair. “Davis is a huge draw for people and more students than ever before are now interested in both attending and working with the festival. I think that Davis’s influence will help Reynolda Film Festival gain more traction on campus and create a stronger student support base throughout the coming years.”
Davis’s attendance is also in keeping with the trend of social justice issues the festival strives to bring to the forefront. For the past few years, the film festival has centered on events that address various political and social issues.
Last year’s keynote speaker was Kirby Dick, director of “The Hunting Ground,” a documentary about the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses. Davis’s speech will continue this trend. This year, Davis will be talking about being a woman of color in the film industry. Students running the festival this year hope that this trend will continue.
During the past week, the Reynolda Film Festival has hosted events ranging from a panel about breaking into the film industry to a screening of the ESPN documentary Let them Wear Towels to an advance screening of Snow White and the Huntsman.
“I hope that Reynolda Film Festival will continue to confront similar issues throughout the coming years,” Stone said. “I would love for the festival to become a driving force in promoting social change on campus.”
Davis will speak on April 2 at 5 p.m. in Wait Chapel.