Are Women’s Film Festivals Still Relevant?

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heidi honeycuttOr are they, like a career with benefits, a living wage, and paid vacation time, a relic of the past-times when women needed affirmative action-like policies to get a leg up in the entertainment industry? Since 2007, when I first became involved in holding film festivals for women directors, one of the most biting and possibly true critiques I have heard is that film festivals which single-out women directors actually draw attention to differences, in a negative way, rather than eliminate them. Gendered festivals, I have been told, not only handicap women by placing them in a sub-standard category of filmmakers (a Special Olympics of film, if you will), but they openly admit that women can’t compete with men on a level playing field.

Ouch.

When you put years and your heart and soul into making something happen, because you think it’s important, and then many members of the entertainment community tell you flat-out that women’s film festivals are not actually helpful to women but, in fact, harmful, you kind of want to stab yourself in the eye, repeatedly, with a dull spoon. “How could I be so misguided about something so obvious?” I ask myself as I curl up on the couch and take Xanax.

Etheria Film Night (www.etheriafilmnight.com), taking place on July 12, 2014 at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, California, screens new genre films directed by women. We’re showing the feature film Soulmate directed by Axelle Carolyn– a sort of gothic romance/supernatural story shot in the murky Welsh countryside – and seven new short films ranging from horror to sci-fi to comedy to action including Rose McGowan’s directorial debut, a thriller called “Dawn.” We’re pretty damn proud of these films.

Yet, I look around and see new genre films directed by women making headlines everywhere: Jovanka Vuckovic’s announcement that she’s directing the new Clive Barker adaptation Jacqueline Ess; Jen and Sylvia Soska are making the new action film Vendetta; Ana Lily Amirpour’s indie vampire western A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is being ravenously devoured by hungry entities like Filmmaker Magazine and the Sundance Film Festival; Jennifer Kent’s Australian horror movie The Babadook just had a theatrical release down-under, and every day new indie films like Madellaine Paxson’s Blood Punch and Jane Clark’s Crazy Bitches play at film festivals larger and – according to the film industry – more important than mine. These films are not underrepresented. They couldn’t be, not with that kind of coverage and screenings like those.

Despite the seemingly obvious evidence to the contrary, many actual female filmmakers have pulled me aside, and in the quiet corners where no men or entertainment professionals can hear them, personally said to me, “yes, this film festival is important.” When I hear that, I think all my doubts must be personal failings and not the failings of Etheria Film Night as a movement. I start seeing need where they seemed to be none before. Contradictory evidence that necessitates women’s film festivals includes the constant onslaught of articles and literature about the inequality inherent in the film industry. Just subscribe to the newsletters of sites like the Women and Hollywood blog on Indiewire and you’ll soon see a myriad of info graphics, studies, and opinion pieces dotting the landscape of gender inequality in Hollywood.

If gender inequality vanishes for women directors, Etheria Film Night is pointless. The very thing we want to accomplish would also make us irrelevant. I think I’d rather be irrelevant than part of the problem, wouldn’t you? I’ll take the constant, current discussion of gender inequality in Hollywood as a sign that perhaps the End of Times is near for things like Etheria Film Night and, rather than my own skewed vision, rely on the insight of filmmakers and audiences to tell me, please, when and if we ever accomplish our goal. Have we? Only you can tell us, because we are so entrenched in the brawl that we probably can’t see the forest for the trees. Be my eyes and ears and be a part of the solution because we, literally, can’t do this alone.

Etheria 2014 Poster Official Web

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more information and tickets to Etheria Film Night go to: http://www.etheriafilmnight.com/event/

About Heidi Honeycutt

Heidi Honeycutt is a film journalist and author. She writes primarily about women directors and programs the women’s genre film event Etheria Film Night (www.etheriafilmnight.com). Her most recent work can be seen in the anthology Celluloid Ceiling: Women Film Directors Breaking Through from Supernova Press.