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.

  • When I lived in Chicago I founded a theatre company called “Babes With Blades” (www.babeswithblades.org) because I saw little to no opportunities for women like myself who had been trained in stage combat and wanted to perform swashbuckling roles on stage. With a group of like-minded women, we created our own material, always with the intention from Day 1 that our goal was that one day the company would become obsolete; that there would be so many roles on the stage for female fighters that a theatre company dedicated to just that would be redundant.

    Sixteen years and over 100 new scripts with fighting roles for women later, Babes With Blades is sadly still in no danger of becoming obsolete.

    It breaks my heart when I hear women’s festivals dismissed by female (and male) artists and makers as somehow ghetto-izing female makers. If, as you say, we had achieved parity in the filmmaking world (and study after study shows that we are nowhere close), then I could *possibly* see film festivals that celebrate the works of women as something that could be perceived as precious. But right now? They are necessary on so many levels!

    One aspect of this I think about all the time is the way that the Male Gaze as become institutionalized as good filmmaking – the film schools show “classic” movies as models of good filmmaking, all written, directed, shot and often edited by men. They are classic examples of the Male Gaze in filmmaking – but does that mean that this is the only way to make a “good” film? What other languages of creating images are being developed by women to express their own artistic visions and voices, and being labeled as “amateur” by mainstream festivals because they don’t look like every other young filmmaker’s work? How can we, as women artists, get to see these alternate approaches, and thereby expand our own filmmaker vocabulary, without festivals that make a point to feature such overlooked voices and visions?

    Not to mention the sheer power of being able to network in a room of other female makers! Trading tricks and horror and success stories, and otherwise being affirmed that Yes! We exist! and we have just as many things to say and interesting stories to tell, for all that our voices are not acknowledged and celebrated in the mainstream. One may criticize that it is preaching to the choir, but darn it, the choir needs a little preaching now and then to have the will to keep singing!

    I could go on, but I don’t want to make this comment longer than your article itself. Suffice to say I am a firm and ardent believer that festivals like Etheria are necessary and valuable. Please keep up the good work!