The “horror community is small. Celebrated women filmmakers in horror is even smaller” says Stacy Pippi Hammon, festival director and founding partner of Etheria Film Festival, a festival dedicated to female directors of Horror, Action, Sci-Fi and Fantasy genres.
The lack of opportunities for female filmmakers in Hollywood is a hot topic right now; and the genres with some of the biggest budgets are hardest for women to break into – Action, Fantasy, Sci-Fi and Horror. That’s why Hammon along with her partners, Heidi Honeycutt and Kayley Viteo, created a festival dedicated to showcase those genres by female directors only. “I would LOVE for the day that my job is obsolete.” Where the need for a special festival for female directors is ridiculous because the playing field is 50/50.
Hammon became a fan of horror films at the tender age of 3 when her father jumped out of a bush with a gorilla mask on to scare her into coming back home after “running away to grandma’s house down the street.’ Some people may be walking through years of trauma therapy as an adult after that experiencing. But Horror is a film genre that plays on an audience’s primal fears and for Hammon that experience was an invitation into the world of Horror, creature features and beyond. But it wasn’t until her son’s 11th birthday wish to meet Wes Craven did Hammon attend her first Horror convention here in LA. It was then that she “met my people.”
A dedicated fan, she finally found people she could hang with and to geek out at bar without the usual douchey pickup bravado. Instead discuss Tobe Hooper films. “It’s a family, it’s a travelling carnie show. You show up in Austin [for an event and]everyone knows you already so it’s very organic.”
From there people asked her to work booths, handle celebrity signings and so on. It was in this scene Hammon met Heidi Honeycutt and Kayley Viteo her partners. Eventually they created Etheria Film Festival.
FAN TO FILMMAKER
Fans of horror films, statistically, are evenly split between men and women. And most filmmakers in horror were fans first and, like Hammon, rise up through the scene. Unfortunately, the opportunities and then recognition of female filmmakers drop significantly. The documentary Miss Representation points out a similar trend of declining opportunity among young women entering leadership positions in the workforce or politics. The greater the position of responsibility, the greater doubt that women can handle the job. In this author’s opinion, it’s because we don’t see enough women IN those positions. If we don’t see it, we don’t believe it.
So who are we talking about here? Audiences of men and traditionalist women? Maybe. Or people in positions of power within entertainment that choose to stick with what they relate to. Possibly. Who are in those positions of power? Mostly men. Who’s in charge of the Wall Street financing behind these films? Mostly men. A generality, but it does play out. A male director who has significant funding behind his film is going to a movie that looks better than the female director who had to work with significantly less. Then, the fan perception from the people with popcorn and juju bees is that this director (male) is more talented than that director (female) when in reality it was a budget issue around who the money guy felt more comfortable backing.
In an interview with Chris Rock, he said “When you hand a studio person a script, 99% of the time, they pick a person in the movie they identify with; so if it’s a woman, the first notes they are going give you is about the woman. If you hand the boss the script, he’s going to give you notes about the main character. Everybody figures out who they are in the movie.”
There is some great wisdom here. Etheria film festival’s partners are all women and they have created this forum to showcase female filmmakers. But Hammon and her team take it a step further.
After years of screening films in horror by women, Hammon has seen what she calls the trifecta of themes within the new crop of female filmmakers – body image, rape revenge and creepy kids. “And there are some fantastic films that include these issues, but I get more excited when I see something from a woman filmmaker that doesn’t touch on one of those because there is a lot more to being a woman that’s scary to women, besides these things.”
MORE THAN ONE FINAL GIRL
Something I learned in my interview with Hammon was THE FINAL GIRL. In horror, one of the traditional cookie cutter roles is that of the last woman standing. After the obligatory shower or possible sex scene and a bit of torture, this character finds her inner strength and overcomes the obstacles in the film to become – The Final Girl. Now while there is a bigger discussion about the Madonna/Whore theme surrounding the final girl (generally the promiscuous kids get killed and the final girl is the sweet innocent) I love the idea of the final girl archetype leading us into a world of equanimity as filmmakers in entertainment. Not filmmakers and female filmmakers. Filmmakers. Period.
Etheria is contributing to this journey with their film festival and by sponsoring a new generation of filmmakers through Reel Grrls – a non-profit media arts and leadership-training program for girls ages 9-19. Their event is Wednesday June 10th at El Cid at 8pm. Tickets for the event is here.
As I said earlier, I don’t like to be scared. But how severely underrepresented women in Hollywood are is real scare. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from Hammon about women in Horror and the themes surrounding our stories within that world. So to show my support, I’m going to go watch some excellently executed, terrifying films. I hope you will join me to support Etheria and their mission on June 13th at the Egyptian Theater (tickets here) I’ll be the one curled up in the back row, holding my breath, with my hands at the ready to cover my eyes.