I was lucky enough to win tickets, thanks to the International Screenwriters Association, to this wonderful evening celebrating female filmmakers at the American Cinematheque’s historic Egyptian Theatre. It started with drinks and delicious food in the courtyard, where there was a red carpet for photo opportunities. It was then onto the ‘Women in Media’ networking event. This organisation is dedicated to creating a comprehensive crew list for women film crew and the people who want to hire them. This was very inspiring; hearing from a diverse range of talented women who have many skills to offer film productions. There should be no more excuses for not hiring women on film crews.
Before the films started, we were treated to an appearance by legendary film producer Roger Corman. He has produced over 400 films and helped the early careers of many directors, including Coppola and Scorcese. James Cameron has said he “trained at the Roger Corman Film School.” He has also supported and mentored many female film directors through the years, particularly in genre and “B” pictures. He was attending Etheria Film Night to present an award to one such woman, Stephanie Rothman, director of ‘The Velvet Vampire’, ‘The Working Girls’ and ‘The Student Nurses’. All of these are low-budget, drive-in ‘exploitation’ films from the 1970s. Her films portrayed gutsy, strong-willed women and a radically feminist point of view.
We were then onto the main event. This was a mini Film Festival all in one night. Eight short films were shown, all by female directors and all genre films (mainly horror and sci-fi). This was to showcase talented female filmmakers who are more than capable of directing genre films and this is precisely where Hollywood should be looking. I will go through the films in my own, very personal, order of preference. I should start by saying that the over-all quality of all of the films was much higher than I anticipated. It is amazing that such high production values can be achieved on low budgets in a relatively short space of time. Also, the highest compliment that I can give, is that I was never aware, with any of the films, that I was watching a film from a female director. Just as gender would be irrelevant for a male director, it was completely irrelevant here. These are 8 fantastic directors. Period.
8) Kumal (dir. Thirati Kulyingwattanavit, horror, USA)
This story is based on an ancient Thai legend of a baby being plucked from its mother’s womb, painted in gold and burned in a sacrificial ritual. It is then said that if someone wears the ashes around their neck, they will achieve eternal life. But it is a cursed life and the mothers seek their revenge.
Although well made, with some effective acting and props, this was the most ‘classic horror’ of all the films on offer. Horror is just not to my personal taste, unless it is comedy horror. I guess this was the most ‘traditional’ of the films and although it was good, I preferred the other films on the night.
7) Earworm (dir. Tara Price, horror, USA)
This film relies on one central conceit – what if an earworm (when you get an annoyingly catchy tune or song stuck in your head) was an actual physical worm?
This was by far the shortest of the films and the simplest. It was neatly done, with the soundtrack being an integral part of the story. There were some impressive lighting and visual effects used as well.
6) The Honeymoon (dir. Ruth Pickett, black comedy, UK)
This film is very much reminiscent of Sightseers, but takes that most classically British of concepts – tarts and vicars – and puts them together in an isolated setting and adds a dose of horror. A newly-wed Christian couple go on honeymoon to a cottage in the Welsh countryside, but when they arrive there, they quickly realise they’ve made a horrible mistake.
When voting for the ‘audience award’ at the end, I was very tempted to go for this, purely on patriotic grounds. It was lovely to hear my home country’s accents and to see some classic British humour. Unfortunately, the humour was a little too ‘classic’ for me (like a raunchier version of ‘Carry On’) and again, didn’t really appeal to my specific tastes. However, comedy-horror is one of my favourite cross-genres and something we Brits do particularly well. I certainly felt no shame in having this film represent the UK.
5 and 4) Swell (dir. Bridget Savage Cole, sci-fi, USA) and Real Artists (dir. Cameo Wood, sci-fi, USA)
I will deal with these two together because they were similar in terms of genre and quality. They both could have easily been an episode of Black Mirror (and both were better than The Circle, which I recently reviewed). Both set in the near-future and concerning technology designed to improve our lives, but of course, questioning the reality of whether it’s actually good for us or not.
‘Swell’ is an app which affects the emotions of whoever is listening to it.
This was a simple and very interesting conceit and very believable, actually. It relied solely on the performance of a man and a woman in an apartment and was very well done. Again, this film had an excellent use
of colour and lighting. It was interesting to hear from the director, in the Q&A afterwards that the location had been found on Air B&B! This was the recipient of the Judge’s Award and while it wasn’t my personal favourite, it was a worthy winner.
‘Real Artists’ was about a film production company who, we gradually discover, uses questionable methods to make their films. This is seen from the point-of-view of a young woman who has a job interview at the company.
This film had one of the most effective twist endings and really high production values. The futuristic, technological world was rendered excellently and credibly. There was also an excellent central performance.
3) Do No Harm (dir. Roseanne Liang, action/thriller, New Zealand)
My Top 3 films were very close and it was really difficult to chose between them. ‘Do No Harm’ is a stunningly gory action film set in the operating theatre of a hospital. A gangster wants to get to the patient on the operating table, to finish him off, and the surgeons (one in particular) will protect their patient at all costs.
The fight sequences were genuinely worthy of Tarantino and there were also echoes of ‘Drive’ here. Again, the lighting was impressively atmospheric, the performances were astonishing and the editing was excellent. I genuinely found the quality jaw-dropping, with sequences that would not be out of place in any Hollywood film. This was the recipient on the ‘audience award’, voted on at the end of the night and I can completely see why. A very worthy winner from a supremely talented director.
2) Jules D. (dir. Norma Vila, horror/fantasy, Spain)
On the face of it, this would probably seem like the most amateurish or low-budget of the films on offer. However, I loved it for several reasons. It was an emotionally affecting tale of a boy of around 12/13 who longs to be a vampire. The central performance, from one so young, was excellent. This had my favourite visual style – production design and cinematography – of all the films. There was a wonderful shot of Jules looking through the bars of a cage at a vampire bat. There were touches of humour, also. This was just a lovely little film.
1) Einstein-Rosen (dir. Olga Osorio, sci-fi, Spain)
Set in the early 1980s, a young boy tries to convince his brother that he has found a wormhole (the Einstein-Rosen Bridge of the title) in the courtyard of their apartment block. His brother remains unconvinced until they return to the same spot 35 years later…
This was my favourite because of being hilariously funny, having a little nod to my favourite decade and the performances of the central quartet (two brothers, 35 years apart). This was the most enjoyable of the 8 films for me, but as I’ve said, my choices have been intensely personal.
I was genuinely blown away by the quality of the eight short genre films at Etheria Film Night. It was an amazing evening, that I feel privileged to have been a part of. I just hope Hollywood sits up and takes notice of the incredible range of behind-the-camera talent on offer from the other 50% of the population. It was fitting that this event took place in the same week ‘Wonder Woman’ came out. It has definitively proven that a woman director can do anything a man can do, if given the chance. Equal opportunities is about exactly that: OPPORTUNITY.