Etheria Film Night is an annual one-night showcase of the best new short genre films (horror, sci-fi, fantasy, action, comedy, thriller) directed by women. The festival’s goal is to connect industry professionals with untapped female directing talent for genre film and TV series. This is our second year as official programming of the American Cinematheque, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting all forms of films through screenings at the historic Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood and Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, in Los Angeles. Our 2015 event will take place in June, but we are taking our 2014 selections around the world on a tour to other festivals, universities, museums, art galleries, and other events, so they can be seen by as many people as possible.
In 2014, we hosted the Los Angeles premiere of Rose McGowan’s directorial debut Dawn, 2014 AFI Directing Workshop for Women graduate Sarah Doyle’s You Me & Her starring Shannon Woodward and Tina Majorino, and international premieres of Soulmate by Axelle Carolyn, Job Interview by Julia Walter, Dia de Los Muertos by Gigi Guerrero, and Wakening by Danis Goulet.
I’m a film journalist and have been heavily involved in writing about genre films for the last decade, particularly independent genre films. I’ve written about genre films, and about women filmmakers, for outlets as disparate as Fangoria Magazine and Ms. Magazine. I recently contributed a chapter on European women directors to the book Celluloid Ceiling: Women Directors Breaking Through from Aurora Metro Press, edited by Cheryl Robson and Gabrielle Kelly, and am working on my own book right now about the history of horror and fantastic films directed by women.
I can be reached through the Etheria Film Festival website at Heidi@etheriafilmnight.com.
From Our Dark Side contest producer Sharon McGowan reached out to Heidi:
What is genre?
“Genre” is a very loose term that describes any form of film or literature that can be placed in a distinct category. Romantic comedy is a genre, as is drama or historical/period. However, when I use the term “genre” I am referring to horror, action, science fiction, and fantasy films in particular. Using the term “genre” is a way to let an audience know that they’re getting films that fall into a distinct category and promises them elements of the fantastic or the thrilling.
Why is genre important?
Is genre important? I’m not sure. I know it is exciting, and fun, and marketable commercially. I know genre means a film I personally am more likely to see and enjoy. I think it is important only because something about genre films speak to us, both in film and literary formats, as a form of escapism in a way that drama simply doesn’t.
What’s in this (genre) for women?
Genre films tend to be made, in terms of the mainstream Hollywood film and TV industries, by men. These films make a lot of money. Are they always good? Certainly not. But women need to be directing the next Transformers sequel, and the next Interstellar, because this is what makes women visible as directors in Hollywood and reinforces faith that women directors can bring in audiences and make money. Women can also make films that appeal to wider audiences, that reach more people, and that entertain more people if they make genre films rather than quirky romantic comedies and documentary projects. No genre is more important or less worthy than another, but all artists want their creation in front of as many people as possible. Making a genre film is a way to create within a medium that has broad appeal and translates well across generations.
What makes an exciting horror/sci-fi/fantasy/thriller/ genre film in general?
What makes a good horror, or sci-fi, or fantasy film is the same as what makes a good romantic comedy or drama: a good script, good acting, developed characters, cinematography that inspires, or a unique message or theme that is consistent and intelligent. Of course, when it comes to horror, your film needs to be scary. It’s pretty simple, but many horror films simply are not scary at all. Science fiction films seem to be best when they have a pointed critique of our current state of affairs on Earth and attempt to address fears we have about the future of technology, or government, or space travel. Fantasy should conjure images that provoke emotion and be both beautiful and grotesque. Everyone has their own tastes and preferences. You can’t please everyone, but that’s what pleases me.
What are the benefits for women participating in your showcase?
We screen our selections for an audience including producers, managers, showrunners, and distributors. The festival’s goal is to connect industry professionals with female directing talent for genre film and TV series. Our 2014 festival was covered by LA Weekly, Bitch Magazine, and i09 (among others) and as a result, companies like Circle of Confusion management (The Walking Dead) met with our filmmakers for representation deals. For 2015, we’re hoping to get even more recognition for our filmmakers and even better results.
How did you get involved in genre and the Etheria Film Night?
I am the co-founder of the festival and the programmer. I used to be the programmer of the Viscera Film Festival, which screened horror films directed by women. In 2014, I began Etheria Film Night and wanted to expand to bring science fiction, action, and fantasy into the mix.
Why do you stay with genre and the Etheria Film Night?
It’s what I love. There’s also, frankly, nowhere else to go that I could enjoy more. Also, let’s face it; it’s not as if Sundance is knocking on my door begging me to be their new director of programming. There are literally hundreds of short film festivals and genre film festivals in Los Angeles alone, but there are no other film festivals that show exclusively genre directed by women. Most other horror film festivals have a ratio of about three female directors out of every 15 which I find ridiculous because we get hundreds of submissions of amazing genre films directed by women. I’m not sure why so few seem to be screened at other genre festivals. It may be that women aren’t submitting as often to those fests, but I really have no idea. All I know is I am glad to be able to showcase the best genre films directed by women in one place.
Why are you involved in helping us promote this contest?
There are some truly astoundingly good Canadian filmmakers making horror and fantasy right now. Karen Lam, Maude Michaud, Izabel Grondin, Elza Kephart, Danishka Esterhazy, Victoria Angell, Patricia Chica, Jovanka Vuckovic, Jen and Sylvia Soska, Nadine L’Esperance, and Anouk Whissell are all at the top of my list. They’re all doing amazing things. Canada has also created some of the best genre film directors in the world: Mary Harron, Holly Dale, Caroline Leaf, Donna Davies, Lynne Stopkewich, Kari Skogland, and Bronwen Hughes are all Canadian, afterall.
Who are some of the filmmakers or artists who inspire you?
They all inspire me. Anyone who has the courage to put something personal out there is my hero. Anyone who can overcome the seeming pointlessness of life by making their life purposeful deserves to be applauded. I’m always impressed by what Jovanka Vuckovic is doing. She’s following her heart and is making some very courageous new horror films that I can’t wait to see. I like brave people and I like smart people.
I think all women who want to be directors need to realize that the entertainment industry is cutthroat and competitive, but only because people make it that way on purpose. There’s enough money to go around in Hollywood (more money that any of us can imagine, to be frank) that women, and men, need to be supporting each other. Only when people encourage each other, male or female, does it get any easier for women in the film industry.
Thank you for the conversation!