Rants and Raves: BleedFest
Celebrating Badass Genre Filmmaking By Women
It's that time of the month… for BleedFest. BleedFest is a monthly LA film festival celebrating indie genre movies made by and about women. Yesterday it held its Badass Genre Film Festival.
BleedFest is the brainchild of energetic filmmaking sisters Elisabeth and Brenda Fies. It kicked off in July of last year and became a monthly event starting last December. It is held the first Sunday of the month at the Sherman Oaks' CAP Theater. As a woman and a lover of genre films, I was intrigued by the festival but missed their first two installments since the event is held in LA. But a few San Diegans have been making the trek to the festival and Tijuana filmmaker Cathy Alberich had her film "Algesia" screened at the December showcase. So I hitched a ride with Miguel Rodriguez a fellow genre enthusiast (and host of Monster Island Resort) and went up for the January installment. The lack of any similar themed event down here makes it necessary for anyone interested in such female-made genre fare to travel up north.
The Fies sisters were motivated to start this because, "We feel passionate about raising the visibility of awesome indie genre movies by female filmmakers. BleedFest fetes the women who love writing, producing, directing, and watching badass genre movies: action, thriller, sci-fi, horror, western, exploitation (of men or audience only), B-movie, and erotica."
On Sunday they showcased a genre bending western/sci-fi film by Carly Lyn called "A Foundling." This was followed by a selection of trailers in competition for an audience award. Some of the trailers were for films already completed but the two most interesting were for films currently in production: Anne Norda's "Stop I'm Not Dead Yet" and the Soska Sisters' "American Mary." Norda's undead comedy took the audience prize and deservedly so. The film looked hilarious and clever. It is designed as a trilogy and Norda is completing one segment that she will screen as a stand alone short on February 6 in LA (at Club Fais Do-Do from 5-8pm), and then she may use it to help raise the funds to complete her feature.
As for Jen and Sylvia Soskas, they had their first feature, "Dead Hooker in a Trunk," screened back at the July BleedFest and at San Diego's Horrible Imaginings Film Festival in November. Their film was a raw homage to badass exploitation films but with a distinctly female twist. Their new film, "American Mary," has a much slicker, more elegant, and more subtly deranged feel to it. The first film reeked (and I mean that in a good way) of American International exploitation and from the trailer "American Mary" looks more influenced by the likes of Hitchcock, Polanski, and mad scientists. I can't wait to see what they come up with.
The fest also featured a short film "goulash" with one work in progress by Brenda Fies and four completed shorts: Susan Bell's period supernatural tale "The Boarder;" Julia Camara's brightly comic "Super Morning;" Whitney Boe's black comedy "Ugly on the Inside;" and Elisabeth Fies' entry into the "I Hate LA" anthology called "Consumed."
The best of the lot by far was Boe's short about a bride-to-be and her best friend trying to bury the groom out in the desert. It was a comic murder tale that hinged on the performances. The filmmaker's husband and co-director Steven Boe was on hand to talk about the film. He revealed that his wife (credited as Whitney Leigh) and her best friend, Heidi Godt, played the leads. That explains a lot. The performances and comic timing are perfect as you might expect from the fact that the two leads have known each other for years and share a dark sense of humor. The film was a wicked delight with a nicely twisted sensibility.
Another regular part of the festival is what the Fies call the Partnership Award, given to a man who creates a positive or fresh portrait of women. Yesterday's award went to Mando Franco for "Lunar," a film about a woman who begins as a victim and ends as – shall we say -- a predator. The Fies said they created the award because they wanted to show that they "love" men and appreciate when men create films with strong or interesting female roles.
The event itself was fun with the CAP Theater offering an intimate, jazz club kind of venue with tables set out amongst the seats. There was also an open bar serving, appropriately, Blood Mary drinks. There was also a red carpet (about six feet long) where filmmakers, attendees, and winners could have their pictures taken and everyone seemed to en joy that including one of the filmmaker's dog.
According to the website, the festival's mission is "to spotlight edgy genre work and their fearless makers, and allow audiences to feel and see through a variety of women’s eyes. We prove to the world that the derogatory label 'chick flick' (now applied to ANY film about or by a woman!!) needs to be retired. We want women’s hard work to be talked about and seen, so that there is indisputable proof that talented ladies are creating exciting multi-genre films, and can no longer be ignored."
I feel that statement sets up a bit of a straw horse. Not "ANY" film about or by a woman gets labeled a "chick flick." I've never heard any of Kathryn Bigelow's films called that. And it's not the broad use of the term "chick flick" that's the problem. It's the fact that there just aren't enough women allowed to hold positions of power – either financially or creatively – in Hollywood. But you can forgive the Fies' over eagerness to be outraged considering how few women have managed to break into Hollywood feature filmmaking, and especially into genre filmmaking. So what the Fies highlight is that we often have to turn to indie filmmaking to find examples of women pushing the envelope since Hollywood isn't affording them those opportunities. The women at BleedFest seemed thrilled to be feted and to have an opportunity to plead their case -- and even ask for funding.
The Soskas – with their micro-budgeted, DIY project -- definitely provided a kick-ass example of how women behind the camera can give us strong, unconventional women in front of the camera. The feature highlighted yesterday, however, was far less audacious. "A Foundling" ended up copping out to almost as many stereotypes as films made by men. The period western concerns two Chinese American women traveling alone in the desert and coming upon a strange discovery. The problem is that these independent women are given the conventional happy Hollywood ending of marriage. Plus the men in her film are as stereotyped as women – the man with the nice face turns out to be sweet and devoted while the redneck looking, bearded thug turns out to be a scumbag. How much more interesting -- in a film about not judging people by appearances – would it have been to switch the casting of the actors playing those roles. The two female leads, Cindy Chiu and Nora Jesse, were strong and the film was well shot. But it would have played better as a tight short film than a drawn out feature. While it does serve up some genre-bending and a woman behind the camera, it's not an innovative work.
While I love to see women challenge conventions and expand their roles behind the scenes, I don't feel that every film made by a woman deserves to be championed. And I don't feel like I have to be a cheerleader for any film made by a women or with a strong female lead. In fact I tend to set the bar high because only by focusing attention on the very best women are doing can we start to make inroads into the male dominated industry and convincing Hollywood that women should be given as many opportunities as men. So I wish the feature showcased had been stronger. But kudos to the sisters for curating these events and for finding such gems like "Dead Hooker," "Ugly on the Inside," "Stop I'm Not Dead Yet," and "Lunar." BleedFest is also great for keeping attention focused on the issue of women filmmakers and the depiction of women in film.
Check out the BleedFest site for the schedule of their next event on February 6 celebrating Women in Horror for the month long celebration proposed by Hannah Neurotica, creator and editor of "Ax Wound: Gender and the Horror Genre." I applaud the Fies for their dedication to highlighting women and genre filmmaking. I eagerly await that time of the month when BleedFest will stain the screen again at the CAP Theater.