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Rants and Raves: The Fies Sisters

The Fies Sisters, Brenda and Elisabeth.
The Fies Sisters, Brenda and Elisabeth.

Blood is Thicker Than Water

Women in Horror Recognition Month just ended but I still have two women I want to recognize and they are another pair of sisters: Brenda and Elisabeth Fies. The latest edition of their BleedFest is Sunday March 6 at the CAP Theater in Sherman Oaks.

The Fies are ambitious. They not only want to make movies of their own but they also want to highlight the work of other women with a monthly film festival in L.A. called Bleedfest. It's hard enough just to make films but the Fies are generous and spend much of their time offering support to other women filmmakers. That's impressive and deserving of high praise.

This month's Bleedfest is on March 6 (11am to 4pm) and the theme is FantAsian, fantasy and musicals by female Asian filmmakers. The highlighted feature is Deepika Daggubati's "Waking Dream."


Their monthly festival is held at the CAP Theater (13752 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks). You may think that's a long haul for a festival but a number of San Diego folks have been making the trek each month, and so far two San Diego filmmakers and one Tijuana filmmaker have been showcased at past festivals.

Brenda and Elisabeth Fies
Kevin Hahn
Brenda and Elisabeth Fies

Here's an interview I did with the Fies sisters.

What was the first film that you remember being scared by?

BRENDA FIES: "The Jungle Book." Seriously. Who wants to think about losing a parent? You better believe I was scared & scarred… Traumatized! But, my Mom used to watch Alfred Hitchcock movies and I remember seeing "The Birds" and "Rear Window" and being freaked out.

ELISABETH FIES: "The Birds." I was really young and they were playing it on TV often, with commercials showing Tippi Hedren getting pecked. I started having dreams about crows pecking my eyes out. My best friend Aisha lived 6 houses down from on my street, and I stopped walking to her house alone because I was so frightened of all the crows on the telephone polls.


What got you into the horror genre?

BRENDA: Being a producer on my sister, Elisabeth Fies’ movie "The Commune: A New Cult Classic" threw me right into the middle of it! I remember watching "The Wicker Man" with her and her being completely inspired and freaked out all at the same time.

ELISABETH: I interned at Debra Hill’s office, and that was around the age I first started going back and catching up on horror movies. I love all of Debra’s films, but "Halloween" immediately became a favorite. Then "Scream" came out and I was enamored because it was satirical and a whodunit, my two favorite things. I started watching Joe Bob Brigg’s Drive In when I was depressed, and found it really helped me emotionally to have a safe release of adrenaline and anxiety.

What do you want to do within the horror genre? What stereotypes or conventions do you want to challenge?

BRENDA: With my background in nursing, it’s my belief that true horror happens every day in life and en-route to death. For me, I only feel like something is horror if it’s believable. So, when I see blood flying everywhere on the screen it can take me right out of the movie when it’s not realistic. I really like writing and directing scenes that are similar depictions of things I’ve seen in my professional life. Women can write, produce and direct the horror genre just as well as any man… if not better.

ELISABETH: One in five women will be raped in their lifetime, with a startling number of these rapes committed by relatives. Yet you can’t turn on nightly TV without seeing a top-rated procedural show whose bread and butter is making sport of violence against women and desensitizing audiences to the reality of the dangerous world we aren’t taking responsibility for. With "The Commune" my entire goal was to make a movie where a horrific rape happened to a girl we empathized with and cared about, so that instead of taking the violence for granted the audience was impinged. I’ve been studying feminist film theory for twenty years so that I wouldn’t make the horrific mistake of "The Accused" where vasocengestion studies proved men were turned on by the rape scene. I wasn’t going to let myself make a movie before I understood film angles, lenses, editing enough to know that my movie would support my thesis instead of turning men on to violence against women and being part of the problem. My features are all anti-violence against women in life and in the media, and about holding up a mirror to society questioning why we are living in a time where the most popular TV and films feature sexualized violence as entertainment.

Elisabeth Fies directing.
Elisabeth Fies directing.

What are the challenges for women filmmakers who want to make genre films?

BRENDA: My first thought is money. It seems women are fantastic at the creative and producing side of the filmmaking process and lack the financial networking and support that is required to get the movie from conception to marketplace.

ELISABETH: For the last seventeen years I’ve watched deserving, hard-working females be passed over for career-making opportunities. We have less men willing to mentor us and introduce us to their circles, and we have less moneybags interested in funding our projects. Women are constantly fighting the stereotype that they aren’t as capable, hard-working, business savvy, and interesting as male storytellers. The next biggest problem would be that up until this year, genre media outlets and fans could give a sh-t about any genre movie made by a woman.

What is the current project you are working on and what about it excites you?

BRENDA: Currently, I’m working on a horror anthology feature film with my sister called "I Hate L.A.!" It’s been super fun for two reasons: first we’ve been able to collaborate with other fantastic female directors; secondly, the time commitment has been manageable. I am also producing a gender-bending slasher feature called "Psychosexual" written and directed by Elisabeth. This is exciting because we are incorporating role-reversals (using hot men) into the horror genre. What’s not to love?

ELISABETH: I’m continuing my trilogy examining violence against women. The Commune was the examination of a blameless teenage victim and the restoration of feeling empathy for her instead of being turned on by her demise. I’m 30 minutes into shooting the second in the trilogy, "Psychosexual," which is a classic 80s slasher/detective yarn with the gender roles reversed so that everyone can get the slap in the face of how much we take gender stereotypes in our media for granted. The third movie in the trilogy is "Pistoleras." It’s a Second Wave Spaghetti Western, meaning it’s a subversive Marxist depiction of second-class citizens banding together against an oppressor and rising to a victory that changes their society for the better.

What do you think is the appeal of horror?

BRENDA: In my mind horror is on a sliding scale and everyone has different things that scare them. I personally am not scared seeing body parts flying because I know what a true amputation patient looks like. But watching "Silence of the Lambs" when they figured out the killer had been watching from across the street, "Boom." That wigged me out. Why? Because it could happen in real life.

ELISABETH: Each subgenre creates a different reaction and tends to have its own fan base, so it’s not simple to categorize. For me as a storyteller and activist, horror has a century-old resume of attracting the most brilliant, trailblazing, world-shifting artists. I’m just another hippie horror filmmaker out to make our culture equal for all the underdogs.

What do you say to people who complain that horror puts you through the grinder and why should you subject yourself to that?

BRENDA: Gee, why does someone jump on the freeway every day? Sometimes watching something dark makes me think, “Wow, my life could be so much worse”!

ELISABETH: Art is subjective. I don’t worry about winning over people who don’t enjoy the same movies I love. If they don’t find an emotional reaction in horror that’s valuable to their lives, nothing I say is going to change their experience.

Who if anyone would you cite as an influence?

BRENDA: My biggest influence in filmmaking, hands down, is my sister, Elisabeth. There is no way on the planet that I would have even given filmmaking a thought without her.

ELISABETH: Um, how rad is my sister? I couldn’t have done any of my work the last five years without her emotional and financial belief in me. I can’t tell you how hard she works to help me, and how much fun we have together now that she’s blossoming into an amazing writer/director!

As for other influences, I’m an encyclopedia of films and filmmakers. I’m constantly studying others, and have over 400 lists on Netflix if you want to check them out. I divide my influences into sub-subgenres, and for each project immerse myself into those artworks like I’m learning another language or writing another thesis. But since it was just Women in Horror Month, I’d like to give a warm thank you to Maya Deren, Alice Guy-Blache, Anne Rice, Katt Shea, and Debra Hill.

Tell me about Bleedfest?

BRENDA: BleedFest is a monthly female film festival that 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.

We want women’s hard work to be talked about and seen, so there is indisputable proof that talented ladies are creating exciting multi-genre films, and can no longer be ignored. The ultimate goal involves Hollywood becoming an equal opportunity employer.

ELISABETH: What she said! Short term our goal is to get women and their fllms press. Perception and fame make all the difference in getting jobs and getting funded.