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The Female Perspective in Film, Part One: Etheria Film Night

Cover image for podcast episode

In this two-part Cinema Junkie podcast I look to the female perspective in film. In this first part I speak with Heidi Honeycutt, director of programming for Etheria Film Night. Founded in 2014, Etheria Film Night is a showcase of horror, science fiction, fantasy, action, thriller, and dark comedy directed by women and for an audience that includes producers, managers, showrunners, distributors, and genre fans.

Etheria says its goal is to put the women directors who want to make genre films and TV in front of the people who want to hire them. Etheria is hosted by American Cinematheque and takes place at its Egyptian Theater.

Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:00 Only hell has better movies is this slogan that has been used to describe this fast. So why I want to be the first to plunge down in worship. That festival John Waters is taking the plunge for is a theory of film night, an event dedicated to showcasing women Shondra directors and I'll be speaking with its programmer, Heidi Honeycutt about the festival and the female perspective in film.

Speaker 2: 00:35 [inaudible]

Speaker 1: 00:35 welcome back to another episode of listener supported KPBS Sinema Junkie podcast. I'm Betha Mondo today I have a two part podcast dedicated to the female perspective in film here in part one I'll look to a theory of film night that takes place June 29th in Hollywood and in part two I'll explore the film of feel yet which re-imagined Shakespeare's hamlet. From Ophelia's point of view, I'll be speaking with its director Claire McCarthy as well as Lisa Klein, author of the novel. The film is based on founded in 2014 a theory of film night is a showcase of horror science fiction, fantasy action thriller and dark comedy, all directed by women. And for an audience that includes producers, managers, showrunners, distributors, and genre fans. The theory says its goal was to put the women directors who want to make Sean rhe films and television in front of the people who want to hire them. A theory as hosted by American cinema tech and takes place at the Egyptian theater. Okay, let's get this short break out of the way so I can get down to talking about the female perspective with Heidi Honeycutt. Putting on a film festival is demanding work. So I was lucky to catch a theory as Heidi Honeycutt on the phone just outside the Egyptian theater in Hollywood where she decided to risk the noise of Hollywood boulevard over that, of the construction inside the theater.

Speaker 3: 01:56 Yes, I am. I'm actually right outside the Egyptian theater on Hollywood boulevard, so I apologize to everybody listening if they hear crazy Hollywood sounds in the background.

Speaker 1: 02:07 And for people who may not be familiar with this. Explain what a theory of film night is all about.

Speaker 3: 02:13 In theory, a film night is a showcase of the best new genre films directed by women. And what I mean by genre is horror science fiction, fantasy action, thriller, and we've even had some great dark comedies, basically genres, but women filmmakers are not usually associated with. And that when you hear a big news story about women directors, it's usually the films in these categories that women are not being hired for. Like they budget marvel films, Blumhouse horror films, stuff like that. So these are, these are the owners that we think are just the most fun. John Braze, like across the board, people love seeing comedy, people love seeing more. And there are women filmmakers who are really good and they want to be making those, they want to be directing films and shows in that genre and we shoved them so that nobody has any excuse to say they don't know where to find a woman director for a project like that.

Speaker 4: 03:12 Yeah. And give us a little history on a theory. When did you guys start and end? What was kind of the impetus to get this going?

Speaker 3: 03:19 In 2007, I actually co founded a really small horror film festival for women called Viscera with a woman named Shannon Lark. And W W we were a super small festival. We just wanted to show films by women that were horror. And I mean we didn't know what we were doing and we did it out of the blue. We couldn't find very many films cause this was back in 2007. And um, it was a lot harder to find women making films those days. And you know, we did it a couple of years and it grew and grew and grew. In 2013, we ended viscera and I was not done by a long shot because this is what I do and this is what I love to do, is to find this content, play it for people who love it and help get these artist's work out there. So I went on and established a theory of out of the ashes of viscera and I standed it from horror to science fiction fantasy action thriller because I feel like there's, there's a lot of cool genre stuff that we don't want to myth that these women are making.

Speaker 3: 04:27 It's just been growing ever since then. In fact, this year is going to be our biggest year. We have Blumhouse and shutter and Fangoria on board as sponsors. We've got a great red carpet planned in this awesome classy courtyard in front of Egyptian where like back in the day Douglas Fairbanks would do is walk down the red carpet, stuff like that. And our film, I think the films are amazing and we're also sewing a feature this year, which is something we've done in the past, but we usually don't show a feature. But this year we're showing a film by Gigi Salguero and her feature film is called culture shock and it was made with Blumhouse and Hulu and it's actually going to air on Hulu as part of the, into the dark series after screen period of area.

Speaker 4: 05:15 Wow. And why did you feel it was important to focus on these genre films? I mean, you mentioned that this is something that people don't tend to think of women directing, but uh, you could have opened it to absolutely anything, but is it because of your own personal taste or why the fuck

Speaker 3: 05:32 yeah, that's a really good question. I think I wanted to focus on John [inaudible] with a theory because there are so many women's film festivals and General Regular Film Festivals where women who make drama and romantic comedy and coming of age stories how already have a lot of opportunities to show their work. I think that women who are making these of more, a more intense and perhaps sometimes more subversive content where violent content maybe don't get the reception that they deserve at women's film festivals. So there are a lot of amazing Shondra film festivals in the world and most of them always have a woman director, but it's usually like two or three women directors for every seven or eight male directors. And it's not, I don't think it's a deliberate thing where they're not selecting films by women. I think women are discouraged from submitting their work more.

Speaker 3: 06:31 And I think that there are just way more men in general making films still so that this pool tends to skew towards male directors always is. There is a way to isolate the films that are directed by women, um, and not only that are directed by women but that are like the best of the best of the best films directed by women in those genres this year. And I feel like it's important for our audience too, to have a place where they can go see that, um, where these particular artists are not, not lost, um, among the rest of, of the festivals and where they're not subjected to stereotypes about the kinds of films that women are good at or should be making.

Speaker 4: 07:13 And in the course of running both viscera and a Theoria, have you been inspired or impressed by the amount of films that are now coming out compared to where it was 10 or more years ago?

Speaker 3: 07:26 Yes. Um, I'm very impressed with the number of films directed by women in general that are out, that people have access to. And can see and also the number of genres, films directed by women. It's just gone up every year. I mean I became interested in this topic in probably 2004 I think was when I decided that I wanted to follow the trends. I wanted to see which women were making horror films. I wanted to see where the films are shown is find out more about these people and their art is, I consider all of them artists. Anybody who makes a film is an artist. And I think art is one of the most important things in our culture. And it just, people who work hard deserve to be recognized. And it's, it's just amazing to me to see how many women have found their voice, who have decided to take chances and make films that prior to the 21st century were looked on as very unusual for a woman to want to make.

Speaker 3: 08:23 You know, women, you know, in the 1980s there were women directing horror, but it was like, wow, why would a woman do that? Or we can't have a woman direct back. She won't know what to do with all the violence. It's great to see that attitude change so drastically to now where you have women, Major, big budget women directors making marvel films and making, doing episodes of the walking dead or other big popular genre stuff that they would not have been considered for before. It's especially fascinating and honestly heartwarming to see the way the audiences have changed their attitudes towards women filmmakers and women directors of horror of five fi audiences now are totally cool with it. At least the hardcore really big cinephiles don't seem to have a problem with women directing any of this stuff and in fact they really support it and they're into it and they'll come to stuff like a theory.

Speaker 3: 09:20 Yet there are a couple of other really great festivals for women making genre. There's a, when there's one in Atlanta called the women in horror film festival, there's final girls in Berlin, there's a couple more kids act moon, which is all horror and these places keep cropping up just like a theory because there's people want to see it, people want to be exposed to new things. And cool things and, and find a new artists and people like niche stuff too. And it's especially especially wonderful to see the attitude of men in the film industry changed towards women filmmakers. I think a lot of the older generations, people older than us, you know, have some things in there when they were in their prime that w that we no longer have. There's elements of racism and sexism that I think are just not a part of, of who we are today. And that reflects in our end and the attitude of the film industry. So you have shows about gay people and you have women directing them and you have people of color starring in that man. You know, it's a whole different ballgame and I think it's beautiful and I, I love that every year it just gets better.

Speaker 4: 10:29 I'm curious, and for your festival, is the requirement that the filmmaker be a woman or that it just be a story revolving amount? Women, what kind of a, what are you looking for in terms of the films you're programming ahead? So at

Speaker 3: 10:42 theory only screens, films that are actually directed by a woman. And we picked directors because we feel that it's a very, it's a such a crucial element of any film. And of course producers and writers and actors are also very, very important. But there are so many women making stuff now that if we were to open it up to women producers, writers, we, I mean we'd have thousands and thousands of films to show every year and we can't, we only have one night. So by looming limiting it to directors specifically, we can make it a more manageable pool from which we select. And we can also show, show these films to people that are looking to hire directors. So a lot of people that come to, with urea, a lot of people that are our judges are show runners or managers or they're in development at different companies and they have an interest in finding new talent for specifically to direct and what's popular all the time is genre.

Speaker 3: 11:48 And you know, there's, there's lots of Scifi and fantasy and all kinds of great stuff on TV right now and they need directors for that and they need directors, you know, what they're doing. And they're also, you know, there's also a consciousness now about, hey wait, maybe we should hire more women. They have to be qualified and have to be good, but maybe we should be more open into our pool of Higher Ed. And a theory is a way to open up their pool so they can find directors that are really, really good. We've vetted all the films for them. We've found the best of the best and we're going to show them directly and uh, hopefully with the longterm goal of getting these women jobs in the fields that they want to be in and directing the type of style that they're best at and that they love the most.

Speaker 4: 12:32 I wanted to talk to you about that because you do talk about that on your website. The fact that you have people coming to the festival who are looking to hire, how difficult was it for you to kind of build that part of the audience and that part of the judging committee that you put together?

Speaker 3: 12:50 Very hard because when you come out of nowhere and you're just a person, it's very hard to get people to take you seriously first of all, anywhere. But especially in Hollywood, if you're not part of a huge company or a friend of a celebrity or whatever, it can be a lot harder to get people to see what you're doing and take it seriously. And that's just the way it is and everybody's experienced that. But for film festivals, it's the same. It's an issue of the quality of filmmakers that you have. How do you attract those filmmakers and then how do you attract the people that that want to hire those filmmakers? So I am lucky in that I come from a journalism background and film journalism in particular, and I have written for a lot of horror publications. I've done a lot of work with PR companies that are working for big studios.

Speaker 3: 13:39 And their new releases. And over time I've ended up having access to some people that probably I would not have had access to otherwise. And that has helped a lot. I'm also very good at pestering people. So I, I am, I seek out specific people that I think will like these films and have some kind of add some kind of value to the fact that, that they were shown this film. My hope is that a, Syria is a venue for the filmmakers to get their work out there, but also for these, these people who want to hire them to find them in a giant sea of millions and millions of filmmakers.

Speaker 4: 14:21 The festival seems very supportive of not just showing the films, but really helping filmmakers to kind of get their work out there and to give them a whatever kind of leg up or help you can. And one of the other things I saw that you're doing is you have this Stephanie Rothman Fellowship. And what I like about that is that one, it offers something to a young and upcoming filmmaker. And also it reminds us of some of these women. Um, she worked with Roger Corman and we just saw student nurses at the TCM film festival, but reminds people of some of these women who have blazed the trail before.

Speaker 3: 15:00 Yeah. Um, I mean Stephanie, honestly is, is amazing. She doesn't know it, but she's amazing and that she was the first woman to direct what we would call a modern horror film. She was the first woman hired by Roger Corman and he ended up hiring a whole bunch of women, still does to this day. And he's been one of the major forces in getting women directing jobs in film from the sixties, seventies, 80s. He really is. And I don't think he set out to do that. I think he'd Roger just all he cares about is, are you good and can you do the job? Some people were good and they could do the job and they happen to be women. And so Roger hired them and we had Stephanie Rossman at our festival in 2017 we give out something called the inspiration award to an established filmmaker that has inspired women to make genre films.

Speaker 3: 15:52 And Stephanie was our awardee that year. And we had Roger come down and he wanted to present the award to her. And it was that year that we decided to found the Stephanie Robin Fellowship in Partnership With the shockwaves podcast, which is a Blumhouse network podcasts in particular, a woman named Rebecca McKendree. And it was, it was really her idea to start with. And then if Syria came on and we, we also filleted it together and we raised money and we give a $5,000 check, hopefully it'll be more than that next year. But we give it to a female filmmaker, students that wants to make horror films and that has a project that needs funding in some way. Either it's postproduction or they don't have any money to shoot at all or you know, or they need festival submission fees or whatever. They can use that money for whatever project they want. Um, but it's just, it's just one little step to help them.

Speaker 3: 16:48 And you know what this reminds me of, I think I've been thinking of this whole conversation. Why, why do I do that? Why is that? Why, you know, like, welcome would compel a person to spend their life helping other people get jobs and, um, when you're not their manager. And I think what, and I think the fellowship is about this for me to, I, it comes down to when I was younger, I think if I had had a leg up in any way or encouragement or someone had just stepped in and helped me in some way that was a little out of the ordinary, it would have made such a huge difference in my life and in my, my expression as an artist. And I never had that. And I want to give that to other people because I think that's, I think that's unfair. And I love seeing people that really deserve it, get the recognition that they deserve. So if people are good and they just, they deserve to be seen and heard and they deserve, you know, they deserve a little booth. And if I can give that to somebody, then that's fantastic.

Speaker 4: 17:55 Well, and I think one of your other inspirational awards was to, and I hope I say her name right. Oh, Rachel Telilei.

Speaker 3: 18:01 Rachel Calloway. Yeah.

Speaker 4: 18:02 And you got John Waters to give that out.

Speaker 3: 18:06 So I'm, I'm really good at getting people to do things and think weird things like that where it's like, John Waters did what? You know, I, I contacted John Waters and I, I was like, Hey, this is Rachel was your what? She, she worked for him as an add on a lot of his films in the 70s and eighties and she learned so much from him and she considered him a mentor and I couldn't think of anybody else that it would be more meaningful for her to get it from.

Speaker 5: 18:33 Hi, I'm John Waters and I'm here to congratulate Rachael Tel or a for her, a theory of Phil Knight Inspiration Award. Any event that has girls and corpses magazine as a sponsor sounds prestige. This to me only hell has better movies, is a slogan that has been used to describe this fast. So I want to be the first plunged down in worship. Rachel Talalay came to us from Yale University as a production assistant on polyester. In other words, baptism by fire. Yale couldn't have prepared Rachel for divines, stiff, baiters foot stoppers or even scarier Chris Mason, our female hairdresser, so ferocious that Freddy Kruger would have been afraid of. Rachel survived with flying colors and that is why new line cinema noticed and put her to work on the first four nightmare on elm street movies and finally let her direct a fifth one. Freddie's did. Why did she graduate from you to horror? You might ask, you didn't make horror films. Oh yes I did. You should have asked my mother. She thought they were all horrible directing tank girl really proved Rachel's directorial chops. This riot girl could kick a ass.

Speaker 4: 19:43 That was John Waters in his presentation of a theory of film nights inspiration award last year. I'll be right back with more on the theory of film night and the female perspective in film after this short break, and I want to talk specifically about some of the films that you have coming up for this year's festival. What was the process like this year? Like how many entries were you calling through to get these kind of prime candidates?

Speaker 3: 20:12 In the last couple of years? We have had a lot, oh, I've said the last two years we've had over a thousand submissions, which is a lot for shorter film festival. They can only screen one night of films. So our, our short films total run time in the theater is like a feature film. Like we cannot show that many films and inevitably a lot of really good films do not get shown. So, uh, we always end up with way more good stuff than we could ever show. We tried to take, uh, some of the horror stuff that we can't show at the Egyptian on tour to different horror conventions around the country so they can get a chance to be seen there. It's a long process, but it works. It seems to work

Speaker 4: 20:54 well. It's a very diverse lineup. And so I'm wondering if part of what goes into the process is trying to find a wide birth of films so that people get a nice sampling of what women are doing these days.

Speaker 3: 21:05 I always see a trend every year and submission and it generally follows what's big and mainstream pop culture at the moment. So the year that the walking dead was available on Netflix in Europe, we had a ton of Spanish and French Zombie films submitted. And then when Black Mirror came out, um, we had a slew of the science fiction shorts that were totally in that style of black mirror and that, you know, that near future technique, dangers of technology kind of thing. And I think that people, people making films tend to make films that remind them of stuff that they like. So I think people watch Black Mirror, people watch walking dead, people watch these horror films and they're like, that's awesome. I can do that too. And that's where a lot of these trends come from. I want to say we do get films that are uniquely female as in like the female experience.

Speaker 3: 22:03 Last year we had a film called ovum by Sydney U and it's about a woman. And then your future is very black memory and it's about the process of getting an abortion in the future. And it's about what's reasonable and what's unreasonable in terms of the hoops that you have to jump through as a woman to get an abortion in the United States. That's a very female story and it just so happened to also be an amazing film and also science fiction and worked perfectly with our lineup. So we do get films like that, but we get films. I mean we get submissions that are just like two dudes burying a body in the desert. We get the whole gamut. So sometimes stories are very personal. I think this is true for film as a whole. I think it's a microcosm of the larger picture of the film industry.

Speaker 3: 22:48 Some songs are very personal, very feminine, very specific in their, their whores or their, their problem that they're, that they're showing to the world and some are really cheesy popcorn fun that are just about making people laugh or having a really great action scene. People tell all kinds of stories and I think that makes the personal ones even more exciting to watch because we have a gamut of big budget Hollywood stuff coming out all the time. And to see really personal film by filmmakers that tells their story is special and we're privileged to be able to watch those films and see that artwork from these people.

Speaker 4: 23:30 Yeah. And I just felt like there was this interesting ambivalence in some of them where it reflected the fact that the world is not this easy place to navigate.

Speaker 3: 23:39 Yeah. There, there, there are, I think a very particular couple of the films end of the line and good morning there's this feeling of like the, there is these huge problems in the world and no one can fix them because they're just too big. And if there's this level of acceptance that the characters have had to develop in order to survive day to day, it ended the line. It's a story about, you know, one man having control over another person. I think a lot of these, these films have characters that are, that are like us. You know, they're, you can't change the world. And that's frustrating and these characters often don't change their world. They live in it and they come up with innovative and interesting ways to survive.

Speaker 4: 24:27 Well, and on a more intimate level, you have films like Lucy's tail and atomic spot, which I felt were also ended with this kind of ambivalence about what the characters are finally left with. But on a very personal level too,

Speaker 3: 24:42 there is a, a deeply personal aspect to a few of them. And I agree with you at atomic spot by definitely have Davila and it's very much about isolation and love and loneliness. And you know, what's a fair and not fair in love. Like what will, uh, what is real companionship really mean? And what does real loneliness mean? Those are all explored and there's, there's no great resolution either. It's just things happen and that's the way they are and they're not always amazing.

Speaker 4: 25:16 And just to kind of wrap up, uh, you want to talk a little bit about ggs film, cause this is a feature that you're showing.

Speaker 3: 25:22 So w this year we're showing a feature called culture shock. And it is part of the, into the dark theories on Hulu with Blumhouse. It's directed by Gigi Saul Guerrero.

Speaker 6: 25:37 Okay.

Speaker 4: 25:38 Okay.

Speaker 6: 25:40 Pray Sweetie, you're safe now. She, the little angel, the sleeping, you're an American now, the land of plenty. We're still happy to have you. This place is so special. Yeah, I think I could call it home.

Speaker 3: 26:15 And she is a filmmaker that I've been aware of for about a decade. She's a Mexican filmmaker and all of her films involve some aspect of Mexicans and Hispanic culture. She, she takes a lot of really cool folklore imagery and uh, you know, she's so great on art direction and color and just beautiful. And culture is her first feature as a director. And it also has a theme of Mexican immigrants and white culture traditionally in America and in a, in a sort of a get-out way, it's socially relevant. It talks about your power dynamics between people in the United States based on race and money. And it goes to very dark places and it is a horror film and it's great screening on the 29th with us that then a couple of days later it'll air on Hulu. So if you can't make it to Syria, then you can always watch it on Hulu a couple of days later. And you'll see what I'm talking about.

Speaker 4: 27:23 And did you screen one of the Sauskia sisters films back as Viscera?

Speaker 3: 27:29 Yes. Uh, we did.

Speaker 4: 27:30 Well, the reason I bring them up is it just seems like their trajectory kind of reflects a little bit of, you know, how women have progressed over the past decade or so because now they're coming out with a new version of rabid, a remake of Cronenberg's.

Speaker 3: 27:45 Yeah. I think I've been in development a couple of years, so I'm really glad that that they finally were able to get that out. They made that her in the trunk, which is Super Fun and kind of a guide house, low budget way. And then they made American Mary, which I think blew a lot of people away. And based on American Mary there, their careers did jump up. And you know, they had a TV show, TV game show for awhile with Blumhouse and uh, they were working on a series. It's writers and I know that. Yeah. And now they have rabbit and they have a couple of other things in the works as well. But, but I think the key was that they continually kept making films. Even if it was destroyed, they never stop it and just say, okay, we made our feature. You know, nobody's handing us a big budget movie, so we're going to quit. You know? I think it's really easy to take that stance. I think it's easy for people in all aspects of art culture to take a stance. You know, you work really hard on something and results are never going to be instantaneous and awesome and that can be a little disheartening for people. And the hard part is, is sticking with it and doing it any way and making yourself and telling your stories and at some point you will be recognized for that in one way or the other.

Speaker 4: 28:59 Well, I want to thank you very much for taking some time to talk about a theoria and the female perspective in film and wish you the best of luck with the festival.

Speaker 3: 29:08 Thank you so much for taking the time to interview me, Beth. I really appreciate it.

Speaker 2: 29:21 [inaudible].

Speaker 4: 29:21 That was a theory of film night director of programming, Heidi Honeycutt. This year's event is Saturday, June 29th at the Egyptian theater in Hollywood. Check out part two of this podcast on the female perspective. It focuses on the film of feel yet starring Daisy Ridley and Naomi Watts, and it opens this weekend. Cinema Junkie comes out every other Friday

Speaker 1: 29:42 and you can subscribe to it on iTunes or any of your favorite podcasting apps. Plus you can find it at kpbs.org/cinema junkie till our next film fixed on Beth, like Amando your resident's cinema junkie.

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Cinema Junkie

Satisfy your celluloid addiction with the Cinema Junkie podcast, where you can mainline film 24/7. This film and entertainment series is run by KPBS Film Critic Beth Accomando. So if you need a film fix, want to hear what filmmakers have to say about their work, or just want to know what's worth seeing this weekend, then you've come to the right place