Female filmmakers are no longer the rare breed they were in days past, but finding a woman in the director’s chair on a feature film is still an infrequent event. This holds especially true for genre films — movies in which car chases, alien arrivals and big, bad boogeymen take the focus instead of light-hearted comedy and will-they-won’t-they drama.
But no worries, for Heidi Honeycutt and Stacy Pippi are helping women in the industry fight the good fight. In the heart of Hollywood at the iconic Egyptian Theatre, Honeycutt and Pippi shine a spotlight on the femme fatale filmmakers who add their voice to genre pics with Etheria Film Night, a one-night event for shorts, which took place this weekend.
Beginning in 2013, the feisty duo have done their best to spotlight up-and-coming women filmmakers, offering the directors a chance to step out of their constrictive genre shell and shine in front of a large audience at the Egyptian.
“Part of what we starting doing was to give women more representation in genre films. Back in 2007, you [could go up to] a horror fan at a Fangoria convention and ask them to name four women directors of horror films, and they might come up with Kathryn Bigelow and Mary Lambert, and that would be it,” Honeycutt says. “You never see women directors signing the way you see people line up for men. … It was a different culture at that time and there wasn’t a lot out there for and by women.”
Originally born out of now-defunct Viscera Film Festival, an event that focused primarily on women filmmakers in the horror genre. Etheria got its start with Honeycutt, who picked the name in homage to Princess of Power She-Ra (Etheria is the sister planet to He-Man’s Eternia).
“When Heidi approached me about regrouping and relaunching a new film festival, I told her we needed to make this inclusive of all the genres we love to watch,” Pippi says. “Basically, the highlighted categories are all the stuff that we were told women don’t even like to watch, don’t like and can’t make.”
There is an obvious need for such a fest in Los Angeles, as the initial response to the festival announcement was overwhelming to the pair. “On a Friday night at 8 p.m. we launched a website, we sent out press releases and we made an announcement on Facebook,” Pippi recalls. “We only opened up submissions for one month and went after people we already knew. And we got hundreds of responses in that one month.”
Etheria stands out among the many fests that litter Los Angeles not because of the femme focus of the fest but because it is only a single night and features mostly shorts. This year's crop tackled issues ranging from fear of aging and finding love in unexpected places to good old-fashioned sibling rivalry. Films include Jocelyn Stamat's Laboratory Conditions, about a science experiment gone awry; Tammy Riley Smith's Lady M, which follows the twisted tale of an aging actress; and Elizabeth Serra's seething '60s costumer Skin Deep. Also on the docket was Anca Vlasan's dark take on the modern rom-com, C U Later Tuesday; Devi Snively's Bride of Frankie, a feminist reimagining of the classic goth tale; and Macarena Montero's The Agency, which turns the concept of marriage on its head.
“I feel Etheria’s biggest strengths is that it is about shorts, because it is a lot harder to get attention for a short film. If you have a feature and you show at Fantastic Fest, you might get a distribution deal. You are not going to get a distribution deal for your short, even if it’s great … so we focus on them as calling cards for these individual directors,” Honeycutt says. “We are highlighting the films but also the people that are behind the films and making them really visible. That’s something we can do that we can’t do if we are a weeklong festival.”
“Without having to point it out, and by showing these films year after year with a new slate of inspiring work, [we're showing that it] isn’t about finding female directors but realizing there are a ton of qualified women and there are no excuses,” Pippi proclaims.
Etheria also takes pause to honor filmmakers who galvanized generations of genre folks with their craft via an Inspiration Award. Past honorees have included TV writer-producer Jane Espenson, helmer Jackie Kong and action-pic protégé Lexi Alexander.
This year, Etheria Film Night honored director Rachel Talalay for her work on Doctor Who, Sherlock and the post-apocalyptic cult hit Tank Girl. At the event, Tank Girl herself, Lori Petty, was on hand to present the honor. The Pope of Trash John Waters also was on hand via recorded video honoring Talalay. “Rachel Talalay came to us from Yale University as a production assistant on Polyester,” he shared. “In other words, baptism by fire. Yale couldn’t have prepared Rachel for Divine, foot stompers or, even scarier, Chris Mason, our female hairdresser so ferocious that Freddy Krueger would have been afraid of her.”
Accepting the award, Talalay said, “I am honored and a little surprised that I am seen as a maverick or an inspiration. Just ask my children, there is nothing inspiring about me,” she laughed. “But I am constantly exasperated that my gender is a topic of discussion. But we are at a cusp now. And I want you — all of you — to use gender as a voice, to get under their skins. Make a statement. Tell your story. Break down their walls and kick down that glass ceiling.
“It was back in 2006 when The Dixie Chicks had their lives threatened for criticizing George W. Bush and were told to shut up and sing,” she added. “And now we are yelling back, ‘Shut up and listen.’ Our stories are part of our revolutions.”
In addition to honoring industry vets who inspired others, Etheria goes a step further by giving budding filmmakers a boost. With the help of Dr. Rebekah McKendry and the team behind Blumhouse Productions' Shock Waves podcast, Etheria sponsors the Stephanie Rothman Fellowship for female film students, given to deserving young women making their first feature. This year, USC film student Elizabeth Marshall won the prize for her script What Daphne Saw.
“I want to encourage and support a huge variety of voices in genre media, and if I can begin with just one student, then that is a place to start,” McKendry tells L.A. Weekly. “Eventually, I hope to expand the fellowship to give awards within each genre. I would also love to create a whole new scholarship for film students who identify as transgender.”
While Etheria continues to offer a helping hand to get more women behind the camera, the ultimate goal of the festival is not to simply grow but to become an antiquated concept in terms of even having to give women the spotlight.
“My goal is for the festival to become obsolete. If there was enough content within these genres to do a multiple-day film festival, then there [would be no need] for a women-only multiple-day film festival,” says Pippi, who's planning the next Etheria Film Night event at Midsummer Scream, a Halloween-themed convention in Long Beach next month. “One day I hope to go away because we don’t have a reason to exist.”
Etheria and Cinematic Void co-present a screening of '70s lesbian drama The Dark Side of Tomorrow at the Egyptian, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, on Wed., July 11. More info at americancinemathequecalendar.com. Etheria's film night at Midummer Scream takes place at the Long Beach Convention Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach, on Sat., July 28. More info here.