“Those are the directors?” This question, delivered as a scoff, came from the man sitting behind me as the directors of the Etheria Film Night shorts program walked to the stage of Hollywood’s Egyptian theater for a Q&A. His disbelief that the roster of young women seated at the front of the screening room could be the creators of such diverse, violent, and funny work underscored the reason Etheria Film Night exists in the first place.
Female directors make great films under the duress of such prejudice, but it’s often equally as hard to find platforms for them to screen their work. Newly moved to Hollywood from Boston, which housed the festival in 2012 and 2013, Etheria Film Night is a one-night show dedicated to showing innovative new horror, science fiction, fantasy, action, and thriller films directed by women. On July 12, the festival night drew a large audience of men and women of all ages with a hunger for new, exciting films. While men outnumber women five to one across the film industry, it is especially hard for women to break into directing genre work. To quote Lexi Alexander, the director of hyperviolent cult hit Punisher: Warzone, and recipient of the 2014 Etheria Inspiration Award, “There is no lack of female directors. Repeat after me: There is no lack of female directors. But there is a huge lack of people willing to give female directors opportunities.” It is this gap between willing creators and opportunity that Etheria, and events like it, hope to remedy. This summer Etheria also raised money for nonprofit Reel Grrls, a year-round media training program for young women.
Nearly all of the films shown at Etheria this month were brand new: the one-night event was either the world premiere or the North American premiere of almost every film. Many of them are no doubt off to tour festival circuits, but for now there is little information available online about these films for the curious. Below are my top five films to watch for—my picks for the movies that I thought stood out in a group of standout works. Keep an eye on local festivals, wherever you are, as these unique visions will likely arrived in a theater near you over the next year.
Etheria 2014 kicked off with this feature from director Axelle Carolyn about a recently widowed musician who takes a vacation in the Welsh countryside, only to discover she’s not the only occupant of the old cottage she’s rented. Combining classically Gothic and horror elements with contemporary twists, and filmed in atmospheric mountains, Soulmate is a fresh take on the traditional ghost story.
Danis Goulet’s Wakening takes Cree mythology and drops it squarely into a dystopian, military-occupied future. A lone warrior, Wesakechak, must seek out the supernatural terror of a Weetigo to help in her fight against the occupying forces, in this intriguing, multi-layered film.
YOU, ME, & HER (USA)
When 31 versions of Anna are processed at the Department of Parallel Resettlement, she is shocked to discover not only that her smallest choices have reality-shaking consequences, but that she is the most cautious, least interesting version of herself. Sarah Doyle’s hilarious, quirky You Me & Her is a real original, quickly drawing viewers into its madcap little world. Watch the trailer here.
HIDE AND SEEK (JAPAN)
A schoolgirl shows up to a music teacher’s house for a Koto lesson, only to slowly discover there’s more to the woman and her son than meets the eye. Kayoko Asakura’s short Hide and Seek is a slow-burning piece of horror, whose patience and unexpected payoff make it seem more expansive than its eleven-minute timeframe. Watch the trailer here.
THE JELLY WRESTLER (AUSTRALIA)
Aging barmaid Eileen’s old jelly-wrestling demons come back to haunt her as she trains a young woman for her own bout. It's unexpected, funny, and has a sinister turn of an ending. The Jelly Wrestler is a slick, bittersweet delight, and was the perfect cap to the festival evening. Watch the trailer here.
Related Reading: An Interview with "Tank Girl" Director Rachel Talalay.
Zoe Chevat is a writer, animator, and illustrator who attended the CalArts MFA Program in Film and Animation. In addition to writing for Bitch, she also contributes to TheMarySue.com. Follow her on Twitter @zchevat or on Tumblr.
Photo of director Lexi Alexander via Film School Rejects.