Returning to the Women in Horror Film Festival felt like coming home. Within minutes of arriving I was greeted by familiar faces, warm smiles, and a sort of kinship and celebration that I've found few places before. Tucked away in deep the woods of Peachtree City's Crowne Plaza Hotel there were few outside distractions to take attendees away from the festival. With a focus on the contributions of women in horror whose work is defying expectations and the limitations imposed upon them by society and the industry alike. Helmed by filmmakers Vanessa Ionta Wright and Samantha Kolesnik, the duo managed to curate another astonishing selection of films, features, and trailers for this year's festival. Broad generalizations about awesomeness aside, what really makes the Women in Horror Film Festival such a must see event?
The Women in Horror Film Festival collects and runs some of the most phenomenal short films and features that you will ever see. Period. Each film is placed within a category (body horror, horror-comedy, macabre, thriller, etc...) and gives audiences a chance to plan out and see literally every film available to them over the course of three days. This differs wildly from festivals that run multiple screens and forces viewers to pick and choose which blocks they can make and which ones they have to miss. But it's more than just that. They have found some of the best films told in a voice that is wholly unique and often unheard in the mainstream cinema. Each film is created, nurtured, and told in a strong, female voice and offers a glimpse at horror that so many people would otherwise overlook and never consider.
Let me see if I can explain.
Two films, What Metal Girls Are Into and Heartless each had a male character who offered the same line just before something horrible was (rightly) done to him. "You'd be a lot prettier if you'd smile."
How many women reading this article were just instantly infuriated by that phrase? How many have heard it recited to them in condescending tones over and over throughout their lives? How many of them wanted to respond with a measure of violence towards the ignorant man who thought he was being clever or offering a compliment when, in fact, he was telling them that their intrinsic value was wrapped up totally in the pleasantness of their appearance? I immediately apologized to my wife who was with me knowing that, at some point in time, I've been guilty of saying this too without even thinking about it. But that is the power of these films. They take the tangible, daily horrors experienced by women everywhere, the ways they are devalued and disregarded, and make that horror accessible to everyone. It's equal parts terrifying and humbling to realize the sort of casual fear that is exuded, that becomes a daily part of life for most women. The films offer and in depth exploration of fear in all its aspects from the traditional monster and ghost stories to some truly mind warping psychological terror.
They also remind us that horror, as a genre, is not a boy's club but an inclusive space for everyone because fear is not owned by a single demographic but by all humanity.
(facing camera) D. Duckie Rodriguez. Actor. Screenwriter. Bon vivant.
In the spirit of inclusivity the festival creates an environment that is specifically designed to connect everyone in attendance. You don't have to buy a special pass to talk to the filmmakers or to get an autograph. There is no physical barrier put in place by the Women in Horror Film Festival to separate the fans or to discourage interaction. Instead, the festival encourages everyone to talk, socialize, and share their love for the genre without financial or social roadblocks. Last year, I was interviewing filmmaker Lynne Hansen (Chomp) and sharing breakfast when we were invited to join Jen and Sylvia Soska. Every night you find yourself sitting at the bar for the after party that follows the final block and there you are with directors, producers, actors, effects artists, and journalists just to name a few of the various artists gathering for this event. Within minutes of walking in this year I was greeted by both festival directors who introduced me to Jason Tostevin, director of the Nightmare's Film Festival (happening October 20th) and Waylon Jordan of iHorror. Name dropping aside, I got to meet some incredible people within the industry as well as fans who just wanted to come and see something scary.
There is a sense of community that is fostered at Women in Horror Film Festival that is alien in almost any other festival or industry for that matter. Despite competing for the Lizzie, the incredible award statuette of the festival, no one is actively competing. Yes, some films and their creators won awards, but everyone felt as if they had won something special just by being selected to screen. There was never a disingenuous smile or a less than heartfelt round of applause after each block and each win. There were also conversations that began the groundwork for a collaboration. No one was standing in the corner sheltering their ideas and their work for fear of some kind of theft or ridicule. It was all on display and it was all celebrated because these were artists who had come together to celebrate their craft and to share it with the world.
Blood Runs Down star Farrah Martin holds the Lizzie.
Farrah Martin, the nine-year-old star of Blood Runs Down was quite literally the hit of the festival. Accompanied by her mother she was in awe of the festival, the people, and the culture being presented to her. She talked about her experience in the film, her first speaking role, and how there was so much more she wanted to do in the future. During the awards ceremony she accepted the Lizzie for Blood Runs Down's win and was nothing short of inspiring on the stage. But girls like Farrah are at the heart of what the Women in Horror Film Festival is about. The young actress has already delivered a moving, powerful performance and is learning to hold her own in an industry that has, traditionally, repressed both women and people of color and relegated them to stereotypes and gags. But the culture of film is changing through festivals like Women in Horror and the future is steadily becoming a much brighter, much more diverse landscape and it warms my heart knowing that independent film is in such good hands.
Director Shiva Rodriquez summed it up best, in my opinion. "I'm missing the premier of my film to be here. That's how important this is."
Everyone in attendance, filmmakers and fans alike, echoed this sentiment. An environment ripe with collaboration and comradery where women could tell the stories that no one else could. The future is definitely female and, as far as independent horror goes, it's going to be grand.
More articles, reviews, and interviews coming soon so check back for more coverage of the Women in Horror Film Festival 2018.
Dan is an author, editorialist, podcaster, and horror culture & lifestyle correspondent from the Southeast. You can find Dan's stories at Danno of the Dead Blog and through PDI Press.