Founded in 2014, Etheria Film Night, which is hosted by the American Cinematheque, is a festival that for one afternoon and evening showcases new horror, comedy, science fiction, fantasy, action, and thriller films made by emerging women directors. Etheria’s stated goal is “to highlight women directors making fantastic genre films and to connect these filmmakers to industry professionals.” This year the Etheria Film Night showcased a feature film and a slate of shorts at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, California on June 29. In previous years, I’ve enjoyed immersing myself in the array of genre films directed by women that the Etheria Film Night offers, but I’ve always done so from afar, writing blog posts by streaming the selected shorts. Finding myself in Los Angeles this year, I finally had the opportunity to attend the event. I must admit nothing beats watching a horror film in a darkened theater with an audience where your gasps are shared and amplified by those around you.
Culture Shock directed by Gigi Saul Guerrero was the festival’s opener. The feature is the fourth installment in the Hulu Blumhouse Productions series Into the Dark, which is streaming on Hulu as of July. Guerrero is an alumna of the festival who screened her short Día de los Muertos the first year of the annual festival. Five years later, the festival is stronger than ever. After filmmakers mixed and mingled during a cocktail hour with the audience, Gale Ann Hurd was honored with this year’s Inspiration Award for her role as a producer of so many iconic genre films including Aliens, The Terminator films, and Lexi Alexander’s Punisher War Zone. The Award was presented by the iconic Roger Corman, a mentor for many women in film including Hurd.
The culmination of the event was an impressive array of horror, fantasy, and science-fiction shorts, many of which effectively deployed just the right amount of humor. The films were entertaining and thought provoking; however, I was most struck by how the festival is a testament to the efforts during the past decade to do something to rectify the appalling lack of representation of women in the Entertainment Industry. I tend to be slightly cynical about the seemingly inevitable two steps forward, one step back incremental changes that occur and whether there is any likelihood that long-term substantive change is possible given the complexity of the issues involved. Nonetheless, seeing the Etheria Film Night’s films, all with exceptional production values and many funded by major hitters, was heartening. Not only was the feature film presentation backed by Hulu and Blumhouse, but the shorts also had an impressive list of prominent industry funders and distribution platforms including: Good Morning directed by Elaine Mongeon and part of the Warner Bros. Emerging Directors Workshop, Atomic Spot directed by Stephanie Cabdevila and distributed by Canal+, Bitten directed by Sarah K. Reimers who received assistance from Pixar, End of the Line directed Jessica Sanders and part of Refinery29 & TNT’s award-winning Shatterbox Anthology, a short film series dedicated to supporting the voices of female filmmakers, and Hair Wolf directed by Mariama Diallo and distributed via HBO on HBO GO.
For the shorts competition, Hair Wolf directed by Mariama Diallo, a monster movie about white cultural appropriation, won the Jury Prize. Good Morning directed by Elaine Mongeon, a family relationship drama where zombies were just another obstacle to overcome, won the Audience award for the evening. Awards aside, all of the shorts had their own spin on genre and kept the audience immersed in their cinematic worlds. The quality films selected over the years for the Etheria Film Night events have proven the point the festival’s organizers Heidi Honeycutt and Stacy Pippi Hammon set out to make—that women can make terrific genre films that are as good as and often better than those made by men. It seems ridiculous to have to say so, but it was not so long ago that the accepted narrative was that women have a limited repertoire of what they were capable of envisioning and directing. I have little doubt that many are still holding fast to that mistaken presumption. Nevertheless, thanks to the work of Honeycutt and Hammon as well as countless other women (and the men who we count as our allies), a shift in that perceptual blindspot has recently begun to happen. My experience attending the Etheria Film Night of 2019 made me feel that continued change just might be possible. When she accepted her Inspiration Award, Gale Ann Hurd said “[I] encourage all of you to take action and help to change this continuing gender imbalance.” Honeycutt reinforced Hurd’s comment by asking us to remember the names of the women directors on the stage because audience and fans can go far to promote the work of individual filmmakers, especially with the fandom of genre.
In her speech, Hurd referenced the depressing statistic that only 4 out of the 100 top grossing films of 2018 were directed by women. Clearly that number needs to grow—and perhaps that might be feasible thanks to initiatives inspired by grassroot activists like the women behind the Etheria Film Night. However, as Hurd concluded, the issues extend well beyond women directors, “we need [women] visible in every capacity… in every department on set… [to] champion women who are taking those non-traditional roles and encourage them and inspire them and give them opportunities.” In the two steps forward, one step back metaphor, I hope that the two steps taken are long strides and that the one step backward is taken on a conveyor belt which means something is propelling us forward despite the inevitability of those insisting on taking those steps back.
You can learn more about Etheria Film Night by visiting the festival’s website. You can also follow the festival on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Find more information about Jennifer on her profile.