As the industry and media have increasingly placed a spotlight on the filmic achievements of female directors, the recent rush of celebrated genre films masterminded by women — Julia Ducournau’s Raw, Alice Lowe’s Prevenge, Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook and Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation, among them — has been cited as a welcome phenomenon, but it’s not an altogether new one. A network of female-driven genre film festivals that celebrate the activities and influence of women in the genre cinema community have been running for, in some cases, decades. Filmmaker and programmer Briony Kidd says, drily, “The idea that it might be good to focus on women directors in horror has become quite accepted.”
The cofounder and director of the groundbreaking (and increasingly popular) female-genre-filmmaker-focused Stranger With My Face International Film Festival, Kidd has seen her Hobart, Tasmania-set showcase expand from a personal project into one of the city’s premier international events. For Kidd, the exciting discoveries associated with programming women-made films goes hand-in-hand with rescuing from cinematic obscurity the game-changing work of marginalized genre artists like Jennifer Lynch, Julie Corman and Gaylene Preston, who at this past May’s SWMFIFF, was the subject of an expansive retrospective.
Kidd’s festival this year also focused on cultivating collegiality and professional-grade mentorship for up-and-coming women directors, producers and screenwriters. The festival’s Attic Lab is a pitching forum for projects seeking development funds or financing. For women horror filmmakers, it’s not just sexism that can retard a director’s progress, it’s “the weight of commerce.” “I don’t think female filmmakers, myself included, think, ‘I’m being excluded and being unfairly discriminated against,’” she says. “What more happens is that you just don’t get anywhere for a long time, and you think, ‘There’s something wrong with me. I’m obviously not very good.’”
Sara Neidorf, who with Elinor Lewy and Lara Mandelbrot programs the new Final Girls Berlin Film Festival, requires “something sinister, some kind of force of evil” in her festival’s horror selections — “otherwise, it just doesn’t cut it.” This exciting new event offers an expansive, politically engaged mission statement for modern filmmakers and audiences: “We are committed to creating space for female voices and visions, whether monstrous or heroic, in the horror genre. We are lashing out against the tokenization of women as objects and beautified victims, and are working towards the primacy of women as subjects in horror.”