In honor of the month of horror we want to introduce our readers to the Women in Horror Film Festival. Founder Vanessa Wright was kind enough to answer some questions about the festival which has been happening yearly since 2016. The festival is dedicated to celebrating and showcasing women directors, writers, cinematographers, FX artists, editors, production designers, composers, producers, and performers in horror cinema, as well as the teams with whom they work. This years fest will be held in Atlanta from February 27th through the 29th, 2020. See website for more info!
What is your role in the festival and what is your film background?
I am the co-founder and festival director for the Women in Horror Film Festival. My film background started in adolescence ;). I grew up watching films and making them with my family’s video camera. After high school I decided to pursue a career in film and attended Ohio University. I graduated with a degree in Video Production and a minor in Film studies. I did what everyone else was doing at that time and moved to Los Angeles to start my career. I worked for a commercial animation studio before moving on to music videos. After some time, I moved back East and worked for a commercial production company in Atlanta and began to focus more on writing. Fast forward to 2019: I’ve written, produced and directed several short films, I’m currently contracted to write a reimagining of a 1973 film, I run a genre festival and I’m in development on a feature film that I will be directing. I’ve been in the industry for 20 years and I can’t imagine doing anything else.
Explain the origins of the festival and why you think there is an importance to showcase the women in the roles behind the scenes.
The festival came about in late 2016. Co-founder Samantha Kolesnik and I had been attending genre festivals for a couple years as screenwriters and were shocked at the lack of female involvement. We wondered if it was lack of content being made by women or perhaps just an oversight. We decided to launch a fest that put the spotlight on women behind the camera. Our goal was to discover and showcase balanced, collaborative efforts and create a platform to allow for a more equal playing field. We came up with criteria that would not eliminate and ignore the contribution of men, but rather highlight the contribution that women make in film.
What is the process like for submitting a film? How many do you end up showcasing?
All submissions are made exclusively through Film Freeway. We accept short & feature films as well as short and feature screenplays. We have categories for student films and a category for youth films (films made by individuals 17 and under). Last year we ended up screening about 70 short films and 5 feature films.
What traits do you look for in the films you showcase?
We look for quality of craft. Exceptional cinematography, sound, performances, writing, editing…these all contribute to the overall quality of the film. We look for originality and fresh story perspectives. We also look for passion. Can we feel the passion of the filmmaker come through in the story? If the answer is yes, we take note.
Women, generally, are portrayed as victims in horror movies. When a woman is behind the scenes of the film do you tend to see the females in different types of roles from a traditional horror?
Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It really has to do with the individual creating the content, and less to do with their gender. I have seen films written and directed by women that use the same stereotypical tropes that we have seen for years. I also see some fresh perspectives, trying to break that mold and shatter those stereotypes. It’s quite refreshing.
You have an incredibly talented panel of judges every year including everyone from makeup artist to actresses. What exactly do contestants’ win?
The top award is our custom designed Lizzie trophy. The actual trophies are created by artist, Karl Libecab, each and every year. We try to recognize as many creatives as possible, as well as create an experience at the fest that is much more valuable than any trophy. Attendees are encouraged to network, as there are great opportunities for furthering their career, as well as possible future collaborations.
Where can we watch these films once the festival is over?
A lot of the films go on to secure distribution through various platforms, including VOD, bluray/dvd and theatrical. Many filmmakers decide to put their work online via youtube and Vimeo as well, once their festival runs are over.
What have been some of your personal favorite films you’ve showcased over the years?
There have been many, and it’s tough to single out a few out of the hundreds and hundreds that we watch each season. A few that come to mind are Aislinn Clarke’s Childer, Edward & Melissa Lyon’s Alfred J. Hemlock, Preston DeFrancis’ Ruin Me, Brian & Lo Avenet Bradley’s Echoes of Fear, Lucy Campbell’s Squeal, and so many more. It really is hard to single these out. Every single film that screens at WIHFF is remarkable.
What has been the biggest surprise you have learned from putting on a festival like this?
I think it’s the misconception of the general public that think film festivals make a huge profit and that the fest directors are rolling in cash. It may be that way for some of the larger tiered festivals, but these small independent festivals are lucky to break even each year. It’s not the money that motivates us, it really is the connections that are made and fostering those relationships and creating a sense of community.
I always feel like music and horror go hand in hand. What are some of the bands you listen to that represent a love for horror?
Well, I don’t know if these bands necessarily represent a love for horror, but these are some of my personal favs whose music has inspired a lot of my own work in the genre:
The Ramones, Echo & The Bunnymen, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, The Civil Wars, The Doors, Cat Power, Johnny Cash, The Church, My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult… I can go on and on.
Thank You, Vanessa!
Follow Women In Horror Fest:
facebook - @WIHFF
twitter - @WIHFF
IG - @wihfilmfest