The Lunafest short film festival has just celebrated its 16th as one of the only American film festivals geared toward promoting the work of female filmmakers. At a special screening event held in West Los Angeles, festival goers and industry professionals were able to watch some of this year’s films, as well as attend a special panel event featuring 4 of the filmmakers.
For those who are new to the Lunafest calendar, this is the festival every female filmmaker needs to know about. Spearheaded by the Luna bar company, this is an event featuring films by, for, and about women. With statistics showing just how appalling the gender gap is when it comes to females winning awards and female driven and centered films being screened at some of the worlds biggest festivals, it is clear we need to see some major change within the industry.
Earlier this year we saw Michael Moore’s Traverse City Film Festival play it’s part by ONLY featuring movies directed by women. But we shouldn’t have to see one-off publicity stunts like this, which even Michael Moore himself agreed with. Lunafest organizers know the inequality first hand, as they recently collaborated with USC Annenberg’s Dr. Stacy Smith on a study delving into the world of short films.
Of all the short films submitted to major film festivals around the world, women only made up a third of directors. In their key findings, we see that up to 64% of female filmmakers cite the work/life balance as a challenge to their careers, and 61% stated they had trouble getting financed. Up to 29% said they had trouble generating interest or finance in their films because they were about women or underrepresented groups. Which is why Lunafest exists – to be a platform that ensures women’s short films are getting seeing and getting the recognition they deserve.
At the inaugural Los Angeles screening event which we were lucky enough to attend, we watched 4 out of this year’s 9 finalists and got to hear each of the filmmakers speak about their process with moderator Jenelle Riley from Variety. ‘Free To Laugh’ by Lara Everly follows the story of former female inmates who are using comedy as a tool to conquer their fears, insecurities and demons at a precarious transitional time in their lives.
‘Family Tale’ by Dr. Patricia Beckmann-Wells is an autobiographical animated tale of love and loss, where she takes the viewers on a journey through her 2 miscarriages and struggles with multiple adoptions where birth parents backed out at the last moment.
‘Partners’ by Joey Ally is a look into the intertwined lives of two female lovers who both live and work together, negotiating and balancing their everyday needs with personality quirks. And ‘Join The Club’ is an expose into the mind of the up-and-coming female creative. During a therapy session, an author simultaneously talks herself out of and into being part of a female networking group, deciding whether it is going to help or hinder her creative process and ego.
During the panel, when asked what their main struggles in the industry were, each of them had fairly similar answers about finding it difficult to get people to take a chance on their talent, and how frustrating it was to see their male friends in similar situations progress up the filmmaker ladder in a much more progressive fashion.
It’s similar to a story director Ava DuVernay told at an Elle Magazine Women In Hollywood event in 2015. Before ‘Selma’, she made her big entrance into the film industry at the Sundance Film Festival with her film ‘Middle of Nowhere’. That same year, a male filmmaker friend of hers was also screening his film at Sundance. They compared notes on the offers they each received afterward, and Ava mentioned she would be directing ‘Selma’ at a budget of $20 million.
Her male friend? That was Colin Trevorrow, who would then go on to direct ‘Jurassic World’ at a $150 million budget and would also get an offer to direct ‘Star Wars IX’ coming out in 2019. This kind of trajectory difference is clearly all too-common. It reiterated the need for an event like Lunafest, which awards the finalists money to help them apply to film festivals in order to get more recognition.
Most of the filmmakers on the panel did express how the pushback against women in Hollywood has forced them to recognize how important it is for them to think outside the box when it comes to the types of stories and subject matters they want to tackle. ‘Partners’ Joey Ally, who is a straight woman with a male partner, talked about how she wanted to make a point of portraying a lesbian relationship because it allowed her to get outside her own comfort zone in terms of her directorial gaze, and know that she is increasing the kind of on-screen representations of groups which are routinely excluded in mainstream Hollywood.
This year’s Oscar-nominated ‘Carol’, starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara made waves throughout the film industry for its bold, powerful and nuanced portrayal of a 1950s lesbian love affair, which was made all the more important knowing the screenwriter was a woman (Phyllis Nagy, who was nominated for an Academy Award). The female gaze is important, and that’s what was reiterated during the Lunafest panel.
‘Free To Laugh’s Lara Everly was purposeful in choosing her subject matter, saying that there is a lot of focus on the high rates of male incarceration in the US today, but hardly anyone is talking about the particular struggles of female former and current inmates. The US holds the largest female prison population in the world, and it was quite confronting and emotional to hear the women in Lara’s short documentary talk about how they got to where they are today, and how taking a stand-up comedy class changed their perspective on themselves.
It made us realize the important of supporting a festival like Lunafest, which travels to over 175 cities across the country throughout the year. In its 16th year, championing the cause of female filmmakers, it is high time the message was heard by the industry and audiences alike.
We want to encourage you to attend a Lunafest event in a city near you by going to the website and checking out the screening schedule. We can’t believe it has even taken us this long to learn about such an important event for female filmmakers! If you want a glimpse into the talent you can see in some of the 9 finalist films, take a look at the 2016 Lunafest trailer below:
This is a sponsored conversation written by us on behalf of LUNA. The opinions and text are all ours.