film festival

Women Discuss Horror At The Milwaukee Twisted Dreams Film Festival

By Andrea Thompson

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Well, the Twisted Dreams Film Festival, Milwaukee's own film fest for horror movie fans, is over. This is a film fest I enjoy, and not just because I do some communications work on their behalf. The fest is now in its third year, and the men behind it, Stephen Milek and Chris House, have made a habit of showcasing at least a few films that put women front and center. This year, they got even more inclusive by not only featuring an entire shorts block devoted to female directors, but also a panel discussion on women in horror. I found it quite interesting, sometimes in a depressing way.

The panel consisted Susan Kerns, a professor at Columbia and one of the co-directors of the Chicago Feminist Film Festival, Wendy Keeling, a writer, director and actress, Theda de Sade, a burlesque dancer, actress, and writer, and panel moderator Josephine Yanasak-Leszczynski, a film critic and author.

Some of what they had to say was pretty positive. The mindset really is changing, with everyone on the panel describing how there was less hoarding of opportunity. Women apparently no longer feel they have to fight for the one place traditionally allotted to a female filmmaker, and they described a more helpful, supportive environment.

There was also a discussion of those issues which are especially relevant to the horror genre: the violence routinely inflicted on female characters. The panel described how most of the brutality seemed less about trying to tell a story or even deliver frights than just some guy trying to see how much he could get away with, or worse, fulfilling his fantasies. One of the women described how she heard an actor brag that he got to rape a woman.

It was a disturbing point that led to what they called the “50 Shades effect.” For Theda de Sade, it meant many people assuming she likes being hit since she's a “goth girl.” All of them also talked about how “50 Shades” and the subsequent mainstreaming of BDSM has led to more exploitative stories. Kerns mentioned that the Chicago Feminist Film Festival has gotten a lot more rape revenge films, since people seem to think these kinds of films are feminist as long as there's a revenge element. Really, when will people learn it takes more than that?

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One thing the panelists all strongly agreed on was having different kinds of people on set. One thing I've noticed is that when people who aren't straight white men talk about diversity is that these discussions tend to take on a greater sense of urgency. To these women, having different kinds of people on a film set wasn't just a business or even a moral issue. It helped improve their work and their lives. They talked about how the quality of the movie itself improved by having such a range of experiences, and how it helped everyone feel safer. For them, this wasn't an afterthought; it was essential.

But then, they opened it up for questions. There were a lot of men in the audience, and it actually made the talks more depressing rather than uplifting. The very first comment involved a guy talking about how many of their problems seemed to more revolve around being an independent filmmaker rather than being a woman. Another guy remarked that he didn't care about whether the movie he saw was directed by a woman or a man, he just wanted it to be good. Problems with funding was much discussed. Really, were these men not listening? The first more seemed to be another instance of a guy telling women what their problems were, the other seemed to be more of a case of something that should be positive coming off as another male fan patting himself on the back for not being “that kind of guy.”

In the end, the impression I got was the same one I tend to get when I go to a lot of these kinds of events. I loved how far we've apparently come, but it was VERY clear just how far we have to go, especially once it became clear how a large portion of audiences still viewed these women and themselves.

On International Women's Day, A Few Thoughts On How Far I've Come, And How Far I Still Have To Go

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It's International Women's Day, so it's a good time to reflect on how the Film Girl Film Festival has grown over the years. Granted, this is only my third year, but still.

First off? Let's just say ignorance is bliss. Generally, I'm not a huge fan of not knowing what's coming, but I'm kind of glad I didn't know just how much I was going to go through that first time. I had almost no guidance. I started the film festival myself, with no organizational backing. To comprehend just what I'd gotten myself into (and the times I wondered that was more than I could count), consider I had no experience in putting on such a massive event like this, and I also had no staff. Sure, I had plenty of people who were willing to help, especially once they saw I was serious. But mostly, it was just me writing press releases and keeping the media informed, watching and choosing the films, determining the schedule, getting sponsors, raising money, building and updating the website, finding the location, arranging the opening night party festivities, coordinating volunteers, running the festival equipment during the fest itself, and finally, setting up and taking everything down.

Needless to say, by the time it was all over, I needed a day off to lie around on the couch, which I happily took. Actually, more than one. It wasn't too hard, since the day job I had, or rather, stayed stuck in for years let me go about a month or two before the fest. Why? Because I'd gotten a 94.91 instead of a 95 on an assessment after being there for...well, years. I truly wish I could say I'd left rather than getting fired, like so many others had. But when I walked out, I felt freed rather than bitter. It may not have been the best timing, but it felt like I was finally making the necessary changes.

I hope all this makes it easier to understand just why I wasn't sure I wanted to put on the festival again. Just the thought of going through everything again exhausted me. But then the 2016 election happened. And that decided things. Sure, the fest was a relatively small thing, but I felt like I needed to do it again. This would be my own way of saying that not only would I not shut up, I'd do my part to make sure other women were heard too. Once I committed to it, things happened quickly. I found that new problems quickly sprang up to replace the old, but for once I was happy to have them. When your issues are due to growth, that's a lot easier to handle.

The big thing was I met the two women who would work with me. One was Crystal Schreiner, who would help me build the Film Girl Film Festival into not just an event, but a brand, with a new site and logo. The other was Kenlei, who would help me fundraise and find new sponsors. Interestingly enough, I met them both at the coffee shop I would go to, the Pleasant Kafe. It's since changed owners, but thankfully it's still there. Local coffee shops really are the best for all purposes, including networking.

But the biggest change came from being awarded a grant from the Women's Fund of Greater Milwaukee. Hell, I didn't even apply for it. Money changes things, and having spare cash that I could use to spend on the fest changed everything. Suddenly, my profile was bigger, people were taking me more seriously, and I learned even more about how to make best use of funds. (Like paying Crystal and Kenlei, although that was more of a given.) And it had results. For my second year, I learned about how to build a brand, give the festival a higher profile, and get even more people to attend.

So for 2018, there was never even a question of whether I would do it again. For the third year, I changed the name to the Film Girl Film Festival, and decided to try and make it an official nonprofit. I set up a GoFundMe, opened the fest for submissions, and made the move to Chicago (don't worry, fest is still staying in Milwaukee!) for more professional opportunities. To get a sense of just how much things have progressed in just a few years, here's the essay I wrote after my first year, with my old logo: https://www.theyoungfolks.com/review/85918/six-things-i-learned-from-starting-a-film-festival/. But if you wanna skip the read, here's the logo from my first year:

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For the second year, here's my new logo:

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And the current one:

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So what comes next? I'm still in uncharted territory, but I'm happy to say at the very least, a really great event celebrating women in film.

The Film Girl Film Festival will occur from Oct. 12-14 at the Underground Collaborative in Milwaukee, WI. To donate to the fest, click here. To submit, click here.