For those of us who appreciate the extensive effort it takes to make a feature-length movie, we also give a special nod to those talented and resourceful filmmakers who are not blessed with massive budgets yet through their creativity, diligence and often incredible support from friends and colleagues produce quality entertainment.
Most of these filmmakers do not allow a lack of resources to stand in their way. If the funds are not available for a full-length movie, they just make a shorter film. And sometimes these movie shorts are just the stepping stone to bigger projects.
On a festive Saturday night at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, nine movie shorts, all directed by women, were showcased at Etheria Film Night, an annual program specifically designed to provide women with a chance to screen their movies for an audience that can include producers, managers, show runners and distributors. But if you simply are a fan of films, well, you’re invited too.
Etheria specializes in science-fiction, horror and fantasy projects submitted by the directors, and it can add up to a fun night for fans of these genres.
The festival actually opened with a full-length feature, “The Love Witch,” directed by Anna Biller. A nod to the pulp novels and films of the 1960s, it features Samantha Robinson as Elaine, a modern-day witch who uses spells and potions in attempts, often with fatal results, to get men to fall in love with her. Beautifully photographed, it hit all the right marks with humor (sometimes guiltily silly) and horror. Audience reaction was enthusiastic.
Following an intermission, the short films part of the program commenced. But not before the Inspiration Award was presented to Jackie Kong, a writer, director and producer known for her irreverent comedy movies and horrifyingly funny horror films. She directed Martin Landau and Jose Ferrer in “The Being,” and followed up with “Night Patrol” featuring Linda Blair. But she is best remembered for the wicked comedy gore-fest, “Blood Diner.”
Kong has another comedy in the works, “Lost in Vietnam,” and also is in the planning stages for a TV series “City of Demons” to be based on the “Twilight Zone” format and in which she plans to hire women directors.
After honoring Kong, the program commenced with the screening of the following movie shorts:
“Genghis Khan Conquers the Moon”: Yeah, the title seems reminiscent of those old low-budget 1950s movies. But in this one contains the theme of “be careful for what you wish for.” Co-written with Steve Emmons and directed by Kerry Yang, the short focuses on Genghis Khan (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) in his final days. He has an encounter with a wizard (James Hong, yes THAT James Hong), who introduces him to the then seemingly magical device that is a telescope, enhancing a view of the moon, and old Genghis becomes obsessed with conquering the Sea of Tranquility on the lunar surface. Oh, he gets what he wants, but there is some fine print in the final deal.
“Bionic Girl”: Written and directed by Stephanie Cabdevila, this off-beat little film is something of an operatic musical about a scientist (Clementine Poidatz), who, afraid to face the outside world, creates her own android clone replacement (Laurianne Mortureux) with an enlarged head that looks like a 3-D puzzle. As expected, the result of the scientist’s effort does not turn out quite like she expected, although she does achieve a bit of self-awareness. This film is French, thus has subtitles.
“Hoss”: Pretty much a one-set shot, this film, written and directed by Christine Boylan, stars Lyndsay Fonseca as Samantha Burke, a cowgirl roaming the hills of Malibu, California, after a tsunami destroys the west coast. She is on a quest and it literally rides into her life while she is enjoying a drink in a rundown bar, likely one of the few places still in business. This is a film that definitely has the potential to be expanded into a full-length movie.
“Restart”: A clever film from Spain, written and directed by Olga Osorio, is about a woman, Andrea (Marta Larralde), a kidnap victim trapped in a temporal loop and her efforts to break from it. This film is unnerving in its stark look and being caught in some inexplicable circumstances and the mounting frustrations and terror that no matter what you do, nothing changes.
“Boxer”: Toy Lei wrote, directed and stars in this thriller about a contract killer with a curious and loving son and how she tries to reconcile her violent life — in which she tells her son she is a boxer — with being a mother. Trouble is, the son wants to be a boxer also. How long can the woman keep up the facade?
“The Stylist”: Directed by Jill Gevargizian and co-written by her and Eric Havens, this film stars Najerra Townsend (“Contracted”) as Claire, a lonely hair stylist with what becomes a creepy way to escape her mundane reality. When her final customer of the day, Mandy (Jennifer Plas), comes in with a request to “look perfect,” Claire goes to work in a chilling way to turn this request to her own advantage. This film may do for hair styling what “Jaws” did for beach-going.
“Hard Broads”: This is a deliciously funny and macabre story about three women, Mags (director and writer Mindy Bledsoe), Remy (Sylvia Grace Crim) and Brenda (Rachael Lee Magill) who have to transport the body of a celebrity, Constance Clementine (Susan Kirton, doing a corpse performance that rivals Terry Kiser’s in “Weekend at Bernie’s” and Richard Mulligan’s in “S.O.B.”) to her home, where by the way, there might be a lot of cash stashed for the ladies. Wacky and wild, this one was a fun ride.
“The Puppet Man”: Another look at the dangers of excessive partying. Written and directed by Jacqueline Castel and based on a character by Johnny Scuoto, it follows a group of young people who hit a seedy bar at closing time and talk the creepy bartender (Bradley Bailey) into keeping the bar open. But there is another presence in the bar, the Puppet Man (Scuoto), who is not exactly a cordial host. A nice throwback to the slashers films of the 1970s, enhanced by a cameo by, who else, John Carpenter.
“Nasty”: Is aptly titled. Co-written with Anthony Fletcher and directed by Prano Bailey-Bond, this story is about a 12-year-old boy, Doug (Albie Marber) who in 1982 has become obsessed with viewing horror movies on VHS as he tries to unravel the mysterious disappearance of his father. One cannot watch this without being reminded of “VHS” and “The Ring,” delving into the dark side of watching video tapes.
Following a Q&A featuring six of the directors — Boylan, Castel, Gevargizian, Yang, Bledsoe and Lei — and moderated by Rebekah McKendry, a producer and director who also served as director of marketing for Fangoria magazine, award presentations were made.
While the Q&A was taking place, the audience was asked to vote for their favorite film short of the night and those votes were tabulated.
Osorio’s “Restart” was presented the ISA Story Award for best narrative.
Lei was the recipient of the Artemis Award for Best Action, presented by Melanie Wise of Artemis Motion Pictures.
Then came the big prize — the Jury Award. In the audience were the Twisted Twins, Jen and Sylvia Soska, and they insisted that as directors themselves (“American Mary,” “See No Evil 2” among others and co-hosts of “Hellevator” on the Game Show Network), they should present the award.
And the Jury Award went to Gevargizian’s “The Stylist.”
Finishing second in the Jury Award voting was “Hard Broads.”
Finally, the Audience Award went to “The Stylist,” making it a big night for Gevargizian and the people who helped her bring this film to fruition.
Etheria Film Night was an entertaining and inspiring evening and once again a superb opportunity for women to show they are more than able to produce funny, gory, creepy and thought-provoking films.