There are currently more than two male short-film directors for every one female director, and there’s at least one festival that’s actively working to change that.
LUNAFEST, the first all-woman traveling film festival, has had the goal of celebrating and amplifying the voices of female directors to a wider audience since it began in 2000. In addition, it hopes to inspire more women to make short films and to get major festivals such as Sundance and South by Southwest to take notice.
“We want to flip the script. We want audiences to laugh, cry and see the women’s stories and the women’s directing talent that is out there, but missing from their local multiplex,” says LUNAFEST Program Manager Suzy Starke German.
The first event was just one small screening but LUNAFEST is now in 175 cities across the U.S.
The festival features a program of six to 10 short films and will come to Santa Paula on Friday, June 20. Each stop on the tour has a beneficiary, and the local one will be the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Clara Valley, which also serves as the festival’s host.
“After we inherited this event last year, it was clear there was still interest in this worthwhile cause of celebrating women while supporting the children from the communities of Fillmore, Piru and Santa Paula,” says Jenae Quintana of the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Clara Valley.
This year’s LUNAFEST lineup features a wide array of subjects and styles. There’s Girls Level Up from Anne Edgar about a young Pakistani woman who helps middle-school girls in Silicon Valley design their own video game; Fanny Pack, a comedy by director-actor Uttera Singh about a spunky Indian-American woman and her father following their dreams; Buttercup, directed, written by and starring Megan Brotherton as a woman struggling to find joy after her mother’s death; and Yours Sincerely, Lois Weber by Svetlana Cvetko, a tribute to the highest-paid silent-film director at Universal Studios in the early 1900s.
A few standouts include Waiting for Hassana and JessZilla.
The former, by Nigerian filmmaker Ifunanya Maduka, premiered at Sundance in 2017 and picks up after the extremist organization Boko Haram kidnapped 276 teenage girls from a town in Nigeria in 2014. It’s described as “a harrowing first-person account of one girl’s escape from captivity and a heart-wrenching lament for her closest friend, Hassana — one of the many girls still unaccounted for.”
JessZilla is lighter fare but with an emotional punch. The film by director Emily Sheskin follows then-10-year-old boxer Jesselyn “JessZilla” Silva. In a 2017 New York Times opinion piece about her film, Sheskin noted: “It’s no secret that women’s boxing has nowhere near the participants — or the money, or the audience — that men’s boxing has.”
The short shows both female strength and vulnerability and explores what it means to dream as a young female athlete in a male-dominated combat sport. While you can see Jesselyn’s clear drive and desire to succeed as a boxer, the film also includes conversations with her father, who seems both incredibly proud and endlessly worried about her sticking with a sport in which she’ll be hurt. Writes Sheskin in the N.Y. Times piece, “Pedro is not the kind of dad who is pushing his daughter to do something she isn’t interested in and, instead, is following his daughter’s lead, supporting her as best he can.” That support is clear in JessZilla, as is their unique relationship.
While all the short films are wildly different, there’s a core thread running among them: They focus on the female perspective.
“[The films] are entertaining, evocative and memorable,” says German of the LUNAFEST lineup. “It features great storytelling and films that champion the female perspective behind and in front of the camera.”
In addition to the individual charities and organizations that will be benefiting from the fest, LUNAFEST announced a new beneficiary and partner this year: Chicken & Egg Pictures. The nonprofit organization provides mentorship and financial support to female nonfiction filmmakers.
“Not only have the films gained recognition, but they have made an impact on social and economic issues,” says German. “Together, LUNAFEST and Chicken & Egg Pictures are creating a strong community for women in the film industry.”
LUNAFEST takes place on Friday, July 20, at 6 p.m. at the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Clara Valley, 1400 Harvard Blvd., Santa Paula. For more information, call 805-525-7910 or visit www.lunafest.org/screenings/santa-paula-ca-072018.