Women Outside the Frame
Les Femmes Underground International Film Festival leaves gender expectations on the cutting room floor
By Eva Recinos
As Hollywood continues to grapple with its gender wage gap and lack of diversity both on screen and off, the inaugural Les Femmes Underground International Film Festival is exploring innovative ways to redefine the representation of women in cinema.
Happening Saturday at the Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center in Venice, the festival presents an eclectic mix of
the traditional and unconventional —
narrative features, music videos, documentaries, animated films and experimental features and shorts.
Festival organizers were thinking specifically about “the use of millennial technologies to be able to expand upon feminism,” says Festival Director Edda Manriquez.
“Our desire was to be able to blend both traditional use of cinema, such as 16 [mm film] and Super 8, and then the newer forms that sometimes don’t have an opportunity in most film festivals because of their experimental nature,” she says. “We wanted to incorporate how these films use those millennial technologies to make their message come across.”
The festival invited filmmakers from around the world to apply, but Manriquez also tapped the contacts she made while earning an MFA in Film and Video from Cal Arts.
One such filmmaker is Karissa Hahn, who is presenting the short film “Tension,” which riffs off the 1880 William Adolphe Bouguereau painting “A Young Girl Defending Herself Against Eros,” currently on view at the Getty Center. “Tension” considers themes such as the male gaze and cinematic suspense.
“I feel like the title of being a filmmaker [in L.A.] suggests such glamour, when really there is an entirely different ‘underground’ scene revolving under, among and around it,” says Hahn. “I find humor in going to the film lab and dropping off a short 16-milimeter movie of something like a portrait of my left toenail as I watch huge reels of the next mega-blockbuster hit being wheeled in by film interns.”
Also attending the festival is Jason Porath, creator of RejectedPrincesses.com — an interactive clearinghouse for his drawings of princesses “too awesome, awful or offbeat for kids’ movies.” Porath’s real-life historical subjects include Red Army snipers, scientists, and a sword-wielding pregnant Viking. A collection of his illustrated stories hits bookstores on Oct. 25.
Porath is hosting a Rejected Princesses Panel to discuss his work and how to improve the diversity of female characters in media.
“The big hurdle [to acceptance] is in giving these characters serious defects, beyond surface-level traits like clumsiness or awkwardness,” Porath said. “Making them unlikeable occasionally — we’ve almost never seen a princess lose her temper. We’ve almost never seen them work through deep personal flaws.”
Les Femmes Underground International Film Festival, on the other hand, is dedicated to stories — and storytellers — who break the mold.
“There are a lot of great strong women who have so much talent, and sometimes they’re not given the opportunity,” Manriquez said. “Maybe with more exposure like this it can open up different kinds of career paths for people.”
The festival happens from 3 to 10:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 3, at Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center, 681 Venice Blvd, Venice. Tickets are $6. For more information, visit lesfemmesinternational.org.