The Artemis Women In Action Film Festival spotlights barrier-breaking female filmmakers and action stars … including the stuntwoman who made Lynda Carter invincible
By Andy Vasoyan
Probably the most recognizable little statuette in the world is Oscar, the knight who lives on the mantelpieces of many an Academy Award winner. The golden figurine stoically holds his sword as his featureless, but still eminently male, visage stares out from his pedestal.
That’s almost the exact opposite of the award for the Artemis Women In Action Film Festival. Named after the Greek goddess of the hunt, the festival’s Artemis is all action, pulling back her bow with a look of warlike intensity.
“Our version of Artemis is definitely womanly,” says festival founder Melanie Wise, “but also badass.” The Artemis film festival, she says, was founded in 2015 to “celebrate powerful women taking action on the silver screen.”
In that time, the festival’s attendance has gone from a few hundred to almost 3,000. This weekend it’ll be screening roughly 80 feature films and shorts at the Laemmle Monica Film Center, as well as honoring the careers of notable stuntwomen. The stunters come from all over; a stunter from the Marvel Cinematic Universe will share the stage with Iran’s first female stuntwoman. Feature documentary “This Changes Everything” will tackle the under-representation of women in Hollywood, with help from Chloë Grace Moretz, Geena Davis and Meryl Streep.
Producer/director Paul Feig (“Bridesmaids,” the “Ghostbusters” reboot) presents the festival, and is also part of one of the other feature documentaries: “Stuntwomen: The Untold Hollywood Story.” Narrated by Michelle Rodriguez, the documentary focuses on women’s roles — or general lack thereof — in the male-dominated stunt industry.
One of the biggest names in the documentary is 78-year-old Jeannie Epper, who will also be receiving the Stunt Lifetime Achievement Award. She’s been a force in stunting since her role in “Wonder Woman,” the original 1970s television version. Epper doubled for Lynda Carter, who famously played the show’s eponymous heroine.
“Steven Spielberg called [Epper] one of the greatest stunt coordinators of all time,” says Wise. “Having her as an honoree will be one of our crowning achievements.”
Despite a career that lead her to being called “the greatest stuntwoman who’s ever lived” by Entertainment Weekly, Epper is still a working great-grand-mother. Just this year she was featured in “The Rookie,” a major network police procedural.
“The shoot lasted all day!” Epper says. “I was a hostage, tied up to a chair, but the hardest part was getting up early.”
Epper was born into a family of stunters: her father, brothers and sister all took up the art.
“I wasn’t given the chance to be a chicken,” Epper says. “My brothers used to say to me, ‘You can do it!’ And so I did.”
Over her long career, Epper saw stunting change (“not terrifically, for women”), and also tried her hand at stunt coordination: “I loved it; it was my passion! But I didn’t have as many opportunities, maybe, as other women after me did.”
Despite her long list of accomplishments, Epper is still excited about her place in the documentary, and as an Artemis honoree.
“It’s amazing,” she says, “It’s not just my kids giving it to me. It’s my fellow stuntwomen, maybe some who even look up to me!”
While there are a number of documentaries like “Stuntwomen” at the festival, narrative films are harder to find. To make the cut at Artemis, they must have a woman starring. That requirement doesn’t apply to direction though, because “when we first started this festival in 2015,” Wise says, “we had a lot of documentaries that were directed by women, but only a handful of narrative features or shorts that were directed by women. This year, we’re seeing a steep rise in that number.”
A lot can change over the course of a few years. The #MeToo movement launched in late 2017, centered on the abuses of powerful men in the film industry and beyond. The ongoing effort to make Hollywood into less of a boys club seems to have had an effect, but Wise says it’s not enough.
“There’s a lot of amazing talk,” she says. “A lot more talk than action. If there is a festival that should have industry support — if the industry is serious about making change — I think Artemis is one of those festivals. Somebody asked me once what my ultimate goal for the festival was. It was for the festival to not be needed.”
“Stuntwoman: The Untold Hollywood Story” screens at 9 p.m. Friday (April 26) and 12:05 p.m. Sunday (April 28) at Laemmle Monica Film Center, 1332 2nd St., Santa Monica. Tickets are $15 per screening, or $70 to $185 for a festival pass. Visit artemisfilmfestival.com.