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WiHM: Women in Horror Film Festival (WIHFF)

Happy Women in Horror Month! We continue our tribute to amazing women in horror with a look at the Women in Horror Film Festival (WIHFF).

Overview of Women in Horror

Women have played critical roles in horror films since horror films began. They began as objects of desire before evolving into damsels in distress. With Psycho, female nudity became part of the standard, eventually leading to the trend of "bad" girls having sex and being killed. With this came the final girl trope, wherein a female survives to the end, often killing the monster or slasher who had been the film's antagonist. The final girl was almost always the one who didn't do any drugs, drank little if at all, and did not engage in sex. Despite the evolution of the female to a strong survivor, there was quite a bit of underlying misogyny that really only began to be weeded out of horror in the 2000s with the current crop of strong women filmmakers. Indeed, the changing roles of women were defined by the changes in the genre itself, and, as any horror fan knows, there is no shortage of great women in horror. Moreover, not only have women moved beyond the stereotypes, they've also moved beyond simply acting in the films to becoming more active behind the camera in virtually every aspect of filmmaking. And that’s what the Women in Horror Film Festival (WIHFF) is all about.

The Women in Horror Film Festival

The WIHFF is a new horror film festival whose time has definitely come. According to the website, the festival showcases and celebrates not only female writers, directors, producers, and actors, but also cinematographers, make-up artists, and composers who have dedicated their craft to the horror genre. In order to be considered, submissions must be in no later than 15 July 2017, the extended deadline. A complete list of deadlines is available on the WIHFF official website.
The first rule for the WIHFF is that entries have women in key creative positions from the following roles: (Producer(s), Director(s), Writer(s), Cinematographer(s), Composer, SFX Artist, and lead talent). This is especially exciting for women behind the camera since those roles are often overlooked – particularly when staffed by women. Feature films (80-120 minutes) and short films (45 minutes) both are welcome as are feature screenplays (80 – 100 pages), short films (30 pages maximum), and TV pilots (45 pages maximum). Have a screenplay or TV pilot that hasn’t been produced? No worries there. As long as the script was written or co-written by a woman, it’s still eligible for submission. All items to be considered must be submitted no later than 15 July 2017 to allow sufficient time for the judges to evaluate all entries. To ensure impartial consideration, people who have worked on a festival submission are exempt from judging.
There are a total of 19 categories eligible for prizes that include, but aren’t limited to, custom WIHFF trophies, distribution consideration by Terror Films (feature only), and a 1-hour mentoring session with industry pro Mark Simon, who has over decades of experience in the camera department for major films (One Missed Call, Risky Business, Weird Science, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, Predator 2, and Primal Fear). The 19 categories are:
  • Best Traditional Horror Film (short or feature)
    These films can encompass but are not limited to Slasher/Stalker/Supernatural
    /Creature Feature/Zombie/Folklore/Urban Legend
  • Best Non-Traditional Horror Film (short or feature)
    These films can encompass but are not limited to Animated/Comedy/Experimental,
  • Best International Horror Film (short or feature)
  • Best Documentary Horror Film (short or feature)
  • Best Grindhouse Film (short or feature)
  • Best Sci-Fi Film (short or feature)
  • Best Local Horror (GA filmmakers) Film (short or feature)
  • Best Student Horror Film (short)
  • Best LGBTQ Horror Film (short or feature)
    These films must be made by persons who identify as LGBTQ or center around LGBTQ characters/stories/subject matter)
  • Best Overall Feature Audience Award
  • Best Overall Short Audience Award
  • Best Unproduced Feature Screenplay
  • Best Unproduced Short Screenplay
  • Best Unproduced TV Pilot
  • Best Director (short or feature)
  • Best Actress (short or feature)
  • Best Cinematography (short or feature)
  • Best Musical Score (short or feature)
  • Best Make up/Practical FX (short or feature)

Clearly there’s a lot to look forward to in this festival.

The Festival Directors

The WIHFF is being organized by festival directors Vanessa Ionta Wright and Samantha Kolesnik. When I learned of the WIHFF, I knew that I had to honor it during Women in Horror Month. I reached out to Vanessa and Samantha who were kind enough to answer a few questions for me. Without further ado, here's your chance to learn something about the strong women filmmakers who have organized this much-needed festival.

WIHFF - Vanessa Ionta WrightVanessa Ionta Wright is an award winning screenwriter. Her work has garnered recognition at film festivals & competitions around the globe. She graduated from Ohio University with a degree in Video Production & Film. She recently launched the Women in Horror Film Festival with fellow screenwriter, Samantha Kolesnik. She enjoys punctuality, scary movies, a quick wit, sandwiches, the music of Michael Jackson, Halloween & Bacon Jam. She does not enjoy bugs, clowns, perpetual lateness, mean people, oppression, laziness, running more than 3 miles or curved walls.

WIHFF - Samantha SkolesnikSamantha Kolesnik is a writer and independent film producer living in Pennsylvania. She co-directs the Women in Horror Film Festival with Vanessa Ionta Wright. Her screenplays have been recognized at various festivals nationwide, and her fiction has recently appeared in The Bitter Oleander and The William and Mary Review. Her short horror film, I Baked Him a Cake, is currently in post production, and stars actresses Fleece and Lillian Gray.

HoTS: Who are some of your inspirations?

Alfred Hitchcock and Rod Serling are two biggies. I love Hitchcock's approach to suspense and building fear around what cannot be seen. I think Serling was an absolute visionary and I can definitely see his influence in a lot of my more science fiction/thriller writing. I am also very inspired by anyone brave enough to take a risk and put their work out there for everyone to see. As an independent filmmaker, I understand the challenges and the risks involved and I am absolutely inspired by those who don't take no for an answer and power through.

Some of my recent inspirations include Jennifer Kent, Vladimir Nabokov, Shirley Jackson, The Great Medieval Heretics: Five Centuries of Religious Dissent by Michael Frassetto, the huge database of the Righteous Among Nations, the performances of Ralph Fiennes and Liam Neeson in the film, Schindler's List, and so much more. I was a tremendous introvert as a child, and relentlessly bullied, so 'horror' for me, both in film and literature, has a deeper meaning than a temporary adrenaline rush. I enjoy psychological horror, tales steeped in folklore, and statements (intelligent, subtle statements...) on culture, myth, and human nature. Horror is when the darkness threatens to overtake the light at any moment in time, but I am a huge believer in the power of light. You can always make a light brighter, but darkness only gets so dark. I guess, what I'm saying, is there's more to horror than blood and guts - it just depends on your lens.

HoTS: How did you get into horror?

I wrote my first horror novel at the age of 7. It was called The Witch's Castle and it was a best seller in my second grade class. 😉
I watched my first horror film at the age of 8, Poltergeist. It firmly sealed my fear of stuffed toys, especially stuffed clowns. It also got me completely hooked on horror and I started chasing that fear 'high'. While my parents thought I was asleep, I would sneak downstairs and sit quietly on the steps and spy while they watched movies like Cujo and The Amityville Horror. When I was a teen, you would find me and my friends huddled around the TV on a Friday night, binge watching everything horror that the local video store had to offer. I like to think horror is in my blood.

I was always "into horror". There's a great streak of hope and triumph that runs through classic horror, and I was always on the side of our horror heroines. I think I also always sensed, even as a young child, that humans don't always make the best decisions, that humans are fallible. Horror, in a way, takes that to the extreme and shows us the most monstrous manifestations of our darker natures, and then it allows us to prevail against it (or at least to try to). Early horror favorites for me were the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Scream, The Craft, the original Halloween Parts I and II, and the original Nightmare on Elm Street. I was also exposed to other kinds of 'horror' in film, though, that ended up impacting how I create within the genre... films like Sleepers, American History X, Citizen X... evil isn't confined to special effects and masks.

HoTS: Do you have a favorite monster?

My favorite monsters to create and write are the ones within us. Imagining the depths of evil that people are capable of. As far as iconic monsters, I've always really loved vampires. I know that's so clichè. What can I say, vampires are sexy.

Humans. The human is the most dangerous monster, and doesn't need any alterations or special powers to be utterly terrifying. Leatherface looks like a dandelion when you study human history.

HoTS: What's up next for you?

I always have a few irons in the fire. Up next will be taking the two short films I directed, I Baked Him a Cake and Rainy Season, to festivals. Both films allowed me to collaborate with Samantha Kolesnik who is always a pleasure to work with. She wrote and produced I Baked Him a Cake and came on board as the Executive Producer for Rainy Season. We also teamed up to launch the Women in Horror Film Fest. I also continuing to write, working on a few shorts, a feature and TV pilot. I sneak in a nap or two when I can. 😉

I'm working on finishing a collection of short stories, all which would probably fit into the category of either hyper-realism or 'dark fiction' (depends on how you see life), zealously working on making the Women in Horror Film Festival the best celebration of women filmmakers and writers that it can be, and I'm also wrapping up post on I Baked Him a Cake.

HoTS: What prompted you to start this much needed festival?

Sam and I are both very aware of the unbalanced representation of female filmmakers in the industry, especially within the horror genre. We really wanted to create a platform to showcase the amazing films and screenplays created by women. We are very grateful for the outpouring of support we have received for this festival. We are extremely proud to be doing something we love, supporting our sisters in the industry and scaring the hell of viewers.

Look at the last year's release of horror films. Look at the teams behind them. Very, very few have women directors, women composers, women writers, or women cinematographers. And trust me, that's not because they don't exist or aren't talented. Diversity works hand in hand with creativity. I could say 'I hope we see more recognition for women horror filmmakers in the future' but hope isn't a strategy, right? So, tons of women, like Hannah Neurotica, founder of Women in Horror Film Festival, and my colleague, Vanessa, are doing something about it.

HoTS: That’s fantastic. It really is long overdue, and I have great respect for you two organizing this.
I know it's early, but do you foresee this becoming an annual festival?

100% yes.

I know it will be.

HoTS: If money was no issue, what would your dream horror film be?

A $250,000,000 feature that starts with Jason Voorhees showing up in Haddonfield on Halloween night to battle Michael Myers. They end up in a chase that brings them to Texas where they pick up Leatherface. They start to realize they have a pretty cool little club here so they hop in a van headed to Springwood where they pick up Freddy Krueger. Horror ensues and they stumble upon the infamous puzzle box. Looks like someone forgot to invite the cenobites.  This upsets Pinhead so he drags them all to hell,after all he needed 4 more for poker night.

My dream horror film, should money be no issue, would be one that digs into the violence on women that is perpetrated by other women. It's something rarely explored or discussed, and I think it's a very important and relevant issue. That's vague, but that would be the concept at the heart of the film.

So there you have it - a look inside the minds of two women filmmakers whose impact on the genre has just begun!

Where and When

The WIHFF, which takes place September 22 – 24, 2017, is being held at the Crowne Plaza Atlanta in SW Peachtree City, Georgia. If you’re interested in submitting your work or just finding out more about the event, you can find the complete information at the Women in Horror Film Festival official website. You can also contact the directors at WIHFF@gmail.com.

Posted by Alan Smithee

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