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Stephanie Ogrodnik [Film Festival 07.09.12]





“What is horror?” That was the question asked by Mary Lambert, the special guest speaker and Inspiration Award recipient of the annual Viscera Film Festival. Viscera is a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness about the roles and rising opportunities for women in the film industry. Set on the belief that the only ones responsible for female success are themselves, the organization essentially helps women help each other by opening doors and promoting the creativity of competent female filmmakers. This year the ladies of Viscera, Stacy “Pippi” Hammon, Heidi Honeycutt and founder Shannon Lark, kicked off the festival with a sneak peak screening of Danielle Harris’ directorial debut Among Friends. The screening was followed by a red carpet ceremony, a collection of trailers for upcoming, female-driven films and a presentation of thirteen short films written, directed and produced by women. After the screenings, a Q&A was conducted with the festival award winners, including writer/ director of drama web series Lumina, Jennifer Thym, from Hong Kong.


The Viscera Film Festival was successful in setting the relaxing, almost familial vibe that many large-scale festivals shoot for, but don’t often obtain. This isn’t a festival for staunch criticism and superiority complexes, but an environment for discussing your top favorite birth scenes in horror history with buckled stilettos and a free Hypnotiq mixed drink. For Among Friends and many of the shorts, the filmmakers and cast members sat amongst the audience, cheering and whistling for their favorite films or occasionally cat-calling Heidi.

The shorts program was refreshingly entertaining. Short films can be pretty hit or miss, at times. If we’re lucky, they can end with a new director to seek out and recommend. If not, it results in us wondering how the filmmakers managed to raise and /or waste money for such a pretentious, self-indulgent waste of our five minutes. Though a few shorts in the Viscera line-up almost veered toward those less than fortunate expectations, the majority of the films delivered just the right amount of jokes, scares and bloodshed, giving a lot of promise for female talent in the horror genre.

Jennifer Thym leaves us with an open-ended story in her latest action/ horror short, “Bloodtraffick.” In an alternate post-apocalyptic world, torn in two by a never-ending battle between angels and vampires, Grace Huang (also set to appear in Man With the Iron Fist) plays Ava Chen, a female vigilante in search of her two sisters. After ten years of searching, Ava believes she has found her sister but winds up stumbling upon a powerful vampire’s lab, instead. After an epic battle against a bloodthirsty, machete-wielding vampire, Thym leaves us asking, “Will Ava find her sister? Will she survive her search?”

In a sense, “Bloodtraffick” looks and feels more like a teaser than a stand-alone short film--and there’s a reason. By gaining awareness of her short film on the festival circuit, Thym hopes to also raise interest for her feature film of the same title. Despite the melodramatic pan-up shots and voice-overs, the directing and cinematography for Thym’s short truly shows off her talent as a filmmaker. In fact, the short won Viscera’s Best Cinematography Award. In the feature, Grace Huang will be joined by a has-been American cop. With a recognizable male lead, a suitable budget and some fine detailing in the fighting scenes (please, no more screaming while wasting rounds at the wall), "Bloodtraffick" could be a fun, sellable blockbuster film. Plus, I can’t be the only one who wants to see a very sexy Grace Huang fight vampires. The script is currently still in development, but it will be a film worth tracking once it starts moving forward.

Another short definitely worth mentioning was French director Vinciane Millereau’s horror comedy “Barbie Girls.” It won the award for Best Film this Saturday and for good reason. A tale about three women on a weekend trip gone horribly awry sounds painfully familiar, but five minutes into the film Millereau grips her audience through her three characters’ vastly different, yet oddly complementing personalities. With well-written comedy dialogue, the ladies’ quips and jabs allow us to let our guard down early on, making us anticipate whatever horrors may arise in their out-of-the-way cabin—and for the first time in a long time, the twist doesn’t feel cheap. Rebekah McKendry’s “The Dump,” about two serial killers, of two very different breeds, scoping out the same body dumping site, was also a noteworthy takeaway. Though more comedy than horror, it didn’t feel out of place amongst the gory short compilation. Also, while it was McKendry’s first comedy endeavor, you couldn’t have guessed by the killers’ banter over unfair serial killer stereotypes.

Though not a Viscera award winner, one short that was extraordinarily well received by the audience was Hadas Brandes’ “Escape From Hellview,” a story about a young boy who draws a door that leads him into a sinister world. At first, I thought the animation style looked more appropriate for a tissue commercial than a horror short at Viscera. However, as the protagonist is chased deeper in the woods, by his own maniacal clown toys brought to life, the juxtaposition of the main character’s innocence and the disturbing disproportionate figures enhanced the nightmarish scenes. Aside from the metal score being a bit distracting, the short was well rounded with an ending to send chills up your spine and slaughter childhood dreams. It even got a "fucking awesome" shouted at the screen.

To assure readers that this would not turn into a piece on feminism in film, I feel it might now be best to address the significant aims of the Viscera organization. The influence of women in film has grown—that much is inarguable. Also, while at one time people refused to believe that a nineteen-year-old girl could write something as grotesque as Frankenstein, women like Mary Lambert and the Soska Sisters continue to bring their own uniquely twisted tales to the big screen. Still, as we sift through collections of both classic and current genre films, the gender ratio is overwhelming. Despite the almost obnoxious number of horror films dedicated to female revenge and the fear of abnormal birth, it is more likely that you will find a woman axe-murdering or being maimed than sitting behind a camera. At the festival, I got to watch thirteen-year-old Tara Nicole Azarian, this year’s Fresh Blood Award winner and already the writer/director of four short films, listen attentively as Mary Lambert asked if horror is “simply a chemical action deep in your viscera.” At that point, it was easy to understand how Viscera’s goals could equal crucial steps forward in this genre.

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Superheidi (8 years ago) Reply

Stephanie, thank you for coming, and for this well-written and insightful review. It's so nice when someone 'gets' what we're doing. Thank you Don, for publishing this! ;)


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