How to run a festival for women in action films

How to run a festival for women in action films
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - APRIL 26: Dot-Marie Jones, Melanie Wise, Grace Parra, at the 2018 Artemis Awards Gala at the Ahrya Fine Arts Theater in Beverly Hills, California on April 26, 2018. Credit: Faye Sadou/MediaPunch

The wrapped up its fourth edition at the weekend. Since 2015 the Artemis Women in Action Film Festival has been shining a spotlight on action heroines, both in narrative films and real life documentaries, from swordswomen and Samurai warriors to WWII airforce pilots and suffragettes, as well as the stuntwomen who double for Hollywood’s biggest stars.

Over the years honourees have included Linda Hamilton for portraying the iconic Sarah Connor in 1991’s Terminator 2, Paul Feig, director of Bridesmaids and the all-female Ghostbusters for showing women in strong, empowered roles at a time when they were considered unmarketable, and Tom Cruise, who has championed women in action roles in Knight and Day and the Mission Impossible franchise.

At 2018’s edition presenters of the awards were practically a who’s who of the stunt world, with car hit specialist Tammie Baird, Tarantino favourite Zoe Bell, and Heidi Moneymaker, stuntdouble for Scarlett Johansson among others.

The awards included best actress, which went to Georgina Philipps for playing a pickpocket in the thriller Devil Sits On Both Shoulders, best feature to horror flick Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains, and best short documentary to martial arts film Fight Like A Girl.

As with previous years, the screenings and panel discussions demonstrated the tremendous variety of genres and roles that exist for action heroines in film. We spoke to festival co-founder Melanie Wise to find out how to put an event like this together.

Artemis was conceived because there had never been a festival devoted to women in action films before. Once you had the idea, what did you do next?

The easy part was opening submissions. I was actually pretty nervous that we weren’t going to get any in our first year because we had a very short submission period, but we had about 200 submissions from 35 countries. We had submissions from Iran of all places [animated short Junk Girl, inspired by a Tim Burton poem] with films that had very strong female leads. When I took that in I was like, this is not just unique to the US, or the UK or Europe, this is a worldwide thing, people like it.

How did you put the word out for people to send you their films?

People were incredibly excited to discover us, and getting submissions was probably one of the easier tasks. Typically what we do is market on the platforms that we are accepting submissions on. We get their marketing products because that goes right into the inbox of all of the film submitters. That is an extraordinary benefit to make use of. Beyond that we put the word out in other ways, social media, calendar listings and stuff like that.

Then of course you’ve got to have the films judged. And that’s just coming up with the assets for the actual event, then you have to market the event, brand it and sell it. I was amazed and grateful that through crowdfunding we funded our first three years.

Do you watch every single film that’s submitted?

Many festivals watch maybe the first five minutes, but we are filmmakers, we have done festival runs, and we watch every frame of everything that gets submitted. It’s giving filmmakers a fair shake in what they do, and I do believe they deserve that. The hard part is that every year it becomes very difficult when it comes to scheduling, because there are always things that we don’t have room to screen that we’d like to.

What was the biggest challenge when you were putting together the first edition?

Somebody recently told me that you’ve got to have broad shoulders and a thick skin, and I don’t think I’ve heard it said better than that. Doing something like this, you really have to set your ego aside because you’re going to be doing things from taking out the trash to a number of administrative tasks that are certainly not sexy or fun. It’s an amazing amount of work, it’s not something that anybody on our team takes lightly, we all work extraordinary hours to get it done.

Artemis film festival, awards, hollywood, women in action film
(L to R) Yancy Butler, Zoe Bell, Debbie Evans, Michelle Rodriguez, Melanie Wise. 2018 Artemis Awards Gala

Have your aims for what you wanted Artemis to achieve changed over the years?

I don’t think so. We get to share documentaries that are amazing pieces of history nobody knows about, and we get to screen amazing narrative action films or sci-fi, pretty much any genre you can imagine, we screen. The bottom line is that everything we screen has the absolute potential to inspire people to look at life in a different way. In terms of what I see for this, it’s like getting a look at things that people think are uncommon. They’re not all that uncommon, we just don’t know about them.

What are you most proud of achieving?

The thing that pleases me most is every year the amount of people that come up to me and say, “I’m so inspired.” I think that would be it, and that’s the point. Many times women’s history is lost, we have this rich powerful legacy that is not short of determination, grit, strength and power, but we don’t hold on to that and go, “wow!”

How have things changed for women in action movies since Artemis began?

I see a lot more films [with strong female leads]. Wonderwoman was an extraordinary combination. I see stuntwomen being paid more attention to. People are starting to see the marketability of women and that was one of our points, women have always been marketable, it’s just that they have not had the number of swings of the bat that men have.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to start an event like this?

Any event you do, the largest part is making sure you have proper resources to get it done, and that’s where it gets difficult. We’re live for four days out of the year and I think that most people don’t have an inkling of what it takes to make those wheels turn. Starting out I would say if you want to do just a one-off event that’s absolutely cool, but if you want to have something that has staying power, the first five years are going be an extraordinary challenge, and being able to keep saying yes to that challenge is a tall order in terms of self discipline. You have to make sure it’s something that you love, otherwise you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.

Check the Artemis Film Festival‘s website to learn more about the festival.

Leila Hawkins


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3 thoughts on “How to run a festival for women in action films

  1. Excellent words of wisdom there at the end – You have to make sure it’s something that you love, otherwise you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.

    Great article focusing on what women can achieve!

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