Sitges Builds Its WomenInFan Development Program

Broadening a multi-front action initiative, Sitges is pushing women in genre. 

WomenInFan, one of the major platforms at this year’s Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival of Catalonia, which runs Oct. 6-16, looks set to provide a full development program for female genre filmmaking.

On this year’s agenda is a contest to obtain financing for a short-teaser, which Sitges Foundation Manager, Mònica Garcia Massagué said will provide “a future filmmaker the opportunity to have a market tool.”

A book of essays titled “WomanInFan” and sub-titled as a  “Topography of Fantastic Genre Films Directed by Women,” will be presented withambitions to give a past, present and future take on women in genre cinema. 

Sitges will stage a panel with Booker-shortlisted author Mariana Enríquez, Carlota Pereda, director of Austin Fantastic Fest winner “Piggy,” film programmer and writer Heidi Honeycutt, and author-director-producer Kier-La Janisse. 

The festival will also offer grants for initiatives highlighting or supporting women in genre, produce posters of 20 great women creators and give a foretaste of a 2023 exhibition on monsters and nightmares created by women. 

The focus on women fantastic genre filmmakers in not exempt of controversy, as Garcia Massagué recognises in her prologue to “WomeninFan.” One central question when promoting female filmmaking, is how to advocate for equality of opportunity as a group, while allowing each film’s merit to be judged individually. There’s a danger of women genre directors being ghettoized and patronised, rather than being recognised as own-voiced filmmakers. 

Citing female genre cineastes down the decades from Alice Guy-Blaché to Lotte Reiniger and Thea von Harbou, screenwriter of “Metropolis,” Garcia Massagué recalls “Censor” director Prano Bailey-Bond’s opinion piece for Sight & Sound in which she declared that she would never again participate in any panel focused solely on women and horror. 

Women Genre’s Talent Pool

The talent pool is deepening, which doesn’t mean it’s very deep.

Julia Ducournou’s “Titane” winning Cannes Palme d’Or and Nia De Costa’s ‘Candyman’ remake reaching No. 1 at the U.S. box office are two examples of highly successful genre films in terms of recognition. 

It’s impossible to predict if this will spark a sustained tailwind of industry opportunities for women filmmakers. “I think that there are a lot of incentives right now, and I feel like we need to get past the point of those incentives before we can tell if there is really a change,” said Kier-La Jannisse. 

Janisse will be a guest at Sitges with an expanded edition of her book “House of Psychotic Women,” updated with a further 100 films. 

“When I did the first book it was nearly all male directors whose films were being covered and in the last 10 years there’s been such a huge influx of these types of films being made but being made from women creators,” she added. 

“A normalizing vision should no doubt prevail but leaving aside reflection does little justice to all those women filmmakers who have had to fight to get their projects off the ground and lead them on equal footing,” says García Massagué. They continue to do so, she added.

There’s a sense that despite a rise in opportunities, their location and nature remain uneven. Garcia Massagué believes that “the U.S, Canada, France and the U.K. have been more fertile breeding grounds than countries like Spain, for example, where the number of female directors dedicated to genre is practically negligible.”  

A feeling persists that male filmmakers get large budget opportunities faster than women “For men it appears you can go right from directing a music video to directing “Star Wars” or a major Marvel superhero film with tons of money at stake, whereas if it’s women they’ll be approached for opportunities at a much smaller scale,” said Janisse. 

Heidi Honeycutt agrees: “Men tend to get opportunities given on potential, whereas women require experience more.”

Astrid Frank Honored

The WomenInFan program aims to grow opportunities by raising awareness of pioneering women in genre who’ve made great films historically. This is to inspire early stage filmmakers that they too can do it, and explore methods of how. 

An embodiment of this spirit is Astrid Frank, who will be honored at this year’s festival. Heidi Honeycutt unearthed two short films by Frank and will showcase them at the festival. On the rediscovery of both the films and making contact with Astrid Frank, Heidi Honeycutt said, “Connecting the audience to the artist is so important and wonderful. The older people get, you can miss the opportunity and that is really really sad, so I’m so happy it’s come together.” 

The first short “Red,” was only seen in Spain once, at San Sebastian in 1976. The second, “The Jealous Mirror,” has never been shown outside the UK. Frank’s directorial vision was aided by the legendary cinematographer of “The Third Man,” “Brief Encounter” and “El Cid,” Robert Krasker. Frank told Variety Krasker’s initial advice was “to shout more, but that is not my style, I didn’t have to shout.”

At 85, Astrid Frank remains energetic and full of drive for her artistic expression. She will travel from her home in London to Sitges with a finished feature length script in hand, hoping to meet a younger filmmaker to take it on. 

On her unwavering drive she said: “I am just a very stubborn person. If I have my direction, my aim, my goal, then I go there and nothing hinders me. No one says ‘no’ to me,” adding “Well…I don’t listen to the ‘nos.’” And what advice does she have for aspiring female filmmakers? “If you have the urge to direct and are well prepared, go for it, be stubborn! Be stubborn!”

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