They can be monsters. Mothers. And mothers of monsters.
XX, the new collection of spooky shorts by four female filmmakers, drills down to the meat of these ideas. Fresh off of Sundance, it’s getting a local screening — charmingly — on Wednesday, March 8, for International Women’s Day.
“I’m not really a ‘holiday person,’” says Women Texas Film Festival’s director, Justina Walford. “But XX, it’s just so perfect.”
As both a horror filmmaker and horror film lover, Walford was eager to see how these directors would choose to shape their work. Short horror films are an inherently difficult task: Not only do they have the usual character arches and plot structures to work through, but they also have to build tension — and, in this case, represent an entire gender.
“It’s asking a ton,” Walford says. “As horror fans, we are very loyal fans. So, we will watch a bunch of shorts, and we will take our 10 minutes of gore and say, ‘Well, at least it was 10 minutes of gore. I’m still happy.’”
The collection is a mix of work by two seasoned horror filmmakers, Karyn Kusama (Jennifer’s Body, The Invitation) and Roxanne Benjamin (Southbound) and two who are new to directing, Jovanka Vuckovic (former editor-in-chief of Rue Morgue Magazine) and Dallas’ own Annie Clark, who is best-known by her musician handle, St. Vincent.
From them we get The Box (Vuckovic), the story of a mother forced to watch helplessly as her family slips slowly away; Her Only Living Son (Kusama), which gives a modern, alternate-world continuation of a Rosemary’s Baby scenario; Don’t Fall (Benjamin), a contemporary campfire story; and The Birthday Party (Clark), an adorably dazzling piece of eye candy, set to music.
The collection is a great representation of what the Alamo Drafthouse and Women Texas Film Festival have set out to do with the still-newish, monthly series, which works to present larger-budget films made by women throughout the year. Afterward, they chat about them.
Doing that type of continuous awareness-raising frees Walford’s WTxFF up a bit. When it’s time to focus on her August festival’s programming, she can feature deep cuts, festival-circuit work and whatever else fits her design aesthetic. It also gives Alamo Drafthouse an opportunity to air out the testosterone-heavy world of major release and cult cinema.
Alamo Drafthouse isn’t the only one paying attention to the limited opportunities for women in film. A long-running investigation by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) concluded in February with combustible results. It found that every major film studio “systematically discriminated against women directors,” according to Deadline. Settlement talks are under way.
This isn’t terribly surprising given the scarcity of women behind the camera in major releases, but it does signal a hopeful shift. At the very least it brings the conversation out in the open while applying pressure on the larger studios.
Here in Dallas, Alamo and WTxFF are tackling even more work during Women’s History Month. In addition to Wednesday’s screening of XX, they’ll also show four other women-helmed films: The Babadook (Jennifer Kent, March 15), A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Ana Lily Amirpour, March 22), Selma (Ava Duvernay, March 15) and We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay, March 29).
Join Walford for XX at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 8, at the Alamo Drafthouse Cedars, 1005 S. Lamar St. After the film, stick around for a discussion. Panelists include Cierra Caballero, Farah White, Niki Pence and me, Jamie Laughlin. Walford will moderate.