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Scream queens 

AFCOOP’s Ladies of the Fright fundraiser shows off scarily awesome talent from local and international female filmmakers.

On the set of Nigredo.
  • On the set of Nigredo.

Local filmmaker Kristen Swinkels will go so far as to admit she hasn't euthanized her own mother, but otherwise her film, Nigredo, is based on personal experience. The imagery sprung from visiting her mom in hospital, combined with a hefty dose of Jungian psychology.

"The hospital experience is kind of crazy when you're there for a long time," Swinkels says. "It's so weird and, well, gallows-humour funny."

In the nightmarish short, Beth (Laura Achenbach) attempts suicide only to find herself in a hallucinatory world, first confronting her own shadowy side in Umbra (Petra O'Toole) and then the figure of her keening, distressed mother (Anne Stockdale) in a patient's gown. Nigredo combines elements of David Lynch and Peter Greenaway's debauched classic, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, to make something new.

Which is ideal material for Ladies of the Fright, a fundraiser for the Atlantic Filmmakers' Co-operative taking place at the Bus Stop Theatre on August 15. The collection of international genre shorts---in horror, science fiction and fantasy---have all been conceived by women. The films were made available to AFCOOP through collaboration with the Los Angeles-based Viscera Film Festival, which promotes and presents female genre filmmakers worldwide. Presenting the films will be Halifax documentary filmmaker Donna Davies.

"I'm really hoping that programs like these bring a certain level of visibility to female filmmakers in these genres that women traditionally haven't worked in," says AFCOOP engagement coordinator Jessica Murwin, who curated some of the selections. "Especially as auteurs, doing the writing and directing. It's exciting to re-envision these genres, open them up."

It's a given that movies of interest to fanboys are often rife with gender stereotypes. For example, in slasher horror, it's usually the promiscuous woman who'll be the first to die. You won't see much of those tired trope at Ladies of the Fright---there's a mix of strong male and female protagonists. "And there is a shift away from women just being the victim, or just being the hot girlfriend," says Murwin. "I'm really hoping that starts encouraging female filmmakers."

Nigredo was made as part of AFCOOP's annual Film 5 program. For the first time in the 18 years of Film 5, all four of this year's films are from writers and directors who are women, and three of the producers are women. (The other shorts will be screened at the Atlantic Film Festival in September.) It's a great milestone for AFCOOP and local filmmaking, but as a recent study of Hollywood has shown, of the 100 top-grossing movies of 2012, only 16.7 percent of the 1,228 directors, writers and producers were women. There's plenty of change still to be made behind and in front of the camera.

Stephenie Meyer's Twilight, directed by Catherine Hardwicke, is one of those recent genre successes from a female creative team, but Murwin doesn't see it as progress. "The thing about that is, there's still this narrative undercurrent of, 'Oh, it's really important that you have a boyfriend,'" Murwin says. "It's really important to fall in love with somebody and commit to them entirely."

Eschewing sparkly vampires, Murwin and Swinkels share an affection for creature features and classic horror. Swinkels offers the examples of Kathryn Bigelow (Near Dark, Strange Days) and Halifax-born Karen Walton (Orphan Black) as women whose work in genre have provided some inspiration on her work. "I love the idea," says Swinkels, "that something can be beautiful and horrible at the same time."

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