Interview With Edda Manriquez, Director Of The Les Femmes Undergound International Film Festival
We were able to talk with Edda Manriquez, the organizer of the female-empowering Les Femmes Underground International Film Festival.
September 2016 saw the inaugural edition of the Les Femmes Underground International Film Festival. Here’s how their website describes the festival:
Les Femmes Underground International is a film festival centered on the subversive, unique, and innovative. LEFUFF, showcases artists from all walks of life creating work which redefines the manner in which women are represented in mainstream cinema.
Over a temperamental Skype connection, I spoke to Festival Director and filmmaker Edda Manriquez about what it takes to organise a film festival, her highlights of the 2016 event, and encouraging recent developments for women in film.
The Beginnings of An Idea
It was a collection of things that started the idea floating in Edda’s head. She was struck by how male dominated a Rock and Roll History Of Film class she was taking was, and decided to make a film about the female equivalents of classic male musicians. It proved popular with her fellow students. “They were like ‘Oh my God, finally! Thank you for making something like that!’ I didn’t think it would affect so many people.”
During training sessions at her technical day job, Edda noticed how differently she was treated from her predominantly male colleagues. “They would ask a question and then I would say ‘This is what will fix it’ and then they disregarded it. Then someone else would say the same thing five minutes later, and they would listen to that person, who was a man. I had never experienced that very intense and obvious disregard for someone’s knowledge before.”
The experience caused self doubt (“Am I just not being assertive enough?”). But it also led to that all-important desire to create a space for her fellow female filmmakers to be heard.
The Highlights Of The 2016 Festival
“For one, I was very surprised by how many people attended who I didn’t know! You know, you go in there kind of blindsided. I don’t really have a business background, so I didn’t know how many people this would actually reach.”
Edda considers one of the highlights of the 2016 programme to be illustrator Jason Porath, whose book ‘Rejected Princesses’ garnered a lot of media attention upon its release. “He used to work for Pixar but now he does his own personal work. The book really highlights women underrepresented in history, like the first female sniper, the first female spy.”
With the festival in its infancy, Edda wasn’t sure that Porath would respond to her invitation. “I messaged him, ‘Would you like to come and do a talk at the festival?’ and he was like ‘Yeah sure!’ I was so surprised by it, because I thought he was too big for us, but he came! And people really responded to that.”
Another takeaway from last year was of a different nature. “We had someone come in from Ms In The Biz, and she had never seen any experimental work. She came up to me afterwards and said ‘This is great, I never would have seen anything like this on my own.’ I thought it was really nice that we educated people about the other side of film. And maybe one day they’ll go off and do something themselves, or get other people involved.”
The Hardest Things About Running Les Femmes Underground
Running your own film festival is a daunting prospect. With so many moving pieces – spaces to organise, speakers to book, films to programme, and of course, making sure that people actually show up – I wondered what it was that Edda found the most challenging.
Though there is a board of four that runs Les Femmes Underground, they all have their own day jobs. The festival is a non-profit, with the primary focus being education rather than money-making. Balancing organising the festival with her day job at the Getty Research Institute can be a struggle. It’s also impacted upon her own artistic endeavours. “Edda the artist has been put on hold right now, so Edda the film programmer can do the job that she needs to do. But I love it because I get to see so much work that I wouldn’t have normally seen, and I think that’s so rewarding beyond anything else.”
All the members of the Les Femmes Underground board come from a creative background rather than a business one, and so learning the commercial side of running a film festival proved one of the hardest things to master. “When I was in my undergrad I was a Resident Assistant, so you would be in charge of doing a lot of event planning. And I’ve worked with non-profits. But that’s as far as I know personally. I had to learn how to do a business plan! It was a very different experience for me, and I did the best I could. And everyone else was in the same boat.”
With such a small team, micromanaging is a necessity. “Being able to budget as well, because we have a very small budget. We can’t necessarily have a giant banquet for everyone, but we can ask for in-kind donations and give everyone a grab bag.”
Learning to network was also vital, even more so because the festival travels from city to city. “We’re going to need spaces. We don’t really know anyone from those spaces necessarily, so learning what’s the culture here, what’s the culture in this city, can we get involved in this city… Every year it’s new people that we’re working with.”
Women In Hollywood
Finally we talked about recent developments for women in Hollywood.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens featured an encouraging female protagonist. “For the first time I was able to project myself onto a character where I usually wouldn’t be able to. And I remember little girls talking to their mothers, or their parents or their friends and saying, ‘I love the new Star Wars!’. I’ve never heard that much excitement from a little girl about a Star Wars film.”
Moana also impressed. “That one was great because of recent years, she was the first Disney princess who wasn’t like in Frozen and Tangled, where everyone’s platinum blonde and super skinny. She was a body positive character, and she’s empowered, and there’s no desire to be with a prince. I have a niece, so I like to show her films that are empowering.”
Closer to the domain of the festival, Edda also had effusive praise for Anna Biller‘s The Love Witch. “I first saw it when I went to the Etheria Film Night. I thought ‘This woman is an amazing human being.’ She did all the costume designs herself, she used 35mm film and the stock she used, it was beautiful. You could see the level of craft, and all the energy that went into it, it looked gorgeous. I just commend her because I don’t think she had a big budget, and she did an incredible job. I really respect films like that. And it’s always fun seeing horror!”
Talking to Edda, it’s clear to see the passion and determination she has for making Les Femmes Underground International Film Festival a special space for female artists to exhibit their work, and educating people about the many facets of underground film. With only one year under their belt, her and her team have achieved so much already. I’m looking forward to seeing what the future has in store for them.
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