Event Recap: The Hollywood Underground Film Festival

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Hollywood Underground Film Festival shows off the wacky and weird shorts

On Friday, August 21st, The Hollywood Underground Film Festival in collaboration with Etheria Film Night and the American Cinematheque, presented the first ever Women Underground night to a sold out Spielberg theater at the Egyptian. During this exciting evening, a room full of lucky viewers witnessed a showcase of wacky, shocking, and weird short films, all intriguing on their own, and made all the more unique by the fact that they were all created by women. From America, to Mexico, to Great Britain, a variety of nations were represented in this magical roundup of female-driven projects, encompassing all genres, from comedy, to horror, to more experimental entries. One thing that they did all have in common, however, was the hard work and perseverance of myriad talented women who refuse to give up on their dreams, no matter how challenging the battle uphill can be for a girl in Hollywood. Read on to see a full dissection of this exciting new festival, complete with a brief description of each entry, and a list of exemplary submissions that stood apart from the already impressive crowd.

THE RUNDOWN:

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Astrid – short clip from new feature film by Rena Riffel

Known for starring in such popular genre films as Mulholland Drive, Showgirls, and Showgirls 2: Penny’s From Heaven, renowned actress Rena Riffel has recently made the transition from standing in front of the camera to setting up behind it. After a quick introduction for the festival, Riffel showed everyone a clip from her new feature film, Astrid, which she wrote, directed, and stars in. In the clip, we see Astrid von Star, a misunderstood artist and ex-film critic, enlist the aid of her former husband in creating her high art self-portrait. To do this, Astrid has him film her in various locations, including the scene of a crime that Astrid herself may have caused.

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Good Family Times – feature film teaser/trailer world premiere by Staci Layne Wilson

From the outside looking in, it seems that Beatrice has the perfect life. She has a loving husband, a wonderful son, she’s a talented artist, and on top of everything else, she has recently come into some money. Of course, the grass is always greener on the other side, but try telling that to the jealous eyes peering over the fence. Another less fortunate family has caught wind of Beatrice’s new financial gains, and decided that they are more deserving of its splendor. In their desperation, the lower class family breaks into Beatrice’s home, but what they find is a half-cocked shadow of a woman whose own personal insanity has led her to believe that she is carrying on a life with her sweet family, when in reality, she’s sharing her company with two men who are now rotting corpses. What follows after this disturbing discovery is a night of bloody mayhem and sadistic debauchery, where it becomes unclear if anyone will ever leave this house alive again.

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Abort – (2:00 minutes) BJ Colangelo & Zachary Shildwachter

In a brief, surprisingly comical take on a subject as taboo as abortion, a couple in a car discusses their options. Jason tries his best to encourage his girlfriend to go ahead and just get it over with so she can move on with her life and quickly get back to normal. Like ripping off a bandaid, Jason hopes that by speeding up this irrevocable act, it will help to lessen the pain of its inevitably emotionally damaging effects. However, his girlfriend is more hesitant, and justifiably so…just not for the reasons you’d assume.

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Cowboy Kill Club – (10.30) by Gabrielle Lim & Jessica Parsons

Down in the depths of Bangkok, Thailand, tucked away in a seedy night club that’s housed within the fog of a sketchy dark alleyway, lies a secret so toxic that it surpasses even the most ambitious X-rated hangout spots. In the main room, women dance provocatively and strip off their clothes for money, but that’s nothing new in the world of adult entertainment. The real show lies just below the surface, down in the basement, behind the neon blue curtains, and out of reach of normal, law-abiding customers. Down here, men pay to engage in non-consensual sexual acts with chained up women, an act grotesque enough on its on, but even more revolting due to the fact that these prisoners have recently joined the ranks of the living dead. Now, it’s up to three naive dancers to put an end to these horrid nightly happenings, before another innocent victim is turned into just another undead play thing.

Everybody Hates Clowns – (8.30) by C.K. Kimball & Berlyn Reisenauer

In a unique take on comical performers, this short is shot documentary-style in the hopes of shedding some much needed light on the folklore of clowns, and their misunderstood culture. Random clowns are chosen as subjects to discuss the discrimination they face on a daily basis, as they attempt to engage in normal, standard activities, such as going grocery shopping, or even sitting on their own balcony in peace. By listing their grievances and explaining their backgrounds, these brave few who don the red nose hope to garner some sympathy for their own kind, and hope to one day be treated as just another member of the human race. The question is, are they truly deserving of this acceptance, or is there actually something more sinister lurking behind their painted-on smiles?

Guttmatchers – (6.30) by Kelly Morton

A man and a woman sit in what looks like their own filth, alone, in a barren white room. They seem slightly subdued, and for some unknown reason, unable to speak, but they are busy. Grouping portions of soggy liquified brown goop, they bag up as much as they can in small plastic bags, all chained together, before tying off another section and moving on to the next pile of slop. As they work, ghastly secretions pour from their quiet lips, drenching themselves in as much of the strange batter as the copious amounts that surround them. They vomit it up, bag it, sit in it, play in it, but no explanation comes. Suddenly, strangers clothed in black appear like frenzied paparazzi and begin observing the two occupants of the room, watching and photographing and clapping. It’s never quite clear what exactly is happening in this odd little entry, but one thing’s for sure — you’ll take a break from your popcorn when this one pops up on the screen.

Coming To – (5.30) by Lindsey Haun

An unconscious naked man sleeps sitting up in a hallway with nothing but a sparkly scarf draped around his bare body. As he awakens, the voiceover starts, and soon the audience is let in on the inner monologue that plagues this amnesia-ridden junkie. Between the constant chattering and the impressively long oner, by the end of this entry, the viewer feels just as filled with neuroticism as the protagonist.

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Death, Taxes, & Apple Juice – (7.00) by Tamar Halpern

The easiest way to create a sweet and endearing perspective of the mundane, terminally annoying daily activities that characterize life as an adult is to show it through the eyes of a child, as proven by promising filmmaker Tamar Halpern, and her talented little lead actress. Together, the two little girls meet up on their tricycles, sport oversized jewelry, sip martinis (don’t worry, it’s just apple juice), and go through the insanely dull yearly ritual of filing for taxes. However, as these adorable youngsters manage to whip up some laughter with their innocent portrayals of tax payers, it becomes clear that dealing with life’s issues is less about overcoming obstacles, and more about perspective. In other words, the best way to deal, is to laugh.

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The Herd – (20.00) by Melanie Light

Merciless and invasive from start to finish, the first shot of this short is of a woman named Paula on a dirty operating table with a nurse shoving a medical tube up Paula’s spread legs. She is a prisoner here, along with all of the other women forced to stay in cages against their will, bid farewell to their newborn babies, and get hooked up to machines that steal the milk from their frayed bodies. Paula has had enough of other people claiming authority over her flesh, and decides to break out of this perpetual land of death, and somehow make her way back to civilization. However, Paula soon finds that breaking the lock on her cage is one thing, but escaping the cold grasp of strangers who seek to control her is a far more difficult task.

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Hallway – (4.00) by Leah Shore

Not much happens in this speedy little look into a relationship between two women that’s clearly been going on for a while now, as tensions run high and sexual frustration quickly mounts. However, the glow-in-the-dark makeup blended with the dark atmosphere and bright blinking lights combine to create a mystical, cool aesthetic that’s both arousing and uncomfortable at the same time.

As Human As Animal – (4.30) by Kristina Klebe

Starring Diamond Dallas Page, Klebe’s submission, originally intended as a class project during her days at NYU film school, depicts a lonely man in a rustic, agrarian land sloppily devouring a bloody steak. This man has obviously been on his own for a while, but quick glimpses into the past offer up the notion that this ostracized old man who now spends his days drowning in his own melancholy, might have once shared a life with a beautiful women with a round little belly. Although the angelic woman’s current whereabouts are unknown, the flashbacks grow darker and darker with each broadcast, signaling that trouble is afoot in this simplistic, rundown home that seemed to once offer so much promise.

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Viscera – (4.00) by Lauren Morrison

In a stop-motion animation triumph that took months and months of tireless efforts from filmmaker Lauren Morrison, Viscera is an exploration into the world of clay creatures and their underground antics as they exist secretly amongst their live action counterparts. Squiggling like bloody worms beneath the surface, it seems that stringy intestines pour out of sheep and make up complete beings in the animated world. Of course, that’s just one person’s interpretation, but perhaps this entry isn’t really meant to be logically figured out. Maybe, it exists as more of a gut feeling than anything strategically mapped out. It merely lives as an extension of the artist; her insides on the outside, on display for all to see.

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Diaries From Wonderland – (5.30) by Katherine Sainte Marie

In a very literal look at the parallels between Alice in Wonderland, a.k.a. Through the Looking Glass, and the world of illegal substances, the leading lady personifies a stoner Alice, who tumbles deep into the dark abyss of hallucinogenic drugs. What she finds on the other side makes for the most memorable, dreamy times of her life — and an awkward moment at the dinner table.

Vessel – (5.00) by Alexandra Velasco

VHS fanatics are going to love this one. This journey into the seemingly ancient world of the VCR feels like the strange but enticing result of a child pulling the film out of multiple VHS tapes and mixing them all together.  Images of an angst-ridden Corey Mason screaming out from the screen and a possessed Frankie Paige overlap and dance against the white static of poor tracking. The aspects all contrast just enough to create a jarring effect, but all in their own way represent a period in time that encompassed far more recognizable points of reference than today’s current world.

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Counselor – (1.30) by Venetia Taylor

This bold and realistic illustration of choosing the wrong career works on both a comedic level and a deeply dramatic one, as it provides enough funny moments to bring about laughter, but also gives a harsh, cruel look at the dead-end career path that many in the working class inevitably face.

Night Shed – (6.30) by Amara Cash

A girl walks home alone one night down the dark corridors that the shadows have provided in the seconds one passes under the cover of a busy branch. The woman ends a brief phone call, claiming to be arriving home soon, but little does she know, a lurking predator has other plans.

THE STANDOUTS:

Guttmatchers

This otherworldly, surreal submission is so out there that it’s not even completely clear what’s going on, but it still manages to reach out and touch its audience. Feelings of confusion and extreme repulsion arise when faced with this gross little entry, but at least it makes you feel something. Also, truthfully, it’s also just nice to be reminded every now and then that women can be just as disgusting as men.

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This short succeeds on the pure basis of being bothersome. Rape is never easy to watch, but it’s something that happens in the real world, and the fact that it’s so forbidden when it comes to cinematic topics makes it that much more interesting to discuss. Bravo to Amara Cash for bravely engaging in the discussion, especially because it’s not from a popular perspective.

Cowboy Kill Club

This neon-coated, dolled up and simplified look at the underground world of sex trafficking plays out like a B-movie version of Dead Girl, and I’m completely on board.

Abort

Easily the funniest entry in the bunch, this quick little peek into the world of black comedy is just blue enough to make you laugh, but short enough not to overstay its welcome; a problem that many comedic shorts face as a result of people not being able to properly edit the projects they’ve grown so attached to. This one, however, was clearly treated with an objective viewpoint; an asset that will serve filmmaker Colangelo well in her upcoming productions. It’s also refreshing that a woman who’s known for horror is also flexible enough to switch gears and tackle comedy; a trait that’s hard to come by, especially in up-and-coming filmmakers.

The Herd

A groundbreaking short that demands attention, The Herd carries such a strong message that despite its superior nature, it has actually been rejected from festivals for being “too political”. A unique, possibly first of its kind, vegan horror story, this commentary on meat consumption and the mistreatment of farm animals forces you to pay attention in a clever way that’s relatable because its exposed to its viewers through human subjects, only to reveal in the end that this whole time the film has been displaying the abuse that animals endure so that we, humans, can shove them down our throats without a second thought as to their lives, or the pain they’ve gone through. On another note, appropriate dining menu debate aside, this short deserves praise not only for its feminist roots, but just for being an extremely impressive, well shot film with a haunting score and some truly riveting cinematic moments. Director Melanie Light is a very exciting prospect for upcoming female-driven horror films who makes a name for herself not only because she’s a female filmmaker, but simply because she is a talented filmmaker. I eagerly await her first full-length feature.