On December 5, 2015 Writer/Director/Actress and all-around badass Premstar Santana created a phenomenal short film festival centering powerful feminist narratives. Presented inside of LA Mother, (a non-profit organization and multi-purpose creative space that is dedicated to nurturing women in business and the arts), Premstar carved out a safe space for diverse voices from around the globe to flourish. By creating this platform in conjunction with LA Mother, Premstar has taken on the challenge of not waiting for Hollywood to feature feminist cinema. She is creating the platform that elevates feminist viewpoints from marginalized voices that rarely get the opportunity to shine.
The one day evening event started off with a mixer where patrons could nibble on fresh popped popcorn, enjoy some libations and partake of tasty bites provided by a Korean BBQ food truck. Premstar introduced herself the moment I walked in and thanked me for supporting her event. I was immediately struck by her warmth and her sincere appreciation for every person who turned out. And there were a lot of people there. When it was time for the short film showcase to begin, every seat was filled, with an overflow audience sitting on the staircase and standing in the back. A packed house.
The opening film, Luna — written, directed by, and starring Premstar herself — immediately set the tone for the rest of the festival. Premstar’s film let me know that she was not bullshitting about her clarion call to elevate the game. Luna, is an experimental film that introduces us to a woman performing a sacred ceremony inside a circle of burning candles in a dark room. There is a blood offering, an incantation that opens another dimension, and the woman finds herself surrounded by nature and facing a mirror image of herself who simply says “Hello, I’ve been waiting for you…are you ready?” Our protagonist then responds by asking “For What?” Her question is answered by her second self, “To dance.” The film ends with a gorgeous shot of Premstar standing on a sunlit beach watching ocean waves, the full moon high above her head. The piece resonated with me emotionally, and I had the rare moment of instantly recognizing a fellow sister/creator. After watching her other work in the festival (the sci-fi tinged Dos Lunas) I understood Premstar to be a thoughtful and gifted artist. Her work is deeply personal, poetic, and at times haunting. She creates compelling cinema, so I felt confident that I would enjoy the films presented. I felt like I was at a cinema tapas bar, nibbling on all the various films she was spreading before us at LA Mother.
The films themselves ranged from comedy, horror, experimental, dramatic thrillers, documentaries and even a Bollywood drenched piece that had a shocking ending that delighted the receptive audience. One of the crowd favorites was a 6-minute French comedy film called Papa Dans Maman (Dad in Mum) written and directed by Fabrice Bracq. In the film two young sisters hear their mother and father having sex. They try to decide if they should go inside the bedroom to investigate when they hear an unexpected arrival downstairs. The humor worked because of the expressive faces of the young actresses, and the tension that was created by the one sister peeking through the bedroom keyhole and telling the other what she sees.
Another standout piece was the aforementioned 12-minute U.S. Bollywood-Punk Musical, The Pink Sorrys, written by Ben Stoddard and directed by Anam Syed. A deadly girl gang seeks retribution after one of their own is sexually assaulted. The graphic ending was pretty bloody and followed the rape/revenge trope popular in ’70s exploitation cinema. I enjoyed the unique mash-up to tell an unpleasant story about violence against women’s bodies. And come on — Bollywood. Punk. Musical. You got me.
Afghan rapper Sonita Alizadeh directed and stars in a music video called Brides for Sale where she spits her own rap lyrics advocating for the end of forced marriages globally. In Diyu (written and directed by Christine Yuan), a teenaged girl is caught between heaven and hell in a strangely hypnotic experimental film that won the Best Director Award at the end of the evening.
The festival found the right balance of showing some serious life-altering narratives alongside lighter fare that was equally compelling in different ways. One of my other comedy favorites was a film starring Moonfaze’s Festival Manager Sarah Hawkins. Roller Coaster (written and directed by Sarah’s father Bradley Hawkins) is a sweet tale about Emily, an aspiring actress who sets out for an audition, only to encounter obstacles that may cause her to miss her big break. The film playfully highlights the plastic-looking homogeneity of casting calls where women feel the need to look a certain way (mainly white, thin, surgically enhanced or bleached in some way). What struck me about Sarah Hawkins as an actor is that her face had that classic oldschool natural beauty that I miss. In fact, that is what struck me about most of the films in the festival. All these wonderful new faces that don’t have the bland manufactured Hollywood “look.”
At the close of the festival, awards were given in various categories for Best Screenwriting, Cinematography, Acting, Best Experimental Film, Best Documentary, and Best Director. I left the festival elated and impressed with the quality and variety of the films I watched.
A few days later, still excited about the festival, I contacted Premstar and invited her and Festival manager Sarah Hawkins to talk about Moonfaze on the Screenwriter’s Rant Room Podcast I co-host. It was important to give these feminist filmmakers another platform to talk about their work. You can listen to the podcast here.
Premstar said she conceived the idea for the festival in the summer of 2015, and less than six months later it came to fruition. Feminist filmmakers are hungry and ready to share their stories and 2016 will see another Moonfaze Film Festival. As I told Premstar and Sarah on the podcast, the work that Moonfaze has done is reminiscent of song lyrics done by the acapella singing group, Sweet Honey in the Rock. The lyrics are, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” Simply put, we don’t have to wait for someone else to do this work. Fam, we got this. We really do.
Premstar Santana and all the filmmakers involved in the very first Moonfaze Film Festival are bold, unapologetic, and creating new life-giving narratives. I look forward to the 2nd Annual Festival. You should too.
For more information about the Moonfaze Film Festival and Premstar Santana, check out these websites:
Staff Writer Lisa Bolekaja is a speculative fiction writer, screenwriter, podcaster, Sci-Fi slush reader for Apex Magazine, and a devoted cinefile. A former Film Independent Fellow and a member of the Horror Writers Association, her fiction can be found on Amazon.com.