Artemis was the Greek virgin goddess of the hunt, animals, and of childbirth. When she was three years old, her father, Zeus, asked her what gifts she wanted. Among many others, she told him she wanted eternal virginity, all the world’s mountains, a pack of hounds to hunt with her, and a silver bow and arrows to match her twin brother Apollo’s gold ones. Zeus gave her everything she asked for, and promised to fulfill any and all of her future wishes.
Artemis thereafter became known as one of the best archers, accompanied by wild animals and virgin nymphs, and became the fierce protector of young girls and chastity.
Today, she can now add one more to her resume: presiding as the goddess of female action heros at the Artemis Women in Action Film Festival, running April 24 through April 26, 2015.
The Artemis Women in Action Film Festival was founded by Melanie Wise, along with Sean Newcombe and Zac Baldwin in 2014 in order to promote and celebrate films depicting women in physically-challenging roles. Wise, who has a background that includes basketball, stunts, and a physical trainer license, said one of the reasons she wanted to start a film festival focusing on women in action films was because “many time in Hollywood, when a female action film is a success, it’s written off as a fluke – and we wanted to show that there are many female action films out that have an audience.”
Wise has been working with screenwriters Newcombe and Baldwin for about 15 years, both of whom are long-time writers of strong female characters. (Wise starred in Baldwin’s Hanah’s Gift, a horror film about members of an anger management group trying to survive the night when terror is unleashed on them). Currently they are working on developing a television series entitled The Legend of Johnnie Swann, which features strong female characters. They knew that in order to bring this project and other more female-centered films into the mainstream, there had to be platform to promote them on. Hence, they decided to create a festival celebrating women in action films, the first of its kind.
In its inaugural year, the Artemis Women in Action Film Festival was inundated with submissions, and will screen close to fifty films, including features, shorts, and documentaries.
The Opening Gala will take place on Friday, April 26, and will feature a red carpet for the Los Angeles premiere of Awaken, as well as a midnight screening of Terminator 2: Judgement Day.
Saturday night will feature films from the United Kingdom, and Sunday will features the closing Awards Ceremony. Throughout the weekend, films with similar topics will be shown in blocks.
Tickets will go on sale in the next few days and will be available for purchase on at the festival website artemisfilmfestival.com, the Artemis Women in Action Film Festival facebook page, and on showclix.com. Discounted tickets will be available for film blocks.
The criteria for submission is that all films must have a female lead or co-lead in an action role. Many genres are accepted: from science-fiction, fantasy, period pieces, history, contemporary, documentary, and films conventionally designated as “action.”
Wise stresses that films can be made by either men or women, because the goal isn’t to exclude men. In fact, there are five men on the festival board of directors.
“Part of empowering women is empowering the men who stand with them,” she says, which strike me as very wise words. She continues, “saying ‘you must respect us!’ isn’t going to work.” She says this was why she was turned off by many of the feminists of the 1970’s, because they seemed to promote one gender at the expense of the other. The idea isn’t to put down men, but to support both genders. And I believe by empowering women, men will also gain deeper strength.
This year’s fifty-plus lineup comes from twenty-two countries and includes about fifteen feature films, including Awaken, a Lost-esque martial arts-heavy film about a woman who wakes up on a tropical island and has to find and rescue her sister from a sinister group running the island; and Two Down, a dark comedy spy thriller involving a contract killer, a safe house, and a mysterious young woman.
Other features include two period pieces set in medieval times, a fantasy sword and sorcery film, and straight forward action films. There are also numerous documentaries, broaching topics such as boxing (see Jill Morley‘s Fight Like A Girl), WMMA, extreme sports such as big mountain skiing and 100 mile marathon running, bicycling, skateboarding, ski jumping, roller derby, and even log rolling.
The Artemis Women in Action Film Festival will honor several women who have influenced and made contributions in action films.
These women include, but are not limited to: Linda Hamilton who will be honored with the Artemis Action Icon Award for her portrayal of Sarah Connor in Terminator 2: Judgement Day.
Angela Meryl who will be honored with the Artemis Stunt Unsung Heroine Award for her two decade-long career in stunts on films such as Kill Bill: Vol. 1, Skyfall, Battleship, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, and many more.
Maja Aro will be honored with the Artemis Stunt Warrior Award for her work as a stuntwoman and a stunt coordinator in films and television shows such as Red, the Twilight Saga, The Cabin in the Woods, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, Once Upon A Time, Supernatural, Smallville, and many others.
Melanie Wise was born in Detroit, and raised in a small town in Alabama. She knew from a young age that she wanted to be in the entertainment industry, and had set her sights on Los Angeles by the time she was fourteen. After high school, she worked for about six months to save up money and then moved to Los Angeles. She started modeling first and then became heavily involved in fitness and injury rehabilitation, eventually becoming licensed as a physical trainer. Afterwards, she started auditioning, but was dismayed at the narrow array of female stereotypes that comprise most of the available roles. At six feet tall, with a background in modeling and fitness, Wise wasn’t exactly the demure girl-next-door and didn’t particularly want to be. Instead, she got into producing and ended up producing (and acting in) several features and shorts that had strong female leads and sent positive and empowering messages.
While Wise did not necessarily have a particular female role model, she was inspired by a wide array of women. She loved watching the Olympics, and especially found the figure skaters and gymnasts inspiring for their strength, agility, and grace. However, the people, women and men, who most inspired her were ones who thought outside the box and had a particular message to share, such as Maya Angelou, Roseanne Barr, Helen Keller, Oprah Winfrey – the latter particularly in her Be A Queen speech.
I talked a bit with Wise about what her inspiration for the film festival was, the challenges of producing a film festival, and her views on feminism and how women are portrayed in the media. Wise tells me that she feels portraying women in action, specifically, is the way to combat media images of women being these, demure, docile, sweet fluffy creatures.
“I have long believed that until women are as seen as physical equals to men, we will always be seen as less,” Wise writes on her blog. Since men are widely thought to be stronger than women, I ask her to expand. She refers to her background as a personal trainer and says that, “pound for pound, women are often stronger than men – this means that a woman can lift and more relative to her weight than a man can.”
“I have long believed that until women are as seen as physical equals to men, we will always be seen as less.”
MMGO: Since you talk about physical strength, do you feel it is still valued above other attributes, and if so, why?
MW: Yes I believe it is. Look at the value we place on our athletes; that shows how much value we place on physicality. Our royalty are actors and athletes, and our media winds up all over the world. When Terminator 2: Judgement Day came out, gym memberships for women went up. Look at how the media influences how people dress and talk to each other. Look at the focus on fitness and different different diets.
Ronda Rousey, a mixed martial artist and first and current UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion and last Strikeforce Women’s Bantamweight Champion, says she can beat any man, but no man will take her up on it because either way, it’s a lose-lose situation for him. If he beats her, he will be accused of beating a woman, and if he loses, he will have been beaten by a woman.
MMGO: What would you say to those who would disagree with you that women should be seen as physical equals to men, or that they have that capacity at all?
MW: Look at how far we’ve come. If you back far enough in history, women went to war and yielded swords. Archeology shows that in some cultures men and women were treated as equals physically. Besides, there is something about people taking a woman who can defend herself more seriously. I’m not suggesting we should all become world-class athletes, but there is an X factor in women’s physicality that is yet to be explored and defined, and this has a huge part in how women are treated and perceived. And our physical well-being affects our emotional and mental states. I really believe showing female physical strength is key to gender equality.
MMGO: How so?
MW: Venus Williams got equal pay for female tennis players. Female tennis players were paid less than their male counterparts. There had been a multi-year struggle for this, and she took up the battle in the early 2000’s. She got the biggest endorsement from Reebok ever, and she fought with Wimbledon because they didn’t want to pay their women what they paid the men. Finally, she got them to do it. The fight for equal pay really started in an arena where the women had physical mastery.
MMGO: This idea of approaching the individual holistically, rather than compartmentalizing physicality, emotions, and intellects as separate, non-interactive entities is becoming much more accepted in society. Do you think the more compartmentalized approach our society has traditionally taken has affected our idea of gender norms and how we view women?
MW: I definitely think it is physiological in part. And I think many ideas of what a woman or her physical abilities should be would go away if there was not a separation of boys and girls in some areas, such as P.E.
Female strength isn’t encourage like is male strength, and that affects women’s sense of strength in other areas. Being physically strong gives you emotional and mental confidence.
MMGO: When took up kickboxing lessons, I felt stronger and more confident. By physically manifesting my strength, I felt stronger in other areas, as well.
MW: A lot of women have low self esteem, and they have to overcome that. And being active and strong is a way to that. The Indian women who took self-defense classes transformed from being meek and silent to standing and walking with the strength and pride.
MW: Let me ask you a question.
MW: When you watch action films with female lead characters, how do you feel?
MMGO: I feel like I can relate to her. I feel like I can do that, like I want to do that. I feel inspired.
MW: Exactly. Those films empower us. You feel, I can do this! Even if it means carrying out your own trash. Those are the things that inspire us to go after the things we want, and to campaign for the things we want to happen.
“2014 was the weakest year in recent memory for action films, but the women in action outsold the men – even Tom Cruise!”
MMGO: We need more women as the archetypical hero – i.e. strong, with a strong moral compass, protector of integrity – for girls to look up to. And in order for that to happen, more films featuring women in strong roles need to be made and shown…
MW: We’re getting more and more female action films, like the Hunger Games and Divergent series, and these are selling. 2014 was the weakest year in recent memory for action films, but the women in action outsold the men – they even outsold Tom Cruise! So I think there is an extraordinary need and desire to see these female-led action films, and more female-centric films.
Recently, there was a small indie film that was directed by a woman and was very female-centric. It never made it to a wide release, but it had higher per-theatre earnings than any studio feature. Zac, Sean and I wanted to create a platform to support films like that.
Finally, I ask her what she thinks of the Bechdel test, which requires a film to have at least two female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man. Wise rolls her eyes.
MW: I think it’s a sad, necessary evil, but it’s not enough. How about a test that measures the social value of something, not just if a woman is talking about a guy? I understand the need for it because women used to be portrayed as appendages to men, but let’s reach higher.
MMGO: Finally, can you talk about the process of putting this festival together?
MW: We really brought it together on a very short timeline, which was both smart and stupid. Smart because a lot of things are happening now that really are pushing for more women to be in film, things are happening in the face of the mainstream media, and it’s good to be a part of the voice. In other words, the timing is good. But it was dumb also because if we hadn’t done it so quickly we would have had more time to flower and grow, had gotten more crowdfunding, which would have helped to screen more films. It’s hard not to second-guess yourself. Hindsight is the best way to make yourself feel stupid. But we got far more submissions than we thought we would.
The Artemis Women in Action Film Festival runs April 26-28, 2015, at Laemmle’s Playhouse 7 in Pasadena, CA.
Until April 15, 2015, you can purchase discounted tickets, block specials, and day passes. After April 15, ticket sales will be handled by Laemmle’s Playhouse 7. You can purchase your tickets on the following sites:
Artemis Women in Action Film Festival 2015 Tickets
Artemis Women in Action Film Festival Facebook