Creating Space for Women in Film—One Program at a Time

For 16 years, Lunafest has traveled around North America annually to showcase short films “by, for, and about women.”

Each year, the festival receives up to 1,300 short film submissions by female directors—a pool that is eventually narrowed down to ten or less to be featured in the festival. Cait Spillner, an event planner with Lunafest, told Ms. that Lunafest strives to spotlight diverse films which tell stories about women that are largely missing elsewhere in media. The films featured at the Los Angeles screening certainly hit that mark.

The heartbreaking topic of miscarriage and failed adoption was brought to the forefront in Dr. Patricia Beckmann-Wells’ Family Tale. A documentary directed by Lara Everly, Free To Laugh, followed a group of women finding their voices through stand-up comedy after being released from prison. Another film, Partners, by Joey Ally featured lesbian protagonists, dealing with the struggles of being in both a business and romantic relationship. And finally, Join The Club, directed by Eva Vives, unfolds entirely in a therapy session, as a woman debates joining a writing club for women novelists.

After the screening, Variety‘s Jenelle Riley moderated a panel centered on the challenges women face in filmmaking. “I don’t think I fully realized I was a woman until I started directing,”Partners director Joey Ally told the crowd., explaining that women directors have more of an uphill battle to success and that there’s rarely an immediate “yes” in response to telling women’s stories in the industry. Vives noted that despite a lack of recognition compared to their male counterparts, women creators have always been around—they just haven’t have as many opportunities.

“I think on a personal level, the indie world has been more open to not only women, but minorities in general,” Vives told Ms. “It’s more about artistry than it is business. I know for a fact Sundance in particular has been supporting minorities for a long time, and pointedly so.” A native of Spain, Vives graduated NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts in 1998. Since then, she’s led a successful filmmaking career, winning Best Short at Cannes and Sundance for her film Five Feet High and Rising.  The Sundance Screenwriters Lab, of which Vives is a member, includes five women and eight people of color.

But despite efforts toward diversity like the SSL, challenges persist across the film industry. Women and people of color remain underrepresented in front of the camera and behind-the-scenes, and films that do lend space for their stories often walk an uncomfortable line between true representation and offensive stereotypes. Vives told Ms. about the impact even marketing choices have on diverse films: She was involved in Raising Victor Vargas, a film with an all-Latino cast that was considered “just for Latinos” and thusly distributed as such. In actuality, it could’ve reached a wider audience if given the opportunity.

“The Latino community is the fastest growing group in the U.S., and women make up half of the population,” Vives said, “but that isn’t shown in the media.” Regardless, Vives remains hopeful for the future of film—and with festivals such as Lunafest shining the spotlight on women, it’s easy to understand why.


Katy is an intern with Ms. Magazine, and a PR and Sociology senior at a private liberal arts university in Kentucky. She is the social media coordinator for the web series, Life Noggin, and the founding member of her campus' College Democrats chapter. When Katy isn't busy, you can find her crying over how much she loves dogs.