For some female writers and directors the doors to the comedy world may just as well be marked: "Men Only." Susan di Rende, co-director of the Broad Humor Film Festival, which ran Aug. 24-26 at the Electric Lodge Performing Arts Center in Venice, Calif., is working to change that perception.
"If you look at the film festivals, short films, and features by women, most them are dramas about women's issues — I never wanted to make a movie about my period," said di Rende, whose film Life on a Leash was featured in the fest. "Now I don't have to, thank God."
For two years, the Broad Humor Film Festival has exclusively showcased comedies written and directed by women. "What we do is something I call 'putting water in the creek bed,' " said di Rende, who began the festival out of frustration, hoping to connect with other women in comedy. She found there were several funny femmes waiting for the chance to showcase their work. "All [of] these women are dream-building. Some of them are building the Queen Mary, some of them are building a row boat, some a raft, and some a motor boat, but it's all in a dry creek bed and the creek bed needs water to lift the boat."
The 2007 fest showcased four feature films including di Rende's: Slippery Slope, written and directed by Sarah Schenck; Laughing Matters...More, directed by Andrea Meyerson; and Shelf Life, written and directed by Tamar Halpern. More than 23 shorts were also in the program, including Goodnight Vagina, by Stacy Sherman; No Buns, by Dashiel St. Damien; and Someone to Love, by Jill Jaress.
Director-screenwriter Michelle Clay, the 2006 winner of Broad Humor's Best Screwball Comedy award for her screenplay The Road to Sundance, began directing her own projects when she discovered members of the male-dominated industry weren't interested in funny stories with female lead characters.
"You don't see that many funny women on TV, so that image is not out there.... It's still a man's world on TV and in film," she explained.
Canadian director Gretchen Kelbaugh advised filmmakers to craft a good story, study production, and network within the entertainment industry. "It's about the people you know. So to go to a film festival or to go to any kind of film school — either a weekend course or a weeklong course — you usually get a rapport with your teacher who is better connected by far than you are. Some of my breaks have come through that avenue of getting to know the teachers or the people who were running the school," she said.
Kelbaugh, who presented her short Piece O' Cake at the festival, hopes more doors will open for women in the genre. "I don't know why more women don't pick up a camera," said Kelbaugh, who added that many industry pros still adhere to the stereotype that women can't be funny. "Of course women are as funny as men — anybody with a brain would realize that would have to be true — but [men and women have] different sensibilities."
A list of the 2007 Broad Humor Film Festival winners follows. For more information, visit www.broadhumor.com.
2007 Broad Humor Film Festival winners:
Best Feature - Slippery Slope written and directed by Sarah Schenck
Best Short - Someone to Love by Jill Jaress
Best 'No-Budget' Feature - Shelf Life written and directed by Tamar Halpern
Best 'No-Budget' Short - Piece' O Cake by Gretchen Kelbaugh
Audience Award - Goodnight Vagina by Stacy Sherman
Best Short - Marrying James Spader by Ariane Kamp
Best Screwball Comedy - Ay! Chilito by Judy Chaikin
Best Character Comedy - Checking Out Nana by Sheila Boyd-Lee
Best Romantic Comedy - Horsing Around by Nancy Raven Smith
Best Comic Fantasy - One of the Guys by Ruth Campbell
Best Farce - Inbred by Allison & Christy Dillard