The Stranger With My Face International Film Festival was founded by Briony Kidd and Rebecca Thomson with the aim of providing a platform for female writers, directors, and producers working in the genre. Now in its fifth year, the event has grown in importance, highlighting new work from talented independent filmmakers. Co-founder and festival programmer Briony Kidd took some time to sit down with us to discuss this year’s event.
Diabolique: Could you talk a little about the genesis of the festival:
Kidd: It mainly comes from being a filmmaker myself, and having made a few short films I found it difficult to get anywhere. I had one short that went well internationally, and in America, as there was a “women in horror” thing happening then, that’s still going on now. I found that network really supportive and found audiences were keen to see more, so I thought about screening some things down here as an event. Once I got involved in the programming side I realised there was so much more people were interested in and it kind of just turned into a festival. When I started it with Rebecca Thomson we never intended to have a festival but it just grew and people wanted to come so five years later we’re still going.
Diabolique: Do you have a specific way of working when it comes to the selection process?
Kidd: I guess we’re different to some festivals as what we’re looking for is either genre such as horror, or an interesting interpretation of that idea, more arthouse for example. We try for a balance between the choice of films, but also a range of experience. I don’t see the point in just programming the most dazzling short films that are around at the moment, polished and perfect, and screening in heaps of festivals. They’re great, but it’s about trying to find films that haven’t had the exposure and maybe are a little different. There are lots of aspects to it. It can be tricky, but in the end, I go back to gut instinct and if something speaks to me.
Diabolique: Was it always the plan to have a female-centric film festival?
Kidd: It was always that way, and Rebecca and I really wanted to highlight women in the genre. It’s not that women were being kept out of making horror, but just that women were disadvantaged in getting into the industry as a whole. It’s interesting because when we do make genre we do it from a different perspective. I feel that quite often it’s just dismissed for various reasons, such as not really horror or too arthouse. Women have always been a big part of horror, but very often women’s stories are told from the view or a male director and we need more from a female director. At the moment we’re only getting half the picture.
Diabolique: Do you think there’s been a cultural shift with the likes of Alice Lowe, Jennifer Kent, Kate Shenton and Roxanne Benjamin making horror films now, very visceral films? Or is it just a time when we have a lot of female genre writers and directors?
Kidd: I think that it’s about good people getting a chance now. I think people in filmmaking and genre circles have been talking about this for a long time. There was this master of horror thing for a while which gave the impression that horror was just something make directors did. I think it’s a conscious attempt to shift thinking towards hiring female writers and directors. There are also a lot of independent producers who just seemed to work with male directors, but who are now maybe looking a little harder to see who else is out there.
Diabolique: Could you talk about The Attic Lab a little as it sounds fascinating?
Kidd: It started last year. This has always been a festival about filmmakers; about getting them there and getting them together as a group. It’s partly about supporting directors, and also producers and writers, and offers mentoring in an intensive environment over three days. It’s also about providing an excuse for them all to come together and gives them permission to devote themselves to a collective meeting of minds. There are around ten women who we’ve invited to come down, all people who have shown a commitment to making genre films. We need to be more collective. It’s getting together and finding ways to work things out, rather than struggling along on our own. Genre is also very underdeveloped in Australia and doesn’t do so well at the box office so we need to get that momentum going.
Diabolique: You have a project you’re working on yourself we understand.
Kidd: Yeah, it’s partly funded by Screen Australia. I guess we’d call it a post-apocalyptic, psycho-biddy thriller. It’s based on those horrors such as Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). It’s taking similar characters and placing them in a more intense environment.
Diabolique: Is there a film in this year’s festival you would recommend people keep an eye out for if they can’t attend?
Kidd: It’s actually a UK film called The Book Of Birdie (2017). It has a clear, unique vision and is very strange. A young girl gets sent to a convent to live with nuns after something bad happens, but you can’t really say too much about it. It’s clear that the director is a big talent to watch for the future. I’ll be very interested to see what our audience makes of it.