The Fantasia Festival’s Born of Woman shorts showcase is invariably one of the festival’s gleaming highlights, featuring a range of innovative and entertaining shorts by female filmmakers from around the world who eschew the usual male gaze for a perspective that is often far less predictable. The 2019 edition was no exception, with entries running the gamut from vampire thriller to sexual awakening to tragic science fiction. Here are seven incredible highlights:
The Boogeywoman (2019, USA)
In her award-winning short The Boogeywoman, Erica Scoggins delivers both a nostalgic coming-of-age story and a masterclass on creeping dread. Sam (Amélie Höferle) is finally experiencing her long-awaited first period, though the timing isn’t ideal—she is at the local roller rink with her friends (including the young man she has her eye on). An inexplicable electrical outage sparks a discussion about The Boogeywoman, a local spectre said to steal men’s souls. When a cruel friend’s barbed remarks cause Sam to leave the rink alone, she finds herself faced not only with the town’s urban legend in the flesh, but with her own burgeoning desires.
Gorgeously filmed and sensitively directed, The Boogeywoman made me wish that it were a proof-of-concept project for an upcoming feature film telling the rest of Sam’s story. It’s no surprise that the short won awards for Best Director and Best Thriller at both the Queen Palm Film Festival and the Hyperwave Film Awards. With The Boogeywoman, Erica Scoggins proves herself to be a name to watch.
Lili (2019, Netherlands)
Shot in one take, Lili is a fascinating exploration of the craft—that of both acting and filmmaking. Lisa Smit turns in an absolutely phenomenal performance as Lili, a young actress whose audition grows gradually more uncomfortable as The Man she is auditioning for (Derek De Lint) continues to test (and transgress) her boundaries. Writer and director Yfke Van Berckelaer expertly captures the particular discomfort and sense of helplessness that will be recognized by many in the audience, making the short’s cathartic finale all the more satisfying.
Wakey Wakey (2018, USA)
Mary Dauterman examines the supreme frustration of unequal emotional labour in relationships through her female protagonist’s surreal bad dream. Clocking in at under four minutes, the film manages to convey all that we need to know about the dysfunctional relationship at its core.
The Original (2018, UK)
Mexican filmmaker Michelle Garza Cervera’s The Original is a striking speculative fiction drama shot in black and white and laced with heartbreak. As Alana (Ariana Lebrón) faces the anguish of slowly losing her partner Gwendolyn (Rebecca Layoo) to a degenerative disease, she places all of her hopes on an experimental (and highly untested) medical procedure administered by a reluctant doctor (Ingrid Evans). The decision to risk the procedure winds up being only the first terrifying decision she has to make in the 11-minute film.
Sometimes, I Think About Dying (2019, USA)
Stefanie Abel Horowitz’s 2019 Sundance selection Sometimes, I Think About Dying is the dark, sometimes funny, always poignant story of Fran (Katy Wright-Mead), a lonely office worker dealing with suicidal ideation and social awkwardness. When her coworker Robert (Jim Sarbh) asks her out on a date, Fran struggles with letting herself be vulnerable and create a connection with him, triggering an increase in intrusive thoughts—Fran has devoted so much time imagining what it would be like to die, but developing feelings for Robert means potentially making the choice to live. Filmed in muted, washed-out colours and featuring extensive voiceover, the short effectively draws us into Fran’s inner turmoil and emotional state.
The Hitchhiker (2018, Australia)
A young woman hiding her terminal diagnosis gets a possible second chance in Adele Vuko’s road trip horror-comedy The Hitchhiker. Jade (Liv Hewson) is on her way to a music festival with her two best friends (Claudia Pickering and Isaro Kayitesi) when she makes the decision to pick up a mysterious hitchhiking stranger (Brooke Satchwell) who seems to have some secrets of her own. After a rough encounter with an aggressive criminal (Christiaan Van Vuuren) during a pit stop, Jade and the hitchhiker discover each other’s secrets and the hitchhiker makes Jade a horrifying—yet very intriguing—offer. Claudia Pickering provides standout comic relief, which serves as an excellent counterweight to the short’s heavier themes.
The Girl in the Hallway (2019)
Riveting and heart-wrenching, Girl in the Hallway is a stunning animated short based on a piece of slam poetry written and performed by storyteller Jamie DeWolf and recorded at Snap Judgment live in San Francisco (backed by live music composed by Alex Mandel). Produced, animated, and edited over the course of three years by Ottawa-based self-taught artist Valerie Barnhart, the film relays the true-life story of Xiana Fairchild—a young girl who fell victim to notorious child predator and serial killer Curtis Dean Anderson in the late 1990s—as experienced by her neighbour, DeWolf. It’s impossible to watch the short and not experience rage and sorrow alongside DeWolf as he leads the audience through his evocative witness testimony, lamenting the shortsightedness and disinterest that led an entire community to fail an innocent little girl.
Girl in the Hallway is a searing indictment of the neglect that leads to the nightmarishly high rates of murdered and missing Indigenous women and the fact that, as the short reveals, homicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for girls between the ages of 10 to 24.
DeWolf states: “Not all girls make it out of the forest. Some stories children shouldn’t hear.” Girl in the Hallway is a story that all adults should hear. Seek it out any way that you can.