Tabitha Denholm’s New Film Festival Is Part Creative Experience, Part Summer Camp, and Entirely in Celebration of Women in Film

How many female directors can you think of off the top of your head? If your answer is fewer than five, you’re not alone, although Tabitha Denholm is on a mission to challenge and change that. After making the jump from music videos to commercials, the British born director found herself bumping up against archaic industry biases and cliche misconceptions about women in film, both in front of and behind the camera. Her response came in the form of Women Under the Influence, a collective community that wholeheartedly celebrates the achievements of female filmmakers by applauding the groundbreaking trailblazers that paved the way and supporting and spotlighting the bright creative talents coming up today.

Dovetailing with the surging strength of the Me Too movement, Women Under the Influence (lovingly referred to as WUTI) aims to push back on the film industry’s misconceptions and underrepresentation by raising awareness about the sheer number of women storytellers creating powerful films that are brave and funny and beautiful and bold, that shine a light on diverse perspectives, that bend genres and defy gender and inspire us all to see the world a little differently. Through flawlessly curated content and community events such as a monthly screening series, WUTI has emerged as the de facto platform for women in cinema to connect with and celebrate one another, as well as to advocate for change in Hollywood’s deeply unbalanced gender hierarchy.

Their latest undertaking is their most exciting yet: a three day film festival in the magical mountain town of Idyllwild, CA, an eclectic enclave of nature and creativity tucked away in the pristine mountain range above Los Angeles. Part creative experience and part summer camp vibes,  WUTI Goes IdyllWILD goes above and beyond the typical film festival format, offering an undeniably stacked line up of visionary cinematic masterpieces such as Beau Travail, Orlando, Wayne’s World, and a special 20th anniversary screening of Boys Don’t Cry with director Kimberly Pierce.

Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s will make an appearance to discuss the art of writing music for films, Emma Roberts will host a live book club, director Janicza Bravo will delve into gender representation in films, director Nana Ghana will screen her stunning, sprawling experimental documentary “LA Woman Rising,” and LA based artist Alex Prager will debut her latest Lynchian ode to the city of Angels, the strikingly surreal “Play the Wind.”

Homages to beloved female icons of cinema are scheduled alongside screenings spotlighting up and coming creatives, with programming touching on everything from art house to activism and comedy to cutting edge technology. A multi-faceted celebration of the stories of groundbreaking women in cinema both past and present, it’s bound to be a weekend to remember. Below, we chat with Tabitha about WUTI’s origin story, why WUTI Goes IdyllWILD was inspired by music festivals, and her advice for women looking to carve out space for their work in the film industry. Get your tickets for WUTI Goes IdyllWILD here.

Q&A

Live FAST: Hi Tabitha! Tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do.

Tabitha Denholm: I am a video director with a passion for cinema directed by women, and I am currently turning my passion into some kind of reality with our festival WUTI goes IdyllWILD that I am hosting with my sisters in arms, Meredith Rogers and Laura Rule.

LF: You are the founder and driving force behind Women Under the Influence, a community that celebrates cinema directed by women. Give us a little insight into WUTI’s origin story. How did it come to life?

TD: As I started to move from directing music videos to commercials, I bumped up against the unconscious bias of the industry. I was frustrated by the lack of knowledge people had in the industry about cinema driven by women, and the way that lack of knowledge fed into that unconscious bias. So I started to share heroic stories about women directors and host events celebrating them. I wanted to do events that would be interesting for everyone, not just the people who were already onboard.

LF: Women Under the Influence aims to share the stories of women in cinema in order to overturn archaic industry bias. What misconceptions is WUTI actively proving wrong?

TD: The first misconception is the fact that there are way more women directors, historically, than people realize. It is always exciting to shine a light on them as it broadens the scope of cinema history.

Agnès Varda’s “Lions Love (…and Lies)”

LF: What is WUTI’s ultimate aim or goal?

TD: We want to establish our festival, WUTI goes IdyllWILD, as part of the annual calendar – a fun weekend that all kinds of people attend and look forward to. We also want to take our events to cities all over the world, building bridges between different creative communities.

LF: Tell us about WUTI Goes IdyllWILD, the three day film festival you’re hosting this weekend in Idyllwild. What was the idea behind it?

TD: The idea with WUTI goes IdyllWILD was to do a film festival more inspired by a music festival than a traditional film fest. This is not a submissions festival. It’s a curated weekend where you can have all kinds of experiences, from art house to activism, from comedy to cutting edge new cinema.

LF: The festival focuses on culture, discovery, and community, with a stellar line up featuring industry veterans alongside emerging creative talent. Is that sense of intergenerational community at the core of WUTI?

TD: I absolutely feel an intergenerational approach is key to the ethos of WUTI. I love the energy that is created by mixing together different ages, perspectives, and levels of experience. To me, that’s when you get the fun dynamic energy.

Nana Ghana’s “LA Woman Rising”

LF: What about the weekend are you most excited for?

TD: It’s so hard to say! I’m excited for Karen O, Janicza Bravo, Alex Prager, Alia Shawkat, the women of the LA Rebellion – so many things! In all honesty, I’m really excited for our party on Friday night. Our notoriously chic organizers teamed up with the local American Legion in Idyllwild to throw the party and it has resulted in the most random but wonderful group of people, and the party is open to all!

LF: Why was it important for WUTI Goes IdyllWILD to go beyond the typical format found at film festivals?

TD: I love film festivals, but they are essentially industry events designed to sell movies. This is not a submissions festival, this is a curated weekend for story lovers designed to have the broadest and most energizing range of experiences. I imagine there aren’t too many other weekends where you will find Orlando, Blood Diner, Wayne’s World, Beau Travail, and Alex Prager’s new short film on the same bill!

LF: What advice would you give to women in the film industry attempting to carve out a place for their work?

TD: My advice is always this: don’t wait. Try and do whatever it is you are trying to do under your own steam. If you can’t find the film festival of your dreams – make your own! Although this advice doesn’t really translate if what you want to do is direct a Marvel adventure movie…

Alex Prager’s “Play the Wind”

LF: Do you feel that the film industry is changing in light of Me Too? What steps need to be taken in order to further push back against bias and ensure a more equal and inclusive playing field?

TD: Clearly, it has become a hot topic and very exciting strides have been made. For example, some film festivals have become very proactive about ensuring more gender parity, but the statistics are still woeful when you are looking at big budget films. The danger is that it becomes a trend that incurs a backlash – it is all of our jobs to ensure lasting change and to hold companies and studios accountable. There have been so many “Years of the Woman” in the past!

LF: What is a film that changed everything for you and why?

TD: Desperately Seeking Susan was the first film I saw in which I could feel the exhilarating guiding hand of a woman. You have a very different connection to a film like that, where you don’t have to turn off the part of your brain that is shouting, “What are all these women doing in this film? I don’t recognize them as people!”

LF: What advice would you give your younger self?

TD: I didn’t start directing until I was 33 because I imagined no one would ever have any interest in anything I had to say. So I would get my 17 year old self, put a camera in her hand, and tell her that all you have to do to be a filmmaker is make films! GET ON WITH IT!

Agnès Varda’s “Lions Love (…and Lies)”

WUTI Goes IdyllWILD runs from September 20th-22nd. Get tickets here, and keep up with Women Under the Influence here

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