I had the delight of Skype-interviewing Shannon Lark, COO of the Viscera Organization, a non-profit dedicated to promoting and supporting women filmmakers in the horror genre. Her passion and enthusiasm for her work is inspiring; check out what she has to say below then learn more about the incredible achievements of the Viscera Organization here.
Karin Crighton: First I wanted to say I was so excited to learn about Viscera; with Hurt Locker winning the Oscar for direction, I feel we're entering an excellent era in filmmaking for women.
Shannon Lark: Yay! We are so happy you discovered us! And yes, we agree.
KC: There's a brief bio on the website about how the festival was born; can you give any more background on how the idea for Viscera was conceived?
SL: The Viscera Film Festival is really what started it all, and the idea for the festival struck me very quickly. I had an epiphany in a park in San Francisco while shooting a film that had a female cast and crew. That night I went home and the festival formed in my mind. I felt very deeply that women needed a professional platform for their work to be exhibited, a space for them to assist and support each other, and for the public to understand what women are dealing with and have dealt with in the film industry. There's still an insane amount of discrimination, and it needs to stop. The VFF was created very quickly and it started us off, but now we have evolved into the "Viscera Organization", which is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit that is dedicated to assisting female genre filmmakers and educating the public. VFF is one of our many services, but we provide more than that now.
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KC: What challenges have you and the team faced expanding and sustaining the Viscera Organization?
SL: The most major challenge is money, really. Collectively, the staff (now over 25 volunteers) works their asses off to help these filmmakers and obtain sponsors and assistance. Each year we get over $300,000 of "in-kind" services and products. That's sponsors and artists donating items like software, t-shirts, handmade stuff, etc. That's partners and venues that open their doors for us and screen these films domestically and internationally. We receive an overwhelming amount of support from the public-men and women and the staff is absolutely amazing.
By the way, are you proofreading my answers? [laughs]
Another challenge has been that we are simply growing SO quickly. We have expanded to encompass so many services for not only filmmakers but for female artists as well. We keep saying "okay, that's enough", and then we add something else because there is such a need for it. Our staff numbers have simply exploded and it can be very much like a rollercoaster. It blows me away that it's taken on a life of its own. It's an entity, like some sort of weird alien like creature with multiple heads.
KC: A chimera of creativity!
SL: Our Board of Directors is stunning, however. We seriously kick ass – they are the glue holding it all together. It's great because they actually give a shit. That doesn't happen with every company/organization. Everyone is here because they believe in the movement, so it's not about me, or even about Viscera. It's about equal rights and not only assisting these genuinely brilliant artists, but assisting genre cinema as a whole. Wait. Is whole a word? Jesus. Sorry – I just got in from a long drive. Apparently, that makes me retarded. [typing] Yes, whole is a word.
KC: All of that is ABSOLUTELY going in the article.
SL: The idea behind that is the more women who are making films and stories from their own perspective, the more well-rounded cinema will be in general. That means both men and women benefit. The viewers benefit. There are more jobs. There's more money. Everyone does a dance party.
KC: I have found a severe lack of dance parties in the struggle for gender equality.
SL: [Laughs] I know!! That really needs to change.
KC: How has the reception to the festival varied as it traveled around the country and world?
SL: Oo! Great question! Each geographical area is different and each audience is different. We have learned a lot about what people want based on our screenings. We've screened at universities, traditional cinema houses, coffee shops, art galleries, etc. Educated audiences want longer films. They want the more evolved stories that pull them in and make them think and digest. They really get into films that are about women dealing with horror every day. Midwest audiences love gore – they love the quick, easy, fun films that explode all over the screen. Many of the international events we've done don't want the American-made films. They prefer European, Canadian, or Australian films. The wonderful thing we have discovered is that women don't make the same type of films. The term "chick flick" is ridiculously insulting. "Chick flicks" are generally written by men, directed by men, and aimed at a female audience. We hope that the Viscera Organization is proving that many women don't want that type of film, and they don't want to make that type of film either. We have films that run across the board. Women filmmakers make films about men. About women. About truly disturbing situations. They make comedy. They do experimental. They do animation. Women are so different from each other – there is no black and white idea of who they are and what they like. And it should be that way! We have over 100 films in a private online archive for press and event programmers, and the variety of the films is truly massive. It's a bit overwhelming.
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KC: What's the best feedback you've received from participants or viewers so far?
SL: Besides telling us what an amazing lineup we have (much of that is thanks to Heidi Honeycutt, our Director of Programming), it's that they had NO idea women were still struggling in the film industry, that they were never really aware of female directed films – until we showed it to them. For the most part, general society tends to think that women have equal rights in Hollywood. There's a standard idea that inequality went out with the '50s, so it can be ignored easily. It thrills me to no end when audiences tell us that they will start renting/watching/buying female directed and/or produced films. Their awareness expanded by the quality and thought provoking content we were able to provide. They get excited to see women pushing through those social constrictions. Many audience members will also mention their daughters – how they want to assist them and get them involved with us. This is something that blows me away. We started the "Fresh Blood" category with the Viscera Film Festival, which is an under 18 category. So it's girls making horror movies. In 2012, we had a 13-year-old filmmaker be honored at the Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Blvd for her film titled "Sybling Rivalry". Who knows what she'll do next?
KC: That is incredibly exciting to hear/read. You're really paving a path for tomorrow's female filmmakers to follow!
SL: Thank you! We are also starting a mentoring program coming up, as well – give girls a chance to be mentored by a professional to make her very first film. As an actress and filmmaker myself I am contacted by young girls frequently – wanting to know how to make it as an actress. I always tell them to take their career in their own hands: learn the entire filmmaking process. Direct. Write. Produce. Do cinematography. Help out with catering. Hold the boom. Do anything and everything you can to learn how to make a movie. It will make you a better actress and you can take the power into your own hands – carve out your dreams and never wait for a producer on a white glittery horse to show up and make your dreams come true...cuz it ain't gonna happen. So the mentoring program and categories in our festivals is our contribution to the youth to get girls thinking for themselves and creating in leadership positions. That, in turn, makes strong powerful women.
KC: I'd venture to add a producer with that sort of offer isn't handing out Oscar roles. More likely a bikini-sized costume and a line about how great the male lead is in comparison.
SL: Exactly. I've walked into quite a few auditions and been scoffed at when i wouldn't get naked.
KC: [shocked silence]
SL: The industry can change, but women have to value themselves and take themselves seriously. Inequality is not to be blamed on the other gender – it takes all of us to gain respect for ourselves and for each other. That is a major thing that the Viscera Organization aims to provide: a professional platform for women and men to treat each other as equals and make badass cinema. I know...many young girls are taken advantage of in the film industry. I hope that we can assist them to be more knowledgeable and aware that they don't HAVE to do things they feel uncomfortable with. Exploitation is everyone's choice (at least in America), but knowledge and education is power. You might as well be calling the shots and telling your own stories instead of being used only for your body. Use your mind. Your talent. Your focus. Your drive. Bodies are great, but that's not all women are.
KC: Why start with the horror genre when establishing Viscera?
SL: I've been obsessed with the genre since I was four years old. Horror has heavily influenced my interests and I was directing horror film festivals and screening horror and cult films by the time I was 20 in the San Francisco area. The VFF was a natural evolvement from my experiences as a woman who loved watching horror films and loved making them. Also, there was very little support for women who loved horror films at the time. The Viscera Film Festival is the largest horror festival solely dedicated to female filmmakers. Horror is like the bastard adopted child that many women and feminists look down on – until they come to one of our festivals. There's this whole idea to the general viewer that horror should be shunned or not looked at. I believe that it's quite the opposite. It amazes me how people don't want to look at fucked up images and art – that it's considered "bad". However, storytelling is the oldest art form, starting with drawings on rock walls and storytellers around a campfire. And they have ALWAYS been bloody. They have always been full of strife and passion and love and loss. Cinema is now not only the most widespread medium for storytelling. And the horror genre is universal – it taps into fear, desire, terror, and our most extreme feelings. It's a wonderful thing to explore and intellectualize, and THAT's exactly what the VFF does. We fucking talk about it. We bring it to universities. We divulge into educational discourse about this material because it's important and shunning these images will create a monster – it gets bigger and causes more issues. How can we, as a society, as a species, learn and grow past violence if we refuse to accept that it's there? Cinema is a tool and the genre is an extreme mirror. It's fucking awesome. Oh my God, I went off. Curb me at any time!
KC: Hell, no! This is the stuff I love.
SL: Yay! [laughs] Okay.
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KC: Did you want to branch out to science fiction with Etheria Film Festival, or action with Full Throttle Film Festival, first? Or was the need and demand so great it pulled you in that direction?
SL: Not at first. We worked at bringing up the VFF for about 4 years, until it really got the support it needed from the public and filmmakers. Heidi Honeycutt created the Etheria Film Festival. She initially brought it up to Stacy Pippi Hammon and me at a Board of Directors meeting in 2011. She noticed we were receiving and finding some really good films that weren't *quite* horror – they were more science fiction or fantasy driven. We voted and the Etheria Film Festival was born. Full Throttle came about as easily. Each year we are receiving SO many more films by women, and for those submissions that aren't really hitting horror on the head but are still genre, we now have a place for them. Horror might have started us off and is still our largest running festival, but Etheria and Full Throttle can now serve female filmmakers in other genres. The great thing is that we have been wildly successful with the VFF, and these other festivals are following the same formula – and all these films are available on our ongoing tour.
KC: Who are your inspirational filmmakers? Men and/or women?
SL: For women, I would have to say Alice Guy and Ida Lupino. Ida is simply one of my favorites and she took on an industry at a time when women simply were pretty much not allowed to work in director positions. For men, Gaspar Noe, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury. I also love David Lynch and Peter Jackson. Oh! And two more women: Fran Walsh and Jennifer Lynch. Fran is Peter's wife and has co-written/co-produced many of his movies. And of course, ALL the filmmakers who send us their work. They really do inspire me the most. It's that ground-entry level filmmaker I'm most interested. It's amazing what they can do with no funds and limited resources.
KC: I have just one more question...when are you bringing Viscera to New York??
SL: Hah! That is the million dollar question!! We have been to Boston, but have yet to be in NYC. When we find a proper venue and a local organizer to bring a VFF to NY, we will totally be there. Our tour events work with local organizers, so we encourage East Coasters to contact us! The filmmakers would be elated.
KC: I will be elated as well.
SL: Sweet!! We will all be elated!
KC: Thank you so much for the chatting!
SL: Have a wonderful night.
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