Martha Michael | Lunafest: The Best Films, Bar None

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I attended an event two weeks ago that really raised the bar – LUNA bar, that is. And it was delicious. 

Female film festival Lunafest has a tagline that includes the same words I use to describe this column: by, for and about women. 

Held at the Canyon Theatre Guild, it was a screening of eight short, female-focused films, and each entry had deep messaging, but some of them were also funny. There was a big crowd-pleaser called “The Final Show,” in which a woman who has lived a long life is deciding which of her earthly love interests she will take with her to eternity. 

One of my favorites was called “Ur Dead to Me,” in which two young women pedal around New Zealand operating a dead flower delivery service. Each bouquet is delivered with a negative message, which the young woman reads aloud. Some involve a dressing down from a spurned lover while another is a parent’s lecture to an ungrateful adult son. It was an interesting business idea, to say the least.

Another one with hilarious irony involved a mother and father of a teen who question their “good parenting” when their 14-year-old daughter appears to NOT be gay. 

The festival tackled serious topics as well, including inner-city racism and immigration stories.

Established in 2000 by LUNA, the makers of the Whole Nutrition Bar, Lunafest connects women, their stories and their causes through film. The traveling festival spotlights the work of a diverse array of talented female filmmakers with intelligent, funny and thought-provoking themes.

The local Zonta Club has sponsored Santa Clarita’s Lunafest event for the past nine years and one of the organizations benefiting from festival receipts is Chicken and Egg Pictures, which advocates for gender equality within the film industry. 

“Chicken and Egg Pictures strives to create and build community at every turn,” the nonprofit’s website explains. “As we evolve, we are extending our work to create an even broader, richer and mutually supportive network. … These partnerships offer Chicken and Egg Pictures opportunities to elevate and celebrate women in the film industry – and to ensure that women are active and vocal participants in industry conversations around artistic, social and political issues.”

Six of this year’s films were directed by women from California, four of them in Los Angeles. And that was just one of the features that local Zontian Phyllis Walker considered unique.

“The subject matter of all eight films were better this year. They had a wide range of topics – some were sad, and some were funny. I thought it was entertaining,” said Walker, Zonta’s media relations and LifeForward chair. “And to see the whole room filled was so uplifting. The speakers were so dynamic.” 

One of the evening’s speakers, Stephanie Seldin Howard, completed a documentary in 2017 called “Weight of Honor.” She focused on those who become full-time caregivers to their service members who return, injured, from Iraq and Afghanistan. Howard’s project moved forward after she came in contact with Chicken and Egg Pictures at the Sundance Film Festival. 

“I think it’s remarkable that a company wants to use its brand to create a film festival that travels across the country – that’s quite unusual,” she said. “But also, it helps nonprofits like Zonta who are fundraising for women’s issues. Lunafest and Zonta … I can’t thank you enough.”

Howard also thanked Chicken and Egg Pictures. 

“In 2005, Chicken and Egg became one of the few grant makers supporting female documentarians,” she said. “They saw what I, as a filmmaker, knew. It was almost impossible for women, especially as first-time directors, to win grants that keep our documentary productions going.”

The second speaker was Santa Clarita resident Marguerite Happy, a stuntwoman and actress since the 1970s. She contrasted today’s stunt work with the industry climate of yesterday, saying women who gave birth got edged out of the system, sometimes for fear an injury would affect the stuntwoman’s family. 

“We’re not daredevils. We attack each stunt with much forethought, calculation and safety,” she said, adding that opportunities have grown for women in the field. “In the beginning I was able to double a Native American, Hispanic, Asian … heck, I even played men in the past. Back in the day, stunt coordinators often called in small men to double women. Nowadays, the stunt coordinator must call in a man to double a man, a woman to double a woman, and they must be of the same nationality. We’ve come a long way.” 

Women continue to blaze new trails with the help of companies like LUNA and nonprofits like Chicken and Egg Pictures. I advise you to look for Lunafest tickets next fall, because it’s the most entertaining female film festival I’ve seen in this town, bar none. 

Martha Michael is a Signal staff writer.

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