The Etheria Film Festival, or Etheria Film Night, is an annual film festival to showcase the latest short films by female directors. The first Festival was founded in 2014 by Heidi Honeycutt, Stacy Pippi Hammon, and Kayley Viteo. It has been held in California ever since. The festival features films from several different genres including science fiction, horror, thriller, fantasy, dark comedy, and action. Etheria is hosted by the non-profit organization, American Cinemateque.
Every year at the annual premiere one woman who has had great influence and achievements within the industry is chosen to be presented The Etheria Film Night Inspiration Award. This year’s honoree was the television writer and current showrunner for AMC’s popular horror series The Walking Dead, Angela Kang. The Etheria Film Night 2021 edition is currently streaming nine exclusively hand-picked short films on Shudder from the 25th of June to the 25th of July.
The festival gives a chance to show off and promote the diversity of these talented female directors in the hopes of assisting them in gaining valuable attention via publicity. Some of these films are passion projects that have taken years in the making process due to different personal and economic issues.
However, regardless of any adversities that these women have faced, they have managed to trudge ahead in order to make their dreams a reality. I think that it is a brilliant opportunity for these women who are given a unique fighting chance at gaining sponsorship and recognition in a usually male dominated industry. So, without further ado, let’s dive into this year’s pick of the crop at the Etheria Film Festival.
*The Following article breakdown the ins and outs of each short, make sure you check out the fest or yourself then come back here and see if you agree with our ratings!
1. The Gray
Directed by Myra Aquino
Runtime: 9.30 minutes
Perez is a deceased police officer who works in purgatory. He processes the souls to see whether or not they qualify for heaven or hell based on their lifetime of deeds. However, one day his 20-year-old son shows up at his desk for processing. A hilarious scene ensues after the happiness at their reunion is short lived, when the father realizes that his son hasn’t lived the best life. His son tries to rebel and there is a particularly funny scene where he flicks a switch in the office that turns out to be a fire alarm. The irony of this is that everyone that works there is already dead and yet utter chaos and panic breaks out! The father eventually decides to break all morality protocols and send his son back to earth in order to take care of his mother.
The moral of the story is the ultimate sacrifice for the ones that you love. Perez was willing to sacrifice his hereafter in heaven and become bound by an eternity in hell in order for his son to have a second chance at life again.
Aquino discussed that her influence for the plot of the film came from her Catholic upbringing and the need to uphold the morality codes set since her foundation as a youth. Growing up as a daughter to immigrant parents, she understood the sacrifices that her parents made in order to improve her quality of life and ensure that she stood a better chance in society.
Even though I am not a parent myself, I can understand what it is like to sacrifice and put your wishes aside for the sake of the person that you love to be happy. This is an absolutely beautiful fantasy short film that touched my heart in so many ways. That’s why it deserves perfect score from me!
2. Who Goes There?
Directed by Astrid Thorvaldsen
Runtime: 23 minutes
Who Goes There? turned out to be another perfect score from myself. Set during the late 1800’s in Minnesota where many immigrants came to settle in the wild west, hoping to live the American dream. Unfortunately, many are unable to stick it out in the isolated harsh wilderness and sometimes extreme weather conditions.
The story follows three young Norwegian women, Ingrid, Liv and Alda. However, Alda is terribly sick being stricken with intense fever, covered in blisters, and coughing up blood. Liv is terrified to be in the same room as Alda fearing that the sickness would spread, much to Ingrid’s discontent. Suddenly, a strange man appears on their land begging for water and seemingly on the brink of death. Ingrid provides him with water and informs him that he needs to leave by sunset. Alda unexpectedly takes a turn for the worst and is now unconscious. The stranger reveals himself to be a travelling Doctor and in Ingrid’s desperation to help her sick sister, she allows him to enter the house in order to examine Alda. Liv is against this and senses that something is not quite right with the stranger. But, by the time Ingrid is wised up, things have already gone too far and there is a point of return.
The tying up of the horror element into an isolated environment, combined with the struggles and difficulty involved in taking a gamble to make it in a country that may or may not be accepting, is brilliantly terrifying. There would exist a distrust of anyone who is not within the family unit since strangers would almost always pose an immediate threat to those you love.
I enjoyed this one immensely because the director seemed to more than grasp the concept of the difficulties in trying to survive in a strange country at the risk of maybe losing everything, and the inclusion of supernatural elements tilt ups the terror factor a million notches!
3. You Will Never Be Back
Directed by Mónica Mateo
Runtime: 13.30 minutes
Genre: Science Fiction/Horror
A couple, Ana and David, are getting ready to move in together and Ana makes it clear that she is uncomfortable with the building that David currently lives in. They say goodbye to each other, and Ana promises to return to help complete the packing for the move. However, while Ana is walking down the hallway away from David’s apartment, she approaches a weird, electrified blue light that turns into a small portal.
After her encounter with this strange anomaly, nothing is what it seems anymore to Ana. When the anomaly disappears, she sees a stressed, scantily glad, dirty version of herself that approaches her and informs her that she will never be back again. Freaked out by the encounter, Ana runs back to David’s apartment and is panicked when her key won’t work in the door. A different looking David opens the door and has no idea who she is and has a totally different, pregnant woman in his apartment. After a perturbing encounter with a neighbor who also doesn’t recognize her, she takes out her cellular and dials her mother. To her abject horror, her mother has no idea who she is either.
Now things begin to get clearer for the audience…somehow her very existence has either been erased from the timeline or she was projected into another timeline where she doesn’t exist. Another possibility is that she got caught in a time loop that caused her existence to be written out of the timeline. Any one of these theories can work because the possibilities are infinite. Got it? Made a little time travel joke there.
Regardless, this director has ventured into the sphere of science fiction/horror. I love the ambiguity and mind bending possibilities that this one executed. Nothing is scarier than coming to the realization that you no longer exist, and your loved ones no longer know who the heck you are. Then what is your purpose in this life if not to love and be loved. Nothing would make you really begin to question your very existence on this planet faster than being unrecognized by people you love. It would feel like a giant kick directly to the gut. I can see myself wanting to see this story if it were to be picked up and expanded into a full-length movie, that’s for sure.
4. Polvotron 500
Directed by Silvia Conesa
Runtime: 11 minutes
Genre: Science Fiction
This is the second Spanish science fiction in the 2021 showcase and set in a futuristic world of 2065. My only issue with this film is purely in the presentation of the central location. It doesn’t present the future in good light whatsoever. The location is over the top filthy, definitely unhygienic and made it extremely difficult during the first few minutes to ignore the disgusting nature of the surroundings in order to focus on the main story. But, once I got over the ick factor, I realized that the story is actually particularly decent.
The location is a holographic sex booth, however, which a man named Charly enters. He has no intention of engaging with the hologram and instead he was just looking for a place to sleep. In error, a hologram named Niky gets activated in the booth and even though the man is perturbed at this at first, Niky’s charming personality shines through. They get caught up in a conversation that hits some extremely emotional tones of loneliness and the absence of having a person for a connection.
The odd and alarming aspect of the fact that the hologram exhibited human emotions raises the question as to whether or not the hologram is actually connected to a live person. Niky expressed unhappiness with her job and a longing to feel the outside world again.
Is she in fact a real person trapped and forced into this situation? The conclusion promises not only the beginning of a bond being formed between Niky and Charly, but maybe the possibility of rescuing Niky. This, combined with the catchy beat of the futuristic soundtrack of the end credits, succeeds in peaking the audience’s interest. This was an unexpectedly good surprise!
5. Eye Exam
Directed by Aislinn Clarke
Runtime: 2.30 minutes
Eye Exam is the shortest submission of the selections. The story is centered around a timid, middle aged woman named Mrs. White who attends a free eye examination. The smart use of a situation that is normally riddled with anxiety can easily be turned into a terrifying situation, especially if you are defining the flow of your visit by the attitude of the medical practitioner. Some doctors can be particularly intimidating and do absolutely nothing to provide any type of ease in an already stressful situation for their patients. In this case, the free exam came with something significantly more sinister attached to it.
The overall pacing and atmosphere of this extremely short film was more than successful enough at providing a heaping buildup of terror in a neat, small package that wastes absolutely no time in getting to the point.
Directed by Katy Erin
Runtime: 7 minutes
Genre: Science Fiction
Another science fiction entry, but this one has got a wacky, comedic tilt to the story including a little nod to LGBTQ community. The film opens on a young lesbian couple about to sit down and spend some time binge watching a television show. When one of them leaves to go to the bathroom and enters the bedroom, an older version of her girlfriend presently sitting down in the living room, waiting on her return, appears to her out of the blue. The future version of her present girlfriend tries to explain to her that she became a physicist after graduating MIT and dedicated her time to research before stumbling upon the ability of time travel.
The future version of her girlfriend warns her not to break up with her because her discovery will cause the future of the world to slide into utter chaos and eventually the imminent deployment of nuclear weapons destroying the earth as we know. So basically, the fate of the earth depends on them not breaking up? I told you it was wacky but pleasantly amusing at the same time.
While the ending is particularly hilarious, the story does reveal that ultimately man’s obsession to control the past, present and future will spell the end of humanity as we know it. This point really does strike a chord, especially when you have so many recent events to share comparisons with.
Overall, it was an amusing little piece that was short and sweet. It gets directly to the point and executes it neatly. I read a little piece about the director that said she not only shot this using a meagre budget and friends, using mobile phones to record the entire film. As a fun note, Katy Erin is also an actor who has appeared on Showtime’s Shameless series.
7. The Fourth Wall
Directed by Kelsey Bollig
Runtime: 11.30 minutes
A stage actress named Chloé is unhappy with herself and most likely her career as she prepares herself to go out on stage to perform ironically in Shakespeare’s comedic play A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Her annoyance with her co-actors obvious lack of talent, along with their over inflated conceited egos, threatens to derail Chloé mentally as she begins to suffer from severe nosebleeds before going out onto the stage for her scene.
When she eventually goes out and freezes during her performance, it is the last nail in the coffin, so to speak, as she has a full-blown mental breakdown and begins to murder her co-actors before the ignorant audience’s eyes. The film is a brief foray into a desperate person’s anxiety-riddled mind.
We all have our moments where we are truly unhappy with the direction that our life and career path has taken us, and this film is a prime example of how important it is to address these issues, perhaps seeking professional advice before we make an irrational decision that can cause us to suffer negative consequences. But of course, it is transmitted to the audience in a brilliantly satirical way to emphasize the contrasting light-hearted environment of the comedic play along with the oblivious, frivolity of Chloé’s co-actors against the darkness looming in Chloé’s conflicted mind.
A decent effort from Bollig who clearly understands a thing or two about a descent into darkness
Directed by Ciani Rey Walker
Runtime: 18 minutes
The events depicted in this short film took place on the night, right after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination on April 4,1968 and used the riots that followed as a plot device. The story begins with two African American sisters that couldn’t be more different from each other. The younger diligently studies American law in the hopes of becoming a lawyer.
The elder is the more aggressive one and is one of the leading members of the Black Panther Party. Having witnessed so many friends and her father getting shot and beaten to death during peaceful protests, the assassination of MLK Jr. marked the end of the strategy of non-violence and fanned the flames of vengeance as well as frustration.
This situation was no less different and the sisters butt heads due to their varying opinions on what the counteractive measure should be. However, differences had to be put aside almost immediately when one of their close friends, a young man that they grew up with is savagely beaten by a white, male police officer during the riots that night. Co-incidentally the young man’s best friend is a young white man who shoots the police officer in his leg and kidnaps him by throwing him into their basement.
What begins is a cat and mouse game that eventually reveals the manipulation of the police officer in trying to deny the fact that he did beat the young African American man as it turned out fatally.
The film depicts a rather violent period in the history of the United States apart from the massacre of the Native Americans for their land and the fight for the abolition of slavery which sparked the Civil War. The fact that history seems to be repeating itself is the most terrifying aspect when you compare it to recent events developing in the United States.
I do appreciate a film that uses real historical events to remind us of either not repeating the mistakes of the past or try to be more considerate in our decisions, especially if you find yourself in a position of authority and people are looking to you for the answers.
Directed by Anna Chazelle
Runtime: 10 minutes
Genre: Science Fiction/Horror
Set in a post-apocalyptic world, a young woman has to stay on a literal narrow path without stepping off otherwise she will be in some kind of imminent danger. It is never revealed what caused the apocalyptic climate in the first place, but the opening scene is already slightly disturbing in itself where we see the blurred figure of a woman who is not on the path but is screaming and pleading with the main protagonist for help while she ignores the woman and walks away. We do see other figures who are off the narrow path that look at her quite menacingly with an almost predatory-like gaze.
It is clear that the main protagonist’s main objective is survival and while on her path, the figures may be a representative of a sinister presence that is hell bent on making her stray off the path to make her vulnerable enough for attack. One of the figures is clearly a person that she shared an emotional connection with, in the past, and they succeed in distracting and disorienting her emotionally enough to get her off the narrow path. She finds herself displaced and can no longer locate the path once she has left it. Now a mysterious creature comes out of the dark and begins to physically attack her. The main protagonist seems to become another disoriented person being stalked by this vicious creature.
I can only surmise that the creature is a metaphor for fear of the unknown when the environment changes drastically or we are faced with a situation that threatens to change our lives permanently. We either face our fears or end up wandering around like a lost soul without a destination.
While it was an interesting premise and kind of fitting due to the current situation that the world is experiencing, the film editing is a bit too abrupt. Furthermore, the concept will definitely be lost on mainstream audiences. The sudden ending just leaves me with tons of questions which is not a challenge that I enjoy from a movie, no matter the runtime.
This concludes my ranking of the Etheria Film Festival showcase of 2021, notably streamed exclusively for Shudder. For those of you who are planning on taking a peek at this year’s festival submissions, you still have a chance to vote online for your favorite to win the Annual Audience Award. You can vote online via Etheria’s website or scan the available QR code to enter your pick. The winner will be announced on the 1st of August!
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