The team behind Final Girls Berlin Film Festival are embracing their love of horror cinema to push the boundaries of what audiences expect from the genre. While the Final Girls Berlin Film Festival do have their home base in Berlin they are also extending screenings throughout Europe, the US and beyond. Brining not just the horror fan community together but also those who might otherwise not be introduced to the power and social relevance of what horror cinema can be.
Mission Statement: Final Girls Berlin Film Festival showcases horror cinema directed, written, or produced by women. We are committed to creating space for female voices and visions, whether monstrous or heroic, in the horror genre. We are lashing against the tokenization of women as objects and beautified victims, and are working towards the primacy of women as subjects in horror.
Playing in Berlin, Germany from January 31st 2019 – February 4th 2019 at b-ware! Ladenkino
The festival organizers are Sara Neidorf, Elinor Lewy, and Lara Mandelbrot. I sat down with Sara and Eli to talk more about the reach of the festival and how the horror genre has both played into and pushed through the stereotypes of female characters on screen.
AD: The Final Girls Film Festival is a showcase of the horror genre of cinema and the criteria for the festival is for all films screened to be directed, written or produced by women and non binary people, which I love. How did it all get started, how did it all come about?
EL: Sara and I are friends and we got connected through mutual friends with Lara and that’s how it began and started off really small, very low budget, we just kind of swung for the fences and did our best and every year it’s been growing. I feel like this is our biggest festival yet.
SN: We’re also a platform for other kinds of media. We once had an art exhibition for more horror tinged art by female artists. We have horror specialists giving talks and workshops at the festival and we want to also branch out into live performance and see about women and non binary people in horror, all kinds of whatever horror can be. Cinema first and foremost but then interconnected with other kinds of media.
AD: That’s great, I love that. So the festival is in its 4th edition and how has it evolved specifically throughout your previous iterations?
EL: We’ve definitely expanded our social media presence I guess you could say, that way people know more about us. I do feel like every year we’re getting more submissions and also people know about us. People that we are surprised that know us. I feel like it’s always going to be a niche thing to a certain extent but we’re still making the most of it, of what it can offer.
SN: I would also add that we’re touring too. It’s not just a Berlin based film festival but we’ve had screenings in Sweden: Gothenburg and Stockholm. We’ve had an event in Austria. We’ve had a few things in The States: Philadelphia and Seattle.
EL: In Tel Aviv.
SN: Yeah. So there are more and more screenings.
AD: That’s incredible. Don’t you think in the online space there is a place for everyone to find their corner of the internet. Especially with something that is niche like horror cinema. It’s really great that the internet and social media can kind of bring it all together and you can find your audience
SN: It’s also reached people who don’t necessarily like horror either. They might have a stigma or a prejudice against the horror genre and then they come to our festival and they realise that the films that we’re showing are also rich in social commentary and important documents of feminism in our current times. So people who maybe have some kind of negative impression of what horror can be are realising through our films it’s also a really powerful tool for expressing various kinds of messages.
EL: We also have a broad understanding of horror we would say, so we also show films that are uncommon in horror festivals. Like, last year we showed Pincushion which is a social drama about bullying and the horrors of that and we showed this other short film by Laura Moss called Fry Day which wasn’t shown at any other horror film festival about Ted Bundy but more of a drama, a coming of age drama spin on that. We want to also welcome other types of horror for sure.
SN: This year we have Nancy which is a really great film starring Andrea Riseborough and Steve Buscemi which is more of psychological thriller, a dark drama. Likewise, we’re showing Felt which is also more of an indie drama that has darker themes and darker subject matter, but I don’t think many people would consider it traditionally falling under the horror genre but we’re trying to expand that a bit and play with what that can mean.
AD: Right, because horror is traditionally one thing but it also can branch out into and be subgenres of other genres. It can bleed its way out into drama and thriller and all those kinds of things.
Let’s talk about the horror genre in general for a bit because horror is pretty underappreciated in the ‘high’ film world, a lot of people call it a B genre. How do you feel like horror has made a place for itself in recent years?
EL: Well it was a big win for example Get Out won last year at The Oscars, so it was encouraging. Then again, this year Toni Collette didn’t get a nomination even though she did brilliant work [in Hereditary]. So, it’s set backs and moving forward, that’s how it goes. I do feel like there are a lot of articles about horror and what is considered horror and elevated horror and whatever else you want to call it, to make it more prestigious. I do feel like there’s definitely a stigma still about it. What do you think Sara?
SN: Good question, it’s a really big question
AD: It’s a pretty big question
SN: It’s still a very niche thing but more and more people are realising that it has different functions and it can fit in different places and be interesting for different reasons. There is also the new Suspiria this year with Tilda Swinton, I was going to say in a supporting role but actually she does a few things in that movie. I think that the idea of art horror, even though it’s been around forever, it’s finding its way into the mainstream a bit more. Eli mentioned Get Out, that was a big one. There was The Babadook a couple years ago, in terms of female directed horror that really made it into the public eye.
AD: I loved The Babadook
SL: Yeah I loved it too. There are some lesser known ones like Prevenge which we showed. We were big champions of that film.
AD: When we look at more traditional horror, how the female archetypes are always traditionally represented as the damsel and she’s hyper-sexualised through the male gaze viewpoint and then has be beaten down. Maybe you could speak a little more to that.
SN: If you look at slasher films, especially throughout traditional slasher franchises, there’s a lot of punishment of female characters for being sexual but there are also final girl characters who are ambivalent figures. Maybe they have some strength, but they also have some problematic elements about them too. There also are a lot of strong and multi-faceted ones throughout horror history which we shouldn’t ignore. We shouldn’t say women have always had a relegated position and representation in horror because horror has also been a genre that’s treated women as more complex figures, also more darkness and capacity for evil and sinister character traits. Which is something that a lot of mainstream Hollywood has completely overlooked or not portrayed. Other genres are more guilty of representing women as simplified weak characters.
EL: It’s a general film problem.
SN: But there’s still a lot of room for improvement. You can choose various different ways of examining women in horror as both viewers and as protagonists and see the ways in which we’ve been erased but also have had a unique position and potential for more complex spectatorship and identification in horror. We just have to keep getting deeper into that and the more women there are behind the camera and in producing roles and writing roles, the more we’re going to be able to delve in there and have more interesting conversation about this stuff.
AD: Absolutely! Are there any particular strong female characters from the horror genre that you personally identify with or connect with or that are personal favourites of yours?
SN: I’m going to name one. I don’t know if I necessarily identify with her but I love the Ruth Gordon character in Rosemary’s Baby. She is the elderly Satanist neighbour, Minnie Castevet or something? The powerful satanic matron of that building.
AD: Interesting pick there! Ok love it
SN: I have to always pay tribute to her if anyone asks. In terms of newer horror I do love Alice Lowe’s character in Prevenge. I really think she’s a very complex and relatable dark flawed human character in horror.
EL: I wouldn’t say I Identify with any of these but Tilda Swinton in We Need To Talk About Kevin, really grabs me. Directed by Lynne Ramsay and we showed it a few years ago at the first Final Girls Festival. May directed by Lucky Mckee, I really love that one.
SL: Again, you don’t want to identify with her!
AD: Ok, yeah, maybe ‘identify’ was the wrong word to use there
EL: I feel like it’s invigorating to see something like that on screen. Just to see women who are not easy to categorise and digest.
AD: Well I’m getting some good recommendations here. I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of the horror genre and the horror films I tend to see are generally the ones that break out from that niche and translate a bit more into the mainstream world.
So the next instalment of Final Girls is coming to Berlin on the 31st January 2019 for 4 days. What can audiences expect to see this year?
EL: A lot! We have 7 features including Nancy which we previously mentioned and Good Manners and Cam which is a breakout hit. Then also 8 short blocks which different themes and lots of talks with really interesting people
SN: Some of the themes of these short blocks which we’re excited about including ‘Elderly Women In Horror,’ I already mentioned my favourite Ruth Gordon before but we have some really great short films with some very dynamic and complex older female characters in them. We have a program on ‘Obsession,’ ‘Tainted Love,’ ‘Coming Of Age,’ ‘Comedy Horror,’ midnight movies. Have I named them all Eli?
EL: ‘Flesh and Blood.’
SN: Right, that’s family horror. Every year we look at horror in the family.
AD: Family horror!? Now they’re the kind of films that give me the most nightmares. They usually include creepy children, then if you add a sprinkling of supernatural over the top, I will not sleep for weeks
SN: Yeah, it’s great fodder for all of our worst anxieties and nightmares.
AD: Excellent well thank you so much for joining me ladies and having a chat about the festival. Again, I think it’s a really cool festival, what you guys are doing and bringing a really great little niche of cinema in one compacted space
Everyone should go check out more on Final Girls Film Fest on their social media I’ll leave all the links. Go to the festival if you can, starting on the 31st of January 2019.
*This interview has been edited and condensed for length.
by Adelle Drover
Adelle is an Australian film youtuber (https://www.youtube.com/c/rollcredits) and critic. You can find her on Roll Credits (www.rollcredits.net) where she takes a journalistic approach to film culture… but still gets super fan-girl excited for the next big Marvel release! Her cine-quest is to find a happy medium between more thoughtful film discourse and action-adventure popcorn flicks. Why not both? Say hi over on instagram