Carving out a niche

Carving out a niche

Ax Wound Film Festival returns with a wide-ranging lineup of horror films by women

BRATTLEBORO — Horror filmmaker Hannah Neurotica is almost overwhelmed by how her Ax Wound Film Festival has blossomed in just a year.

The first Ax Wound Film Festival had been a bigger success than Neurotica anticipated.

“Not only did we sell out but as the day progressed,” she says, “no one ever wanted to leave, and since more kept showing up throughout the day, we finally had to turn people away.”

Neurotica is hosting the second annual Ax Wound Film Festival at the Hooker-Dunham Theater & Gallery on Saturday, Nov. 5, and she says it promises to be grander than the first year in every way.

“We will screen 36 short films and present at least 10 filmmakers from around the world - all women - who are coming to take part in a Q & A,” she says. “In addition, Ax Wound will show a feature film with its director coming from Los Angeles.

“Between the films, there will be a workshop on strategies and realities of crowdfunding with special guests coming up from NYC to do the presentation. Ax Wound Film Festival has some amazing sponsors this year, such as American Movie Channel and Fangoria, the premiere horror magazine.”

'An alternative vision'

Neurotica established the Ax Wound Festival as a way to celebrate women in horror.

“Horror is a genre that needs to be reinvigorated by women,” she explains. “These are voices you don't get a chance usually to hear. This is an opportunity to help create space for an alternative vision in horror, which women can bring.

“I believe that the horror genre becomes significantly different when women make films. Women address different issues than men do when making movies. Women are drawn to topics such as childbirth and family, which they look at in a creepy way.”

As Neurotica told The Commons last June, “There are less women working behind the scenes in horror than in any other genre. I am convinced that horror can explore issues in women's lives better than practically any other genre, for through the lens of horror, voices can be heard that you don't often get anywhere else. Whether on the screen, behind the scenes, or contributing in their other various artistic ways, women love and appreciate the horror genre.”

A filmmaker herself specializing in horror, Neurotica has directed five shorts and is writing a feature film she plans to shoot later this year. Her last short was shown in over 30 film festivals. She also hosts the monthly Horror at the Hooker film series on the last Tuesday of each month at the Hooker-Dunham.

“Each month I show a feature, along with shorts by and about women in horror,” she said. “Often these films are straight from the film festival circuit and [this] is the only way for people in Vermont to see them.”

Exorcising the demons of sexism

As Hooker-Dunham manager Jon Mack explained to The Commons last June, “Hannah aims to bring audiences to see horror films made by independent filmmakers, primarily women. These filmmakers are doing some innovative work, compared to the mass-produced commercial film industry, with minimal budgets - yet their work is professional and effective.”

“Women know fear,” Neurotica said. “We live with it every day. And we have a lot of demons to exorcise as a result of the deep sexism which surrounds us. So, I will always be most interested in works by women and/or works that showcase women in strong roles where they are more than titillation and screams. My goal has always been to focus on the work of women so we can show that not only do we enjoy the genre but we are great at creating fear.”

Neurotica named her festival “Ax Wound” to reclaim a traditionally derogatory label in horror for women and to turn it into a banner for female strength.

“My title was a self-conscious and playful way to claim space for women,” she says.

The second edition of Ax Wound will consist of world premieres and many films being shown in the U.S. for the first time.

Some of the artists attending include Andrea Wolanin, the writer and director of “Cleaning House;” Ashlee Blackwell, writer and the founder of Graveyard Shift Sisters, and Jo Osborne, the writer and director of “Requital,” who is coming all the way from Scotland for this event.

“I am especially pleased to present Ashlea Wessel, a writer and director from Canada, who makes beautifully disturbing films such as 'Ink,' one of my favorite films,” Neurotica says.

“Also, we have returning Porcelain Dalya, who wrote and directed 'Calling in Demons.' She was highlighted at our last festival as an actress but, this year, she is coming back as a writer and director.

Inspiration, cartoons, and 'Dolly Deadly'

“I find her an exciting example of how women are progressing in horror. She reminds me of when I overheard a group of girls leaving the last festival, speaking among themselves, 'We really need to make our own horror films now!' That's what this film festival is all about.”

The festival's numerous short films cover many horror sub-genres, such as body horror, monster films, and the supernatural. AxWound will show short films in blocks, for which tickets can be purchased separately if desired.

“Our first block of shorts in the morning will be a take off on the old Saturday morning cartoons, with films exploring animation and comedy in horror,” Neurotica says. To highlight this occasion, she even toyed with the idea of bringing some milk and cereal to round off the event.

The festival's feature is “Dolly Deadly,” directed by Heidi Moore who will be on hand for discussion after the screening. This film concerns a young boy from the trailer park who can't take another moment of ridicule from his family and peers, and with support from his beloved dollies, sets out for blood.

“Heidi began as photographer in pornography,” says Neurotica.

Then Moore began to make horror shorts.

“For the last three years, she has been working on her first feature, which stars her own son. 'Dolly Deadly' is a bit like a John Waters' film, only creepier. Those who enjoy underground cinema will really go for this one.”

Social media workshop

This year's festival will also include a panel discussion on social media and crowdsourcing with 13 filmmakers. This workshop will be run by Nicole Solomon and Sean Mannion of 4Mile Circus, a media company in New York City providing services including media production and training, as well as social media and crowdfunding management.

In this one-hour workshop, Mannion and Solomon will go over the basics of effectively building and sustaining an enthusiastic audience online, as well as how to mobilize that audience for successful crowdfunding campaigns and more.

Neurotica believes that what can be learned from this workshop will be useful, not just for horror films, but for anyone who wants to understand the ins and outs of crowdfunding.

Neurotica is especially excited about the sponsors for this year's festival, such as Cine Dump, Gonzoriffic, Graveyard Shift Sisters, Horror Decor, Horror Happens Radio Show, and Tell Tale Heart Tattoo & Gallery.

“AMC is launching its new channel, Shudder, which is dedicated to horror, and every single person who buys a full day pass will automatically receive a free month of the new online horror streaming service,” Neurotica says. “How cool is that?”

Horror swag

Other swag will be raffled off, she said.

“Since we're also sponsored by the horror magazine Fangoria, by purchasing a raffle ticket, you are entered to win a full year subscription. Also, through the raffle, people can win a full-year subscription to the Shudder network, a Capricorn Rising tote bag, and two handmade Ouija boards by Jessie Seit.”

Also raffled will be autographed films, My Pretty Zombie cosmetics, rare posters, and even handmade jewelry by Jen and Sylvia Soska.

“The Soska sisters are Canadian twins well-known in the horror community, who work together as film directors, producers, and screenwriters,” Neurotica says. “They direct often violent and visceral horror movies such as 'Dead Hooker in a Trunk,' 'See No Evil 2' and 'American Mary.' The twins also created Matador, a survival horror game show called Hellevator for Blumhouse Television which has just been renewed for its second season.”

Neurotica is overwhelmed by the generosity of the many people who helped make this festival possible.

“I could not afford this event on my own,” she says. “The festival is possible because of the generosity of the presenters and volunteers. Everyone pays their own way to help support this endeavor. Together, we are all committed to promoting the role of women in Horror.”

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