The eclectic voices of female filmmakers have been showcased for nearly 20 years in the traveling film festival Lunafest, which for the first time this year, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, will feature short films shown virtually.

Lunafest, which normally takes place at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center in the South Bay, is a primary fundraiser for projects of the Manhattan Beach branch of Soroptimist International. But because of the COVID-19 outbreak, supporters of Soroptimist International can now see the selected films for a one day screening on June 27. The Junior League of Long Beach will also benefit from the festival with a virtual screening on June 20.

“You can do something differently within your home while we're all kind of isolated and in lock down while still supporting your community organization,” said Soroptimist chair Monica Frey. “And the very important idea of supporting women in film who are totally underrepresented represented in the industry.”

“These women directors deserve this recognition,” said Kelly Fogarty, VP of membership at Soroptimist of Manhattan Beach. “There's still only 9 percent of Hollywood productions by women filmmakers. So they are still trying to break through."

Lunafest supports Soroptimist International of Manhattan Beach Dream Programs, which helps increase education for women and youth and Chicken & Egg Pictures, an organization that supports women filmmakers.

Frey said organizers have been going by the seat of their pants this year. Lunafest was supposed to happen in Redondo Beach in April, and due to the lockdown, it was moved to August. Because of uncertainty of the virus, they felt the only way it could happen this year was a virtual festival.

Frey said they look at the virtual festival as an opportunity to find a wider audience.

“We really look at this as a really great opportunity to kind of expand on the concept,” Frey said. “There's an opportunity here to have a greater outreach for people to see the films and support Soroptimist as a whole and women in film.”

This was supposed to be the ninth annual screening of Lunafest for the Junior League of Long Beach, according to President Ashleigh Ruhl, at local theaters and other venues. Lunafest is the non-profit’s primary fundraiser to support its 100-percent volunteer run community programs that impact children and their families.

Ruhl, who is the Junior League’s 89th president, said through email that not even a pandemic could get in the way of a tradition.

"Many of our volunteers graciously helped to transition this event into something we can all enjoy from home, safe and in compliance with coronavirus stay-at-home rules,” Ruhl said. “This digital Lunafest will be one none of us will forget."

Started in 2000 by the makers of the LUNA nutritional bar, Lunafest in its first 18 years hosted nearly 200 screenings across the country yearly and has raised millions with the help of filmmakers for numerous causes. That was before the novel coronavirus changed filmgoing for the foreseeable future.

The seven short films this year deal with topics ranging from sexual assault and suicide to a comedy about the challenges women face in the entertainment industry.

Erin Rye’s short film “Lady Parts” looks at a struggling actor who suffers humiliation while auditioning for what she thinks will be her big break, but then she has to decide if she is going to stand up for herself and use her voice or stay quiet and suffer more humiliation to get ahead in her career.

Rye, a Silver Lake resident, said situations like that happen a lot to women and people in marginalized groups.

“When you're the only one in the room things are happening to you and you're looking around like, am I taking crazy pills, is nobody else understanding what is going on here?,” Rye said. “So it's important to me to use comedy to kind of point a finger at these situations because that’s what I have to offer. I think it's a fun way to kind of disarm people.”

“Lady Parts” was shot in June 2018 in Los Angeles, and premiered at LA Shorts International Film Festival in July 2019. After winning some awards, including Best Narrative Short at the HollyShorts Film Festival, “Lady Parts” continued on the film festival circuit until March when the film was part of the Cinequest Film & Creativity Festival in the Bay Area and the whole thing was shut down due to COVID-19,” Rye said.

“It’s been an adjustment figuring out what that means moving forward,” Rye said. “But I am so grateful for the festivals that have gone online because it actually allows an opportunity for even more people to see the film.”
Rye said that during this time, she has questioned herself on what she can do to make a difference as an artist and as a filmmaker.

“For me that's to shine a light on areas in our society where we can be kinder and more respectful to all people, no matter what their background is, or what their life experiences are,” Rye said.

The virtual Lunafest for Manhattan Beach branch of Soroptimist International takes place on Saturday, June 27. Attendees will receive an email at 9 a.m. with a Vimeo link and password. The films can be watched during the following 24 hours. Running time of the shorts is 96 minutes. Tickets are $20.

Tickets for the Long Beach event on June 20 are $55, and includes three opportunity drawing tickets and online to an online auction and opportunity baskets.

For more information, visit lunafest.org.

Contact this reporter at mhixon@tbrnews.com or on Twitter @michaeljhixon.com.

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