The Broad Humor Film Festival started last year, according to its founder, Susan di Rende, because “I wanted to find the answer to the question: Are women funny? Do they make funny films?” The answer was: Yes, and Yes. Trouble is, funny films by women are still not getting seen the way they should. So di Rende went forward with this year’s Broad Humor Festival to network with other female filmmakers and to showcase more funny female films.
As the assorted short subjects proved, women can be funny in ways as outrageous as in men’s comedies, but they have a strong interest in character and in the emotions surrounding comic situations. And women like to tackle social issues, as in serious films, but done in a way that can sometimes be more effective than a serious treatment.
Archer House, by Dina Gachman, one of the most outstanding shorts, depicted a journalism student, a bright and offbeat young woman, who opts to join a sorority because it’s a family tradition. The humor here was mostly subtle and ironic as the protagonist faces humiliation as part of her initiation.
Self Improvement by Karen Ostrovitz spoofed “new age” seminars where people are harassed into spending more money to find out how to “take charge” of their lives. While the satire here was apt, the film’s length and slow pace detracted somewhat from its comic impact.
More successful along the same line were Stacy Sherman’s outrageous Goodbye Vagina, with Cheryl Hines as a woman seeking personal improvement through plastic surgery on her intimate parts, and Jill Jaress’s Someone to Love, which spoofed speed dating by using quickly defined character types as a comic device.
The adage that brevity is the soul of wit was proved by the brief and hilarious No Buns by Dashiel St. Damien, essentially a filmed joke done with style. Julia Radochia’s I Just Want To Eat My Sandwich quickly made its point about the difficult life of an office worker trying to take a lunch break in an a office full of helpless co-workers. And the clever Piece O’ Cake by Gretchen Kelbaugh again used a simple anecdote of family life (a piece of cake left for Dad was devoured gradually by other family members) to garner maximum laughs with a minimum of action and no dialogue.
Ursula Burton’s The Happiest Day of His Life used the obvious device of gender role-reversals to depict a wedding in a female-dominated world where guys have “groomal showers” and women pass on the family name. But the role-reversals here had the effect of making one ask why we have rigid social roles to begin with.
Among the features screened, Sarah Schenk’s Slippery Slope impressed the audience. A pleasant comedy about a young feminist filmmaker who works on a porn film to fund her own more “enlightened” project, Slope took the romantic comedy template in a slightly different direction while gently satirizing rather than savaging the feminist issues involved.
The Broad Humor Festival also featured documentaries, script readings by actors, a Legacy Program in which competitors from last year’s festival made new films which were screened and a discussion with filmmaker Michelle Clay, who screened excerpts from her feature in progress, The Road to Sundance. Clay’s script won the Festival’s Screwball Comedy award last year and is now being filmed with di Rende directing.
This festival is going to be an annual event, so female writers and directors, get on your marks and start working on next year’s funny film entries. For more information, go to broadhumor.com.