FILMS: Dot-Marie Jones, Melanie Wise, Grace Parra, at the 2018 Artemis Awards Gala.

Santa Monica has had many film festivals as of late with some powered by short films and others powered by indie films. This weekend, however, a film festival will come to Santa Monica powered by a much more distinctive force — women.

The Artemis Women in Action Film Festival (AWIAFF) will hold it’s festival’s fifth edition in Santa Monica this week and weekend at the Laemmle. The AWIAFF aims to celebrate powerful women on and off screen, from stunt women to activists and films ranging from documentaries to narratives. 

“Pointedly, we are the only festival that celebrates bad-ass women,” AWIAFF founder and multihyphenate Melanie Wise said. “We celebrate women and we place women front and center and we do it with an incredible amount of diversity.”

Wise, an actress-editor-producer first began the festival half a decade ago after becoming frustrated trying to push female-led content. She tried in all her roles over many years with little results.

“I was trying and trying and just failing miserably,” she said.

In late 2015, she and AWIAFF co-founder Zac Baldwin decided to start their own festival to create a space for such content, a space where women would be recognized for their talents.

“In a two-month submission period, we got 200 films from 25 countries,” Wise said. “I knew it’d be big. I studied box office data for years and had a sneaking suspicion that female-centric movies were a box office beast. You’d read in the trades that, oh, ‘Women are poison to box office,’ but I knew otherwise.”

Over the years, the festival has grown in scope of names, filmmaker diversity and film diversity. Names such as Zoe Bell, Paul Feig and Michelle Rodriguez have made their way to the film festival.

Films this year will center on everything from a thought-provoking documentary about the misrepresentation and underrepresentation of women in film to a tense thriller detailing a woman stranded in the woods, pushed to her limits after an encounter with hijackers leaves her without resources.

The festival continues to attract filmmakers with a message, such as KT Curran.

Curran is showing her film “Surviving Lunch” at AWIAFF, a film dealing with such themes as school bullying and high school shootings.

A Sarasota, Florida native, Curran says she caught wind of AWIAFF and submitted to the festival based on its reputation alone.

“There’s a lot of reasons, but I felt that between all these film festivals out there, this was the one I most wanted to get into,” Curran said.

She adds that her film, centering on a teen girl finding herself, isn’t focused on what most might consider a “quintessential bad-ass or a Wonder Woman”, but that AWIAFF recognized the importance of helping Curran showcase a story of a teen finding her voice and the journey to become an activist, a “female warrior”.

“They see women in power at all moments of development,” Curran said. “We all have that moment where the fire is lit, where we get where we want to go in the world. The fact that they could recognize that is so kick-ass. All of my movies I try to tell a story and make a difference and Artemis celebrates that.”

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