Interview with Edda Manriquez, Founder of Les Femmes Underground International Film Festival [Women in Horror Month 2021]

Please introduce yourself.
My name is Edda Manriquez and I am a Latinx experimental horror filmmaker. My work has been featured in various film festivals and screenings all around the world including the REDCAT: Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater. I am also the founder and director of Les Femmes Underground International Film Festival, which is a womxn’s traveling film festival whose prime focus is on diversity and equity for filmmakers across the cinematic spectrum. I obtained my M.F.A. in Film and Video at the California Institute of the Arts and my Bachelors in Visual Arts, Communications, and Stage Management from the University of California, San Diego. I currently work at a prestigious Archive in Los Angeles where I provide access to materials to researchers and cinematheques all across the globe.

What is it that attracts you the horror genre for your chosen field of creative work?
As someone who was born into a hyper-religious Mexican family, I have always been fascinated with the occult and the act of the ritual. Throughout my childhood I was raised to fear and respect the supernatural. As a first generation born Mexican-American, there was always a lot of contradiction which took place internally in the process of assimilating; which I think greatly informed my creative choices to embrace opposing viewpoints as it pertains to reverence versus curious fascination. I grew up watching films like “Valerie and Her Week of Wonders”(1970), “Alucarda” (1977), “La Tía Alejandra”(1979), and “Satánico Pandemonium”(1975) which in a way served as examples my family used to validate the existence of other worldly spectres, or Aminas as they were described to me in Spanish. There’s a very pronounced simultaneous attraction and fear when it comes to Horror for me.

My American side sees it as folklore and stories to entertain, while my Mexican side sees it as factual. There is something so deeply cathartic to work with something which stirs so many emotions in you. Fear, thrill, excitement- a myriad of adrenaline. When working through this lens- it really allows me to tap into these ideas and revisit the sensations of my youth as I sat at the edge of the couch hearing friends and family talk about supernatural experiences they or other people had encountered around them. To me Horror in some respects can feel quite wholesome. It is a genre which pulls communities together and almost becomes a support group for those who enjoy the sensations which the genre produces. When I create work- I pull on those emotions to produce a sense of otherworldly space and sensation.

To me it’s more important to make people feel and experience those feelings in order for my images to best make an impact. When I was 8 years old my mother handed my brother and I a catalog which showed a variety of urns and coffins. She asked us each to pick one out for ourselves so she could start paying off a burial plot of land so we wouldn’t have to worry about it when we got older. I think that speaks wonders culturally, about how we view life, death, and the supernatural. Horror to me has always just been a way of life which makes it feel so personal when it comes to creating. In the end- I choose a pink coffin which I think defines the playful way the genre informs my art and craft.

Who inspires you in your work and in life?
Someone I greatly admire in the Horror genre is Issa López; culturally I think her work really encapsulates the everyday magical realism of Horror for Mexican and Latinx audiences. Her film, “Tigers are not Afraid” (2017), did a great job at capturing the underground landscape of violence through the lens of a child. I draw other inspirations from documentarians such as Lourdes Portillo who show us real horror in everyday life such as “Señorita Extraviada”(2001). As a result I am very drawn to both Horror and Documentary works and in a way inform each other in a very synergistic manner.

These films do an extraordinary job at representing the humanity and vulnerability of a collective marginalized culture. I personally set out to support and watch films from contemporary Horror womxn filmmakers who are making incredible films which reference cinema from previous decades. I have a deep admiration for filmmakers such Anna Biller, Prano Bailey-Bond, and Gigi Saul Guerrero who all have selected a very distinct line of horror and really have brought a personal flair to their art design. Filmmakers like this truly inspire me by creating work that is so incredibly immersive and playful in many ways. Films which bare the filmmaker’s soul are incredibly magnetic because its not hard to see these films were made with incredible passion and devotion.

Women in horror have made great strides, but it’s clear that a lot of work is still needed to make it a most inclusive genre. To you, what is the importance of a movement like Women in Horror Month?
Recognition is such a vital role in normalizing inclusivity. When I was doing my MFA at CalArts I attended a lecture Geena Davis gave on gender representation in media- specifically animation which impacted me greatly. At that same time, I was attending several film classes which mostly centered on men’s bodies of work. As a filmmaker, I wanted to keep myself engaged and decided I would submit a film as my final for each class- but instead of the course work- I would focus on womxn in those mediums. After making those pieces; several women began to approach me in class and opening up a discussion about the lack of representation for womxn in the arts and in genres across the board. Eventually this led me to the creation of my own film festival: LES FEMMES UNDERGROUND INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL. Movements like Women in Horror Month are incredibly important in opening up those discourses and pushing folx to band together to create a platform for underrepresented communities within other underrepresented communities.

What would you tell an up-and-coming creative in the world of horror who sees that being a woman/identifying as a women as something that makes it so much more difficult at times?
Being in cinema is hard enough as a womxn if you are doing none-gender specific roles such as directing or technical aspects. I’ve worked sets and so often you get reverted back to the 1950’s with hair and make up being traditionally more one gender over the others. As you shift between above and below the line- those opportunities become smaller for womxn and People of Color. However, that is why it is important to continue being vigilant and finding communities of folks via social media which can help lift you up.

What are your favorite bits of helpful advice that you have received about your work or your field?
Some helpful advice is to ask for help. Really go out there and diversify your crew and cast. Often times People of Color aren’t given opportunities and you will find when selected they will work twice as hard and will be loyal and committed to your vision. I myself experience exclusion the moment they see my resume with my last name. A friend of mine from CalArts had told me how they had to change their name to sound more American in order to be considered for jobs- because sadly that is the first thing employers see before meeting you. I was having such a difficult time getting callbacks for jobs until I got fed up and changed my last name on my resume. Suddenly the interviews started to pour in and that is so heartbreaking as a minority. Having to give up your identity is terrible. So please hire and work with People of Color and I guarantee your work will resonate so much more.

In honor of celebrating Women in Horror Month, who do you believe viewers should keep an eye on in terms of the creative ladies in horror?
I have always admired the ladies of Etheria Film Night as they always highlight such a wonderful strong group of womxn in Horror. I would recommend folks watch any of their shorts which are available via streaming platforms such as Amazon Prime. Its hard to say a specific person because as a programmer I see so many amazing womxn who make great pieces with such small budgets. But I will say once more, I cannot wait to see what other things Prano Bailey-Bond will make in the future because her work is incredibly atmospheric and incredibly strong. Another filmmaker I am soooo excited to see what she does is Erica Scoggins who recently won many awards for her film “The Boogeywoman” (2019). Please watch it if you have a chance. It shows what limited budgets can do with amazing direction, lighting, and sound design. I love gels- and these filmmakers really commit to them.

What do you have coming soon that you can talk to us about?
Sadly due to the pandemic a lot of things were put on hold. It was exactly a year ago, mid-March when we were but 4 days away from showing at the historic Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles. We were so excited to make this the biggest edition yet. Now a year later we are thinking about how do we continue to screen these films in a way that honors the filmmakers and audience members. Please follow us on social media to be updated on any upcoming events.

Pop them links to follow your work here:
Website: www.lesfemmesinternational.org/
IG: @lesfemmesundergroundfilmarts/
FACEBOOK: @lesfemmesundergroundfilmfestival
TWITTER: lefuff_film
Film Freeway: https://filmfreeway.com/LesFemmesUndergroundFilmFestival