The third edition of Wench Film Festival, India’s first horror film festival showcasing films inclusive of BIWOC, LGBTQ+ women, and non-binary filmmakers, will be held physically for the first time in addition to virtual screenings. Founded by celeb hairstylist-turned-filmmaker Sapna Bhavnani, the festival will open with the Award-winning Mexican film Huesera: The Bone Woman, directed by Michelle Garza Cerver, and close with The Nightmare, directed by Alice Wadding.
In an exclusive interview with News18 Showsha, Sapna Bhavnani shared her excitement about her film festival. She shared, “I am very much excited for our first day for Anvita Dutt to come and give an opening speech. It’ll be really wonderful. I couldn’t think of a better speaker actually to kickstart. We have some great films lined up for today. I am very excited about the screening. This time we didn’t keep too many panels but we have a really great one with Vishal Furia which I am moderating also. It should be a lot of fun. And of course, we have the Indian premiere of Aarti Kadav’s sci-fi feature The Astronaut and His Parrot starring Ali Fazal and Megha Ramaswami which I am very much excited about. That is gonna be great."
Sapna Bhavnani further revealed what store is for movie buffs that’ll be gracing the Wench Film Festival. “As the founder, every film is great and beautiful to me. But I feel if someone is a writer, they should definitely not miss out on Kaizad Gustad’s writing workshop. That’s gonna be crazy. He also told me that he’s gonna do horror so it’s gonna be great. And second thing, because no one gets an opportunity to meet Mr. Vikram Bhatt, so to have a masterclass by the talented man himself, if you are a horror fan or a fan in general, it’s a very rare opportunity for you to get to learn from him," she said.
“I would suggest not to miss that. Tomorrow, Kaizad will be doing a writing workshop with a group so they’re gonna conduct live storytelling and writing session. He would get one idea from one person, and another idea from another person. That’s how the story progresses and that’s how he gonna teach you to live. And Vikram will be talking about the genre and space in India that he is a master of," she added.
Explaining why the genre of horror remains to be so underutilized despite having a dedicated fan base, Sapna explained, “I feel that there’s no shortage of talent in our country. But also it is the producer’s fault. If everyone is looking for commercial success and if you see horror then it’ll be a slapstick horror comedy. And those are the ones that we get. Unfortunately, we don’t have many producers or big studios who really don’t back small films. There’s a big shortage of that."
“Speaking in global terms, you have horror-specific platforms like Shudder that take the genre to its consumers. if you look at the production houses also, take America for example, they are really putting in so much money. And they are massive. For example A24. I feel there is no better production house than that. Look at the projects they pick. They really take chances on very different stories. We need something like that here. We don’t want watered-down stories and make them the same," she added.
Sapna Bhavnani emphasized that the horror genre has more to offer than just scares. “There are so many nuances. If you have anything related to social change, horror is the best platform. Look at Jordan Pede, he has told so many social change stories through horror. It’s the best way. So somehow we’ve not tackled it well in India but we hope to change that. We have an open pitch on Sunday where 6-7 people will get a chance to pitch their stories and get feedback. Hopefully, by next year, we’ll have India’s first horror bazaar. That is my plan as a horror filmmaker, that’s the only way it can change. That is the goal, by next year to have a horror bazaar that’ll bring people of the world here who are dedicated to this genre. We don’t want anyone just because of their big name. We are very specific towards the genre. If you look at our guests, it’s very genre specific."
The festival will screen 23 films in the competition. The films will be shown under three different categories, Blood Thirsty (More than 40 mins) Dwarves (10 to 40 mins), and Elves (Less than 10 mins). The jury judging the three different categories will comprise Annick Mahnert and Shari Frillot (Blood Thirsty), Alexandre Heller-Nicholas (Dwarves) and Namrata Joshi (Elves).
Sapna Bhavnani also shared some titbits about her next film, Bearlike Man, which she is making under her production house Wench films. “I am writing this at the Sundance Collab lab and it’s been really amazing. It is horror, with a little bit of gore. These are the two genres it’s gonna have. It tackles a lot. I feel anybody in India will relate to being a woman. Also, how sons are treated like gold in our country and who’s responsible for that as a mother. So we need to take responsibility for our upbringing. So it’s a story of a mother who will go to great lengths to make her son better."
The physical screenings will take place from March 17-20 at Harkat Studio and Veda Factory while the virtual screenings will be held from 10 – 20 March 2023.
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