The Broad Humor Film Festival - Review - Female and Funny

Broad Humor is a festival of films written and directed by women.

The Broad Humor Film Festival is one of the most enjoyable film festivals in town, both for audiences and participants.  The festival exhibits comedies written and directed by women and you might think this makes it a women only event.  But  while the filmmakers and screenwriters were exclusively female, the audiences were split 50-50 between the sexes and the guys had as much fun as the gals.  So much for the stereotype that men will only identify with “male” projects.

Men and women both enjoyed the films and the festive ambiance of the weekend event.

The festival was started two years ago by a couple of independent women - Susan di Rende and Kaat Cleenewerck.  The genesis of the idea came to di Rende after reading the Writers Guild issue on Comedy a few years back.  For that issue, the Guild had run a comedy screenplay competition.  Submissions were blind and when the finalists were chosen, not a single woman had made it into the finals.  Di Rende -  who had been a circus clown and who  insists, “comedy is my thing.  I’m not a drama queen in life or in art.  Make me cry laughing.”  -  found herself astonished by the Guild competition results.  The blind process eliminated any snarky insinuations of patriarchal prejudice. But how to explain it?  Were women just not funny? Was there a skew in the standards that missed female humor?  Or was there another answer?  The festival began as an effort to discover the answer.

Talkbacks were lively and funny. Seen here are directors and writers (clockwise from top left) Valerie Weiss, Viji Nathan, Juliah Rueckert, and Michelle Muldoon.

The response the first year, with more than a hundred submissions, demonstrated the wealth and range of women doing comedy.  Audiences loved the films which were, in fact, quite different from the Hollywood standards in many areas, the most significant being the level of warmth and -dare I say it - love for the characters and their world underpinning most of the movies. The overwhelming response of the audiences and the filmmakers to the inaugural event  led to the decision to continue the festival.

In "Slippery Slope," winner of Best Feature, a repressed feminist finds herself directing a porn version of "The Tempest."

This year’s program was another hit.  The festival led off with Slippery Slope (website) by Sarah Schenck which took home the prize for  ‘Best Feature.’  This sly, sexy romp follows a young feminist filmmaker who needs cash to take her anti-pornography documentary to Cannes so she secretly agrees to write and direct a porn film.  Living and working "behind enemy lines" shakes her assumptions, awakens her slumbering sexuality,  and threatens her politically-correct marriage.

Elisa Bocanegra as Betty in Tamar Halpern's film "Shelf Life," winner of Best No-Budget Feature.

Another feature, Shelf Life (website) by Tamar Halpern, took the honors for ‘Best No-Budget Feature.’  In the film, a free spirit on probation must take and keep a job, and so is placed by her city councilman uncle in a local library branch as a book shelver.  The library is ruled by a former classmate, a descendant of a librarian dynasty who rules the stacks with absolute and vindictive power.  Early on, the two enemies present themselves bedraggled and torn to an unseen arbiter as they try to explain how things went from bad to war.

Technical Director Jenny Hodges sets out a poster for "Someone to Love" which went on to win Best Short.

The Best Short award went to a fun take on speed dating by Jill Jaress called Someone to Love.  ‘Best No-Budget Short’ was a simple and charming slice of life called Piece O’ Cake by Canadian filmmaker Gretchen Kelbaugh.  The Audience Award honors went to a short film this year.  Goodnight Vagina by Stacy Sherman is a send up of the mania for plastic surgery.  

The Broadsides Screenplay Lab provided working professional actors for script readings.

This year’s festival added a screenplay lab called Broadsides.  Screenplay finalists could submit 10-12 pages that they wanted to hear read out loud by actors.

Writers and directors chat during a break in the Broadsides screenplay lab.

The writers were all thrilled to have the chance to participate actively in the festival, to hear each other’s voices and to meet and discuss the work of screenwriting with others. 

 In addition, Gorilla Software came to the festival again this year and gave a free workshop on its workhorse production software, a must for anyone planning a film. Gorilla also donated copies of its software for the winning filmmakers prize packages. Screenwriters received the latest version of one of the Write Bros. screenwriting software packages including their signature Movie Magic Screenwriter and Dramatica Pro.  The industry gifts in the prize packages were rounded out with copies of one of the Hollywood Creative Directories.  These great fundamental industry tools as prizes surprised and delighted the winners who had been feeling that “the festival itself is prize enough.”

The prize baskets included were praised by the winners as the best they ever received.

Filmmaker Kelbaugh had only praise for the festival. “It’s so refreshing after bigger festivals where you feel ignored and unimportant and have trouble meeting other filmmakers.”  It wasn’t just the filmmakers who found the festival refreshing.  One pass holder, a retired Detroit police officer, came to almost every screening.  “This isn’t a festival for women - it’s for everybody. I enjoyed every single film.  They all told actual stories, I laughed and went home at the end of the day feeling great.  I couldn’t wait to come back and laugh some more.”

Beautiful hand-made jewelry by Julie's Crystal Realm is one of the award prizes from women owned businesses.

The inclusiveness and the personal nature of the event sets it apart from other, larger festivals and even from festivals that are the same size.  The filmmaker bags are handmade fun bags.  The gift products in them were chosen for their relevance to the kind of women who participate in these events and not simply marketing swag that gets tossed out the minute you get home. Many of the businesses providing gifts, prizes and refreshments at the parties are small, often women-owned.   Carolyn Dargevics of, where you can create a quality story-and-picture book using your photos and your words, gave festival participants a free photo foldout offer. Julie’s Crystal Realm donated beautiful chakra-balancing anklets and her stunning, signature wrap-around necklaces as prizes. Winner Tamar Halpern exclaimed on receiving her prizes, “I love this necklace. This I will actually wear.  This is the first festival that gave me real prize gifts I will enjoy.”  Festival workers went hunting in left over gift bags for the meditation cd, Meditative Milieu, donated by  

Other businesswomen brought wares to sample to the awards ceremony celebration.  The Tao of Chocolate gave out samples of their rich organic chocolates sweetened with stevia.   Mimi’s Canyon Kitchen served up her specialty tapenade, the best you ever tasted.  Local businesses also stepped up to support the festival, with donations from Fireside Cellars, Market Gourmet, Whole Foods, Abbots Pizza, Le Pain Quotidien, Groundwork Coffee, Stroh’s Gourmet, Ralph’s, the Global Beer Network, and Metromint mintwater.

The festival's focus on comedy makes it a day of pure fun.

The Festival Lounge was decked out like a backyard cookout and accented with photos by French photographer Val Priftis (read review) hung on clothesline around the room.  The ambiance was warmed with music thanks to Universal Music which provided cd’s for the filmmaker gift bags were music to the festival participants’ ears:  Etta James, Erykah Badu, a Motown compilation.  Also included was a single cd by a local female singer Jessica Peterson of Buddha’s Sister and the Magic Bullet Theory.  The single, ‘Welcome 2 LA,” has the same smart and funny tone of many of the films, and Peterson’s sultry voice with its ironic shadings made it a perfect match and a must-add for the filmmaker bags.

Juliah Rueckert's arrives at the festival smiling. Her film, The Beauty King, was the audience favorite in the first shorts program, Comedy on the Dark Side.

 The care and attention to the details of including everyone in the fun from soup to nuts, from gifts to prizes, screenwriters to filmmakers, participants to audience makes this a festival like no other. Sadly, the house was never sold out.  This did not affect the experience of the event, but hopefully did not detract from the satisfaction of the organizers for providing a whopping good time for all who did show.  

“We had a publicist working with us last year who was trying to promote the festival as a Hollywood-style event with celebrities and press.  She kept running into the question, ‘Who is SHE to do this festival?’ implying somebody setting up a festival needed to be Somebody to be legitimate.  I’m not anybody but the person who’s doing it because this festival needs to be done.  That’s how I was raised.  If you see something that needs doing, you don’t point and demand that Somebody come and do it, you roll up your sleeves, check how much the Bank of Susan can lend, and make it happen with the resources you have.  Now that it’s started, if Somebody wanted to come along and make this festival into Something, I’d be all for passing the baton. It’s about the women writing and making these movies and about the people who will enjoy them, not about me doing it.”

Festival Director Susan di Rende had prize giveaways before every screening.

Judging by the experience of this festival by all who were lucky enough to stop by, if Somebody does come along with more resources, let us hope they leave di Rende at the helm.  She certainly knows what it means to be a broad and how to bring out the broad in all of us. 

For more information go to

Photos by Morgan Berthon and Susan di Rende

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