By Elizabeth Limbach
As a female filmmaker, Jesse Epstein is often in situations where she is the only woman. Whether it is on set, at meetings or at screenings, she is faced with a disparity of her sex in the film industry. This disproportion is one reason that Epstein is so grateful for Lunafest.
Luna, a subdivision of Cliffbar that specializes in women’s nutrition bars, began Lunafest six years ago in an effort to give back to the community. The festival, which now travels to over one hundred venues across the country, celebrates female filmmakers and supports women’s causes by donating proceeds to the San Francisco-based Breast Cancer Fund and other local organizations.
Epstein, a UC Santa Cruz alumna, has had her short film "Wet Dreams and False Images" viewed and awarded at such renowned festivals as Sundance. But she notes something more meaningful about having had her message shared with Lunafest audiences when it was a selection two years ago.
"They are giving female filmmakers a great platform and an opportunity to reach audiences that are ready to start discussion," Epstein said. "I’m really glad it got awarded at Sundance, but I made it with a purpose and Lunafest helped [it] reach the general public and people who are interested in the issues it raised."
Santa Cruz has hosted the event since its inception, and the UCSC Women’s Center has been its local organizer for three years. The upcoming event will show nine short films from around the world that range in length, seriousness, topic and genre. Roberta Valdez, director of the Women’s Center, sees the short-film festival’s importance in giving exposure to female filmmakers and acting as a forum for women’s issues as shown through the variety of selections.
"It highlights women’s creativity in filmmaking and provides opportunities for their artistic endeavors," Valdez said. "[Lunafest] highlights women’s living and learning situations around the world through the various films."
Along with a handful of other "seasoned fundraisers," Valdez is part of a small committee that has been working to make this year’s Santa Cruz Lunafest the most successful one yet.
"For the first time we went into the community for sponsors," Valdez said. "Because we have enough money from these people to pay for the venue and advertising, every penny from ticket sales will go to WomenCare, the Breast Cancer Fund, and a little bit back to the Women’s Center for student programming."
In past years the event was held on campus at Classroom Unit One and had around 100 attendees. This year, planners rented the Rio Theater off Soquel Avenue, which seats 687 people.
"It is ambitious of us to think we can get six times [the attendance] but it is possible," Valdez said.
In addition to dramatically increased advertising, organizers hope to boost festival attendance by enlisting the help of campus sororities to sell tickets ahead of time from more locations.
If all goes as planned, the festival’s growth will greatly profit the beneficiary organizations. To date, Lunafest has raised more than $100,000 for Breast Cancer Fund, which receives 15 percent of proceeds nationally. The Women’s Center chose to allocate the other 85 percent to WomenCare, a Santa Cruz organization that provides free services to women living with cancer.
Allison Titley, office manager of WomenCare, says the proceeds they receive from Lunafest will go directly to serving their clients. One such client, Marilyn Beta, will be speaking at the event about her experience with cancer and with WomenCare. Titley believes the goals and messages of WomenCare are parallel with those of Lunafest.
"At Womencare, our mission is to empower women while they are on their journey, and I think that is the same as Lunafest," Titley said.
Regardless of the outcome of their attempts to upsize Lunafest, the Women’s Center believes it will be a significant Santa Cruz event in many respects.
"I’ve always thought that it’s a great celebration of women," Valdez said. "You leave there feeling really good about the creativity and the breadth of issues, and that you have supported a good cause."
_Lunafest will be held at the Rio Theater on Jan. 27 from 7-9 p.m. Tickets are $5 for students, $10 general and are available at the UCSC Ticket Office, the Women’s Center and at the Rio. For more information contact the Women’s Center at (831) 459-2072, visit womencaresantacruz.org or lunabar.com._