This VMA-Nominated Director Is Revolutionizing Film Festivals

This past weekend marked the inaugural WUTI Goes Idyllwild Film Festival, a celebration of cinema directed by women. The curated weekend is the brainchild of Tabitha Denholm, a creative maven with a lengthy list of accolades as a commercial, documentary, and VMA-nominated music director best known for her work with Florence and the Machine, Haim, Jessie J, and Jennifer Hudson. 
Denholm’s impact-driven film community, Women Under the Influence, was founded in 2015 as a social media project to amplify the work of female directors. The inaugural film festival is the living incarnation of WUTI’s ethos, with three days of programming set in Idyllwild, CA, a small artsy town nestled in the San Jacinto mountains. The festival was brought to life by Denholm alongside Creative Director, Laura Rule, and Neuehouse's Head of Cultural Programming, Meredith Rogers.
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Alia Shawkat, Courtney Love, Diane Warren, and Claire Evans were among celebrity attendees who made the trek east of California to celebrate in the mountains. Refinery29 caught up with Tabitha to hear more about the festival and her work championing female storytelling voices.

Refinery29: What sparked the idea behind WUTI Goes Idyllwild Festival?

Tabitha Denholm: “The evolution began when we started doing WUTI (Women Under The Influence) screenings. I thought it’d be great to have an opportunity to get filmmakers and film lovers together for a film series with an emphasis on hanging out afterward. To create a festival everyone can enjoy and learn from that isn’t like anything else.”
What would you say makes this festival unique? 
“It’s different from the average film festival in that it’s not submissions-based. It’s a curated weekend. We wanted the experience to be with the objective of fun, more like a music festival. So there are new films as well as classics. There’s also an exciting mentorship aspect since we’ve opened it up to art schools.”

Why did you decide to focus on female-helmed films?

“When I started working in commercials, I experienced unconscious bias and sexism first hand. It became apparent that the assumptions people have about female filmmakers are pretty damaging. And so many female-helmed films are interesting and exciting, but haven't got the recognition they deserve. I love poking about and discovering what was the treasure trove cinema — the films that inspired the icons.”
Is the festival open to everyone? 
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“This festival is for everyone. I love women-only spaces, and there’s something really important about that environment, but you don’t want to get to the space of ghetto-izing yourselves. Why should a festival that features films directed by women just be interesting to women? When you think of it like that you realize that as a feminist there can be this built-in sense of being secondary.. If you internalize the idea of being the ‘other’ or the ‘and,’ you don’t think of female-centric stories as being as interesting to everyone. Why wouldn’t a film festival made up of films directed by women be interesting to men?”
Is WUTI’s name influenced by the 1974 film A Woman Under The Influence?

“Yes, it had an incredibly powerful effect on me, as it has to everyone. The WUTI movement name was actually incepted in a whimsical way. Of being under the influence of all the women that have come before. In understanding that yes, there is a modern movement, but there’s also a lineage that has existed since the start of cinema of women who have perpetually had to break out. It’s beautiful for us to appreciate that lineage and highlight those women and films to inspire future generations. We’re all part of something bigger that has a throughline.”
What specific themes did you incorporate into the programming of Idyllwild?

“We wanted to create a living magazine that encompasses all kinds of experiences. Films that are funny, mainstream, art house, and rediscovering films that didn’t get the recognition they deserve. The features we’re showing include Losing Ground (1982), the first fictional feature film made in America by a woman of color, which was an anomaly at the time given the culture. We’re also showcasing films that push beyond the traditional Hollywood narrative in our LA Stories section like, Lions, Love and Lies (1969). Attendees and speakers including Courtney Love, Viva Bang, and a couple of women from the LA Rebellion are coming to give their take on the reinvention of cinema.  The thruline is that we’re showcasing films and discussions that are progressive and not like anything else.”
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What’s your favorite thing to do as a tourist in Idyllwild? 
“In Idyllwild you eat lovely food, drink lots of wine and, explore different venues watching an unpredictable selection of live music and film. You never know what you will walk into and what kind of talent you’re going to find here. We popped into tomorrow’s venue and found a band of young wizards in psychedelic coats playing fiddles as if they were playing for thousands of people. That’s what you get on a Wednesday night in Idyllwild! What’s kind of fun about the destination is that there isn’t an obvious thing, nor is it easy to categorize. It’s an artistic, adventurous unique mountain town that isn’t too overrun with tourists but enjoyable to everyone who visits.” 
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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