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Interview with Melanie Wise

The Artemis Women In Action Film Festival is in Los Angeles in April of 2015. The first film festival devoted exclusively to female action films. We will celebrate powerful women taking action on the silver screen. From superheroes to super stuntwomen, from martial artists to mighty athletes, from women in law enforcement to women in the armed forces, we will shine a spotlight on females in film who are fearless and revolutionary.

Here is my interview with the founder of the festival Melanie Wise.

CM: …so the reason I had you on the show today is to talk about your kickstarter and your film festival that you're putting on right now. So can you tell the people a little bit about it.

MW: Yes. Actually, we are starting the very first film festival that is dedicated completely to women in action roles. There's a couple of festivals that are dedicated to just women and basically they support women in front of the camera, behind the camera and so on. our festival is not just dedicated to women but it is dedicated completely to celebrating women in action roles. I hope I'm making that distinction clear there.

CM: Yeah. Absolutely and that's what interested me, I couldn't believe that this didn't already exist it seemed like such a smart idea for a film festival because there are so many wonderful action films that do have women in leading roles and just to focus on that was such a good idea. Are there sort of any specific films that inspired you to do this?

MW: I've been a fan of action my entire life, for me it's my sweet spot, I love it. But I'm also an athlete all of my life - I'm speaking like it's in the past tense and it's not - there is something to the physical component of strength that I find particularly beautiful and it is one of those things that I have - myself and all of my partners - all of the festival founders have been steeped in action for years and year and years. Both of the other co-founders are Sean Newcombe and Zac Baldwin and they are both long time writers of very powerful women in action roles long before it was popular. Now we are watching this trend start to hit and it's gotten so loud while in other ways so very ignored. I think this is the second year that some well-known - I think it was the __ (Scifi?) awards and I think the Spirit awards [FYI: People's Choice Awards - Favorite Action Movie Actress -J Lawrence] and they actually had best action character for a woman in their award lineup.

CM: Really!

MW: Up until very recently the action genre is kind of like comedy, it doesn't get nominated for awards, doesn't matter how good it is, how great the message is. And the part that kicks my ass the most about it is that action is and has been consistently for many many years one of the best earners.

CM: Oh yeah absolutely It's the same thing with comedy - I think it's a really smart parallel you're drawing there where they're both genres that do very well and maybe even horror as well but they just don't get the respect that they deserve necessarily just because of the varying degrees of film that if something is an action film, like say the first Alien film that they'll say it's an action horror film but they'll call it a thriller because they don't want it to be categorized with the other films while it's clearly an action film.

MW: It's totally a horror film and it's very much action. Aliens and Terminator 2 are obviously close to my heart, they were two of the most well known action films in my young life that I could watch. If you go back in time a little known fact is Raquel Welch in the late 60s early 70s did a string of 6 action films. One was as a parachuter, one was a spy. Two of them were gunslingers. Awesome!

CM: I saw one of the westerns she did and I remember that but the rest of them, no, never even heard of them.

MW: One she was a roller derby queen. But the part I loved about it the most is if you also go back to that era we were really getting into gratuitous nudity, especially for women, had to see all of the women's toys, right? And here Welch is, way ahead of her time because I think up to that point I don't think another actress had done so many action films but she also would not do nudity.

CM: That's something a male actor in genre really doesn't have to think about. If there's male nudity in a film it's generally just played for laughs.

MW: But it's no different for them to go to the beach. Completely different. Do I think there needs to be more equality. I'm going to put it this way. I think the last acceptable bastion of racism is sexism.

CM: I completely agree with you.

MW: You cannot do a film festival like this without addressing some of those issues. There is gender inequality. There's pay inequities. There's all kind of stuff happening here. More than anything I wanted to do this festival for two reasons. One: action films with women kicking ass and taking names are just a pile of fun. Two: I think if we want to see women taking up a stronger place in society on every level, what we put in our filmed entertainment has the fastest opportunity to change that paradigm.

CM: Do you see that film should be taking on that national dialogue that really doesn't seem like it's happening right now.

MW: I'm actually pleased about it that it is kind of taking it on. Because in the last two or three years that in every media platform people are watching a lot of the most watched TV shows, most watched cable shows, your biggest movie successes are women led pictures right now. So it's this kind of undercurrent dialogue that is absolutely taking place. It's just that no one is out there going - except Geena Davis is out there beating a drum long and hard and I admire her for it. Yes, I absolutely agree with those perspectives but if I had my hit the nail on the head blurb it would be let's empower - let us be a more empowered woman.

CM: Absolutely. Do you think that someone like Lena Dunham ("Girls") who gets clearly just trashed in the media and online for having what - they don't seem like really controversial views to me - you even bring up the word feminism in public right now and you get just lambasted for it.

MW: I know. Did you see that report - I think it was CNN - raving about the "Frozen Effect"? I'm sorry, I'm giggling. For me, I am absolutely opposed to a strong woman next to an idiot box guy. I want to see a strong woman standing next to a very strong male counterpart. I'm not interested in the idiot, the stupid, the dufus, the screw up, the loser.

CM: Sure.

MW: And you can't really empower one sex without empowering the other. They have to go together.

CM: I completely agree. It needs to be a humanist moment. There is an inequality where - there's gender inequality in this society and it is worldwide. But specifically to the United States there is definitely gender inequality here that needs to be addressed.

MW: Can I ask you what about it interests you?

CM: My wife, my mother, that it's half the population is what interests me in it and that I see women's rights on basic things like healthcare being fucked with right now to a degree that I have never seen in my lifetime. And it's the simple basic things that don't seem controversial to me in my mind that are controversial right now that absolutely floor me. Like reproductive rights or any gay marriage, anything you go down that path with these are things that are no brainers to me and yet they are controversial and that really pisses me off.

MW: Thank you for having your perspective because the more men that can see what you can see, this will become a non-issue. I look out into the world and some of the stuff I see I feel what can you do but stop and laugh because it's just that ridiculous.

CM: Yeah. I don't get it. I don't know how to take on that dialogue. It's unfortunate - something like the release of "Selma" that just happened when that became controversial and in my mind I think this is redundant, something we don't need to retread then you see how it's reacted to in the media and you go wait, we are still in this place that I don't think we are and that is part of what attracted me to your film festival was the idea that there was this little genre that needs to get that attention behind it and needs to - the fact that you're having these open submissions is part of it, to have the indie action filmmaker come aboard and be able to put those things out there and I think that's fantastic.

MW: You know what floored me. First of all, it doesn't matter whether it's a man, woman or a dog that is doing the action, action is my sweet spot. The movies that I love. I grew up with this. I love Jackie Chan. Whether it's fight action, straight action or martial arts, I like it. When we decided to move this festival forwards, the response we're getting from all over the world - people love women in action and it's world wide! Part of me thought we're going to get laughed out of the box for this one. But we've gotten an amazing response. We have amazing films. We even got a submission from Iran of all places.

CM: Really?

MW: Yes. And its absolutely mind numbing on so many levels. It's really sad. It's an animated piece but it is incredibly well crafted. It's a short. And here is an Iranian filmmaker making a film about a woman empowering herself. Wow! From one of the countries where you're going to see the most intolerance to humanity and women's rights.

CM: Absolutely wow. That will part of your festival? What's the name of that film?

MW: Junk Girl. This is one of those where I hate to talk about it. My mouth falls open every time I consider this particular film and the content and beauty of it. He cannot send us the film - we have to figure out how we're going to screen it because he cannot send us anything because of the sanctions there.

CM: Oh my god.

MW: He could probably get arrested.

CM: There is that perspective that I get frustrated with our country and living here and then I have to keep it into a global perspective also and think about something as simple as submitting a film, he could get arrested for that. That is mind blowing.

MW: Can we look at where we are and have our gripes, yes. But when we start looking out into other parts of the world we have pretty good blue skies here.

CM: Absolutely, but we have the potential to be so much better and I think we're selling ourselves short in a lot of ways.
MW: This has been with me since I was a tiny child that there is something to celebrating a physically empowered woman. I have obviously been forced to think about this a lot forcing this festival out into the world but it finally struck me that women are looked upon as the weaker sex, the lesser than sex for a lot of different reasons. So until women are consistently portrayed a physically equal they will probably continue being seen as less. And that's why this particular film festival really blows my skirt up because it has the power to have an amazing effect and since all of this content comes from the United States and it moves out into the world, we really need to be at the forefront of it.

CM: How can people find information about your film festival. How can they help it out? What can we do?

MW: The film festival you can find all your details at All of our basic information is there. It's our homepage geared for submissions. Submissions can be done on withoutabox, filmfreeway, film festival life. They also be done directly on our home page if someone wants to. As we have brought this festival out into the world, we are getting an incredible response, and so speedily put together a crowd funding campaign because we really do want to make a big splash with this. We want to give the festival a decent budget so we can do things like panel discussions, so we can have some of your Hollywood luminaries show up; we want to do an Honors section to the festival where we give some attention to the people who pioneered these films. You've got people like Jeannie Epper who was Lynda Carter's stunt double and she was one of the first well-known stunt women. If you go back to the '20s, there were women doing stunts.

CM: Really?

MW: There's a blog called Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule and he's a film historian and a film reviewer and he writes about the classics and he actually - I knew some of this - but he actually gets into some of the very early history of stunts. I did an interview with him and that was some of the content he put there. It's beautiful stuff.

CM: Wow. What was some of the stuff that you came across that blew your hair back.

MW: Actually, one of the festival founders is a huge film history buff so several months ago he started looking into the history of women in stunts. So I had a smattering of knowledge, I could have never said the names of the women involved there, but I knew in advance of that interview that women were doing their own stunts in the '20s.

CM: I had no idea. I need to look more into that because there were - I remember seeing films where - even from the '80s - where'd you see obviously men wearing the dress to do the stunt and it just makes no sense.

MW: And the part that is even more mindblowing is that there have always been physically capable women to do this but you read articles - I have a long history in fitness and strength conditioning. It's an area of life I have studied for a lot of years. I trained a lot of men and women to body builders right up to obese people. I've done a lot of injury rehab. It's a subject that I can say that I am incredibly well versed at. So when I read articles that they are printing in prominent news that women are more prone to injury and getting hurt in military type settings I get furious about it because hands down every women I have ever trained is pound for pound stronger than most men; they're tougher; they can handle more pain. The guys that I have trained in my life I've sent every one of them to the john puking, I've never done that to a woman.

CM: If you think about it on the most base level, a woman's body is designed to pass another human through it. There is a level of pain tolerance that women have that men can't touch. I understand that and I respect that. I think when you come across those articles it's really people just trying to justify what ends up them being uncomfortable with a woman in a powerful situation.

MW: Absolutely. Someone posted a comment on our crowd funding campaign that said something about the person who coined "weaker sex" must have been a woman trying to disarm an insecure man. I get a kick out of that. I loved it.

CM: I am guilty of having a fragile male ego. We do have that where it's unfortunate we do take up half of the population so unfortunately women do have to deal with that.

MW: To be honest, I have seen many women with fragile male egos. This is not something that is completely a male issue. We all have those masculine fragilities. I've seen it on a lot of women.

CM: To kind of bring it all back around. If you had to go to one movie that really just got you into action films was there one from your youth that made you really want to keep trying to find that high again.

MW: The thing that started me down the track was probably Terminator 2. At the time the thing bothered me about it was they couldn't just have a physically powerful woman, she had to be half-crazy. She couldn't just be this woman standing in power saying okay this is what we're going to do. She had to be this almost hyper-obsessed woman - I mean she's in a mental institution, they've already painted her ass as crazy.

CM: I guess you could take it a step further that maybe a woman who does have physically prowess like that in society is going to be thought to be crazy. It possibly be a social commentary in that regard. I don't know if the filmmakers were thinking of that but if I think about James Cameron's film as a generalization, he does-

MW: He makes beautiful woman. He does.

CM: That's very true.

MW: I can't fault him for that. It was just one of those things where I think they probably didn't even think about it. When I watched that the beauty of it hit me deeply. The people I thought just absolutely hit perfection with it obviously was The Matrix.

CM: Excellent. With Carrie Anne Moss.

MW: Yes, exactly. There was no distinction between what the women and men could do in that film.

CM: You're absolutely right. I've never really thought about the film in those terms but it is very even - the playing field - in that. What she's capable of doing next to Keanu Reeves' character and they're right there and she's as capable as he is.

MW: And the other part that I think was such perfection about The Matrix was they made it very clear that what they could do was all the head. What they thought.

CM: I think that is something that we could all take away to our personal lives in that our potential is only limited by our imagination and by our minds in that sense.

MW: There is one more thing that I am completely losing sight of telling you about because we really need help on this front. Our crowd funding campaign is up and running because we want to give our film festival a better splash. The bigger budget we can get, we're going to make a bigger dent in terms of getting press, publicity, getting personal appearances, having the ability to do panel discussions with stunt women and having some MMA and fighter chicks show up so it could make a huge dent in what we actually accomplish with our first festival.

CM: Well then we will steer as many people as we can in that direction. Did you have a date that you planning in doing the festival?

MW: The festival is the third week of April, the 24th-26th, 2015. The crowd funding is running through March 4. It's called the Women Kick Ass project and can be found at

CM: Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for taking time out of your day to do this, I really appreciate it.

MW: It was absolutely a pleasure.