Half of all moviegoers are women, but only four of the 100 top-grossing films of 2018 were directed by women.

Lunafest is a nonprofit traveling film festival that tackles that under-representation head-on by highlighting short films directed by talented women who lack the funding and connections they need to make their mark in Hollywood.

Lunafest returns to Napa at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 25, at the Napa Valley College Performing Arts Center, 2277 Napa-Vallejo Highway.

Tickets are $55 ($20 for students) and benefit the event host, Soroptimist International of St. Helena Sunrise, and two other nonprofit beneficiaries, Girls on the Run Napa & Solano and NEWS Domestic Violence & Sexual Abuse Services.

Soroptimist started hosting Lunafest 10 years ago at the urging of new member Edie Kausch. She proposed it as a fundraiser to replace the annual Soroptimist crab feed, which by then was being organized solely by the city’s other Soroptimist club.

The Sunrise club’s first Lunafest, held at the Cameo Cinema, drew only 30 people, but attendance grew steadily to as many as 340 people when the festival was being held at the Lincoln Theater in Yountville.

Kit Crawford of Clif Bar was the driving force behind Lunafest, which was established in 2000 and named after the company’s Luna bar, the first nutritional bar intended specifically for women.

Lunafest promotes women’s stories and voices in film. The careers of women directors often never progress past the short film stage, and Lunafest is intended to give them the exposure and buzz they need to progress to feature-length films.

Lunafest also enables local nonprofits oriented toward women to raise money through its “fundraiser in a box” model, said Suzy Starke German, national program manager for Lunafest.

“The brand was there to lift up women from the beginning,” Starke German said.

Lunafest now includes 180 screenings per year around the country. This year’s festival is 85 minutes and includes eight films.

Last year’s Lunafest, the first held at Napa Valley College, was the club’s most lucrative yet, said Maggie Friedrich of Soroptimist Sunrise. At 267 people, attendance was down from the festival’s Lincoln Theater days, but lower overhead enabled Soroptimist, Girls on the Run Napa & Solano and NEWS to raise more than $5,000 apiece.

Under Lunafest’s latest fundraising model, local hosts keep all the proceeds from their events and pay registration fees to Lunafest, which in turn donates to Chicken & Egg Pictures, a nonprofit that mentors and provides financial support to female nonfiction filmmakers.

This year’s eight featured films, ranging from three to 17 minutes in length, were selected from about 1,200 submissions.

The longest film, “War Paint,” is about a girl who learns what it means to be young, black and female in South Central Los Angeles. While fictional, its depiction of racism and sexism was inspired by director Katrelle N. Kindred’s own experience growing up in South Central.

The film has a good message, but it’s drawn some controversy from people who said it perpetuates stereotypes about South Central, Starke German said. However, festival organizers have defended the film because it reflects the viewpoint of a director who grew up under similar circumstances.

“This is (Kindred’s) story, and we have the platform to help her share that story,” Starke German said.

For the first time this year, each featured director will give a taped introduction to their film. Friedrich said the introductions are helpful.

“First, you get to see them, because you don’t ordinarily see a director,” Friedrich said. “And then they tell you why they made their film.”

“It gives them credit and recognition for creating these wonderful films, but it also helps you as an audience member digest that this is their perspective,” Starke German said. “It also leaves you wanting to know a little more of their story as a filmmaker.”

The films are unrated, but some feature graphic imagery and mature themes. Starke German assigned the festival an informal rating of “PG-16” so that parents can make up their own minds about whether to bring their teens.

“We want parents and guardians to be prepared to talk about these films with their children,” Starke German said.

After last year’s record-setting numbers, there are signs that the 2019 Lunafest will be a success. It’s already generated $7,750 in cash sponsorships, as well as in-kind contributions from presenting sponsors Clif Family Winery, which is providing wine, and Tre Posti, which is providing appetizers and dessert bites.

There will also be a 10-lot silent auction put together by Soroptimist members Holly Mason and Janet Todd.

For tickets and more information, go to lunafest.org and look for the Napa screening or go to eventbrite.com.

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St. Helena Reporter

Jesse has been a reporter for the St. Helena Star since 2006.