DGC Ontario Director Danishka Esterhazy On Genre Film With A Feminist Lens

DGC Ontario Director Danishka Esterhazy is well-known for her love of thriller and horror films and often brings her directorial talents to genre film and television with a female-driven perspective.

A graduate of the Directors’ Lab at the Canadian Film Centre and the TIFF Talent Lab, Danshka’s films have screened at festivals and theatres around the world. She recently won a 2021 DGC Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Movies for Television and Mini-Series, for I Was Lorena Bobbitt, and is currently a Producing Director on Syfy’s upcoming high school horror-comedy series, DGC Production Astrid and Lilly Save the World.

Esterhazy’s third feature, dystopian thriller Level 16, premiered at Fantastic Fest in September 2018 to both critical and audience acclaim. She returned to Fantastic Fest this year with The Slumber Party Massacre, a reimagining of the 1982 cult classic directed by Amy Holden Jones, and follows the same spirit of dissecting horror movie conventions with a feminist lens.

We spoke to Danishka about her work, why she’s particularly drawn to genre film and television, the female gaze in genre storytelling, and more. 

DGC Ontario Director Danishka Esterhazy

You often work within the genre space. What draws you to horror, sci-fi, and fantasy?

I feel that genre stories offer an amazing opportunity to combine entertainment and social commentary. Fans watch genre films and TV because they love the world-building and the excitement but they also appreciate the way these stories hold up a mirror to current issues of social justice. 

Danishka Esterhazy n the set of The Slumber Party Massacre in South Africa
On the set of The Slumber Party Massacre in South Africa

Why do you feel it’s especially important for women to be in front of and behind the camera when it comes to genre films? 

When I was watching genre films as a girl, I was so disappointed by the lack of women in those stories. I consider it my calling to make great films that address some of the historical lack of female characters, and the female gaze, in genre storytelling, and to make the kind of films that I would have loved as a young fan. 

Level 16 (2018) and I Was Lorena Bobbitt (2020) Directed by Danishka Esterhazy 

The Slumber Party Massacre, shot in South Africa, is currently making waves after premiering at Fantastic Fest. How did you become involved in the production, and what was your approach in updating the 1982 film for 2021?

Syfy executive Josh Van Houdt invited me to pitch a reboot of Slumber Party Massacre to Shout Factory – the studio that owns all of Roger Corman’s IP. I had directed The Banana Splits Movie for Josh as well as two episodes of the Syfy series Vagrant Queen – so Josh knew my love of horror and female-driven stories. Josh brought on screenwriter Suzanne Keilly and together we dreamed up the remake!

First, I wanted to honour the work of the women writers and directors who created the original movies. I am a big fan of Amy Holden Jones and I wanted to show my appreciation of her work with blocking and compositions that recall her iconic scenes. But I also wanted to take the feminism of the original movies further, to mock the sexist conventions of 80’s slasher films and turn those conventions upside down.

Compaing scenes from the original The Slumber Party Massacre, circa 1982, and the remake circa 2021.

What do you love most about working in Toronto/Ontario?

We have amazing actors and great crews! And we are a city of cinephiles who love great stories.

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