For the past eight years, the Athena Film Festival has been a leader in providing recognition for female and minority filmmakers.
From writers submitting their screenplays to the Athena List to filmmakers showing off their movies to a New York audience, to panelists giving away their information and experience to aspiring filmmakers, the festival has proven itself in providing real-world help and an outlet to showcase their work for female filmmakers.
Founded in 2010 by Kathryn Kolbert and Melissa Silverstein, the festival was created to foster more female voices in such a male-heavy industry. It spawned and still continues to be housed at Barnard College’s Athena Center for Leadership Studies, an all-female college that helps fearless women find their voice and show off their talents.
Every year features an eclectic mix of entertainers and leaders in the industry, both first-time filmmakers and those forty and fifty years in the craft. From Gloria Steinem to Billie Jean King, and from Valerie Red-Horse and Gaylene Preston, the festival is sure to include a wide range of voices and insight from all people.
Check out some highlights from the festival below, featuring filmmakers talking about the making of their films and how they broke into the field despite the adversity they faced.
Billie Jean King talking about her being outed while speaking with U.S. top three fencer Margaret Lu in introducing the film Battle of the Sexes:
“I’m glad you’re able to pursue your dreams and also to be your authentic self which is also really, really important for each and every one of us. And it does take us all on a different pathway, and when I was playing, obviously I was outed by Marilyn, that sweet little thing in the movie that wasn’t so sweet. She outed me and I lost everything overnight, all my endorsements except maybe one but they dropped the price enormously. But basically I started over in ’81, and I was no spring chicken then. And I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin until I was maybe 51. I think because I was outed, that also put another trauma on me as well, because I was trying to figure things out. So I’m a big believer in you never out anyone, you let them find their own way and when they’re ready, they’re ready.”
Former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark speaking about her growing up with all sisters and girls doing all the work, for the film My Year with Helen:
“It never really occurred to me until I first started to contest serious political matters that not everyone thought girls could do any job because I’d always done each job from going back to my childhood… It’s never easy breaking into these positions. New Zealand is of course very proud of being the first country where women fought for and gained the right vote. It didn’t come on a plate, the women worked extremely hard for it and persuaded an all-male parliament that it should happen.”
Gloria Steinem on speaking with Wilma Mankiller for the film Mankiller:
“Nothing could be more dire than the original folks in North America went through. There were 5 or 600 different language groups, a level of civilization, agriculture, government, metallurgy. Our us constitution is based on the Iroquois Confederacy, it’s the basis of our constitution. And of course, 90% of people who were originally here were killed by war and epidemic, and to then be treated by less developed people as if they were the ones– I couldn’t understand how she could bear it. I still don’t. And whenever I got into this state, she would say, ‘We’re still here.’ And I think that kind of endurance and clinging to–not clinging but representing one’s values and seeing that they influence every act that you do and you keep your community and you keep understanding that the paradigm of life is a circle; not a pyramid, not a hierarchy. That we are in this room linked, not ranked. She kept telling me I had to put it on a t-shirt. If she could bear it, how much less do we have to put up with?”
Tracy Heather Strain on making Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart:
“We really always thought that people would get inspiration from her and also feel that her words were timely. But I never imagined that they would feel especially timely–it’s [a] coincidence when we got the film finished… So it really just came at a really good time to get people to realize that yes, we’ve had gains but we’ve lost. It seems that we’ve gotten nowhere at times. And like most films, it could have started differently and it could have ended differently and we finally stuck with the ending of her saying she’s depressed–that’s particularly related to a feeling I had and other people had about the state of the world at this time. So the times did inform this.”