The Athena Film Festival kicked off their 10th-anniversary celebrations with a bang, at the Athena Film Festival Awards Ceremony on February 26 at Barnard College. This year’s honorees included Lady Bird actress, Beanie Feldstein, film director Unjoo Moon, and Gamechanger CEO Effie T. Brown with presenters Paul Feig and Verna Myers.
Athena Film Festival
On Saturday, February 29th the Athena Film Festival held the New York Premiere of director Liz Garbus’ first narrative feature Lost Girls at Barnard College in Manhattan.
For the past eight years, the Athena Film Festival has been a leader in providing recognition for female and minority filmmakers.
Now in its seventh year, the Athena Film Festival continues to be a venue for films featuring female leaders. To think, it’s an idea so unheard of there needs to be an entire festival donated to more than half the population. Nonetheless, the festival continues in its pursuit of featuring the female protagonist.
City of Joy is a documentary directed by Madeleine Gavin; centered around pain, resilience, and the miraculous transformation of Congolese women.
The seventh annual Athena Film Festival held its award ceremony Friday night at Barnard College.
Sarah Gavron showed up at the 2016 Athena Film Festival this past Saturday to showcase her new film about the women’s suffrage movement in Britain in 1912. Director of Suffragette, a film starring Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, and Meryl Streep, Gavron was in attendance at the festival which promotes women filmmakers, and what better film than one showing how women received the right to vote in England.
We asked Gavron a few questions about the film, about her choices in casting as well as just getting the film made. You can read her answers below and watch the rest of the interview in the video:
You’ve said countless times that you’ve wanted to make this film for a long time.
Yes I’ve wanted to make it for about ten years, it took six years to actually get it off the ground. There had never been a film about the British suffrage movement—it felt like it was overdue in terms in resurrecting the women who changed our course of history, and it also felt timely because the issues women were dealing with then are ongoing issues women are grappling with equal rights still, equal pay, lack of representation in government, with sexual violence, with education, so it felt that it had resonance with the 21st century.
Your choice not to cast a woman of color was also met with some controversy.
Well what we chose to do was tell the story of one group of women of one part of east London in 1912 and in Britain the working class women were white. In America of course you had a similar movement happening differently and that had a very different ethnic makeup because of the different immigration here. Subsequently in the UK we had an immigration that changed the makeup of the movement, but we didn’t at that time.
The 2016 Athena Film Festival occurred this past weekend where male and female filmmakers alike came together to showcase their work, all featuring female protagonists. In a world where women tend not to have the same kind of rights that men do, the film festival hopes to awaken women filmmakers to pursue their dreams in Hollywood and in the film industry, which is one of the most male dominated industries that anyone can go into.
Founded six years ago by Kathryn Kolbert and Melissa Silverstein, the festival has come to feature the films of countless women leaders, and has even started the Leading Man Award, which was given to Paul Feig for his accomplishments in promoting female characters in his films. Not only did the festival screen films, but it also held certain events, like a workshop in collaboration with the Blacklist, in which women screenwriters worked on getting their scripts made.
The festival was a woman-made, women-packed celebration, and to further celebrate that, here are some interviews we’ve had with the founders, as well as honorees Geralyn Dreyfous and Mira Nair.
What was the thinking behind getting the festival started six years ago?
So the Athena Film Festival has one simple goal, which is to change what leadership looks like. So that when you close your eyes and when you think leadership, you’ll conjure up an image of strong, influential, powerful women.
You also are the director of Barnard’s Athena Center for Leadership, so how was that experience useful in creating this vision?
Clearly our goal at the Athena Center for Leadership Studies at Barnard is to ensure that more women rise to leadership across all sectors of society and one of the ways that we can cultivate change is to change how culture sees leadership, and that’s the point of the film festival.
And do you believe that the festival has helped women leaders through filmmaking and showing films?
Absolutely, this is our sixth year and we’re showing fabulous films; each one of whom has a woman in a leadership role, is a protagonist in a story. You spend a weekend here with us and you will see leadership in a different way.
This year marks the first ever Athena’s Leading Man award, given to Paul Feig. How did you choose to award him and come up with the award in the first place?
Well Paul Feig is the recipient of our first Leading Man award. We have always believed that men and women need to work together to cultivate change, and so part of the festival we show films that are made by both men and women as long as women are the central aspect of the story. Creating the Leading Man award is part of the continuation of that same theory and we’re thrilled to honor Paul: he is a trailblazer, he has created a whole genre of films in which women are very, very, very funny and we are thrilled to honor him. He will be here at the festival tomorrow with Kate McKinnon from Saturday Night Live and it’ll be a fabulous event and we encourage people to come.
What was the thinking behind founding the festival six years ago?
We just want to show women leaders on screen and work as hard as we can to show as many women as we can behind the scenes. The whole objective is to create inspiration as well as aspiration for young women and men to see the world as it should be: 50/50.
Have you seen women filmmakers rise to the challenge and showcase their work?
I don’t think women have to prove anything. They are competent, they are trained, they are ready to go. I think the world needs to wake up and pay attention to the fact that they are there and to treat them with respect that they deserve. When a man and a woman are trained equally and the man is looked at as more competent than she is, is just unacceptable, it’s just sexism.
How do you see this festival combating that?
Well the festival is like an intervention in a variety of different levels. We have a lab that was started this year in partnership with the Blacklist for screenwriters that are working on a screenplay that has a female protagonist in it and they just completed two days of workshops. And we also have the Athena List, which is two days of scripts that get to be filmed with female protagonists. And everything you see on screen, the whole weekend—it is basically the antithesis to Hollywood, it’s all about women.
Paul Feig is the first recipient of the Athena Leading Man award, so how was it like choosing him?
Well when you look at Paul Feig’s body of work, he highlights and celebrates women. And he has been doing it before it was sexy and cool. And so what he exemplifies is exactly what we want in the world. He recognizes women on screen are funny, are sexy, are awesome.
As a well accomplished producer, how does it feel like attending the festival and offering insight to aspiring female producers and filmmakers?
Well you know it’s thrilling. It’s a great time to be in documentary filmmaking. I also do some feature filmmaking but the non-fiction is the place that I really love the most. And there’s some extraordinary women directors and producers and talent in that field and sort of just to watch that community keep growing and how we really support one another and support each other’s stories; it’s just a great story.
And how do you feel the Athena Film Festival is helping women filmmakers achieve their dreams?
Well I think it’s really cool that a school like Barnard College that was founded with such a deep tradition of supporting women hosts a festival like this and give women a platform that they can be taken seriously and engage with students and next generation leaders but also be in the culture capital of the world and the media capital of the world in New York City so it’s great a combination. I just think that stories really matter and telling them is the way we crack the world open and reinvent it and just to have people to support these films as audience members and philanthropy. Just supporting it by connecting to the stories and having conversations about it.
How is it like to be honored by the festival?
They’re killing me softly baby. No I’m really happy to be here and honored to be part of a festival that promotes leadership in women because that’s what we are. And what I do is speak softly and carry a big stick, so I’m very happy to be part of a festival that honors that.
And what are your thoughts on the festival promoting women leaders and filmmakers?
There is nothing greater inspired than someone before you who has sweated the struggle and seen the life of the other side and that’s what festivals like this do. They bring us people who have done this and we celebrate their work and we can hopefully see ourselves in them to do that kind of thing—or more. So that’s why
Your career spans combining South East Asian culture with American filmmaking, so have you found any overlap with the cultures?
Well I have always made my own films whether they are independently made or studio, but they are always with my voice. And my voice is distinctly Indian/African: a world view that is not primarily within America but outside America as well. So it’s a unique to be, to be at home here and to be able to tell American stories but also what really inspires me are stories of people like us who are rarely on screen but have universal stories to tell. So Monsoon Wedding is a story about the madness around my own dining table at home in New Delhi but it became a massive worldwide hit because everybody saw their own selves and their families in it. So that kind of idea of making work that is specifically local and truthful but because of its specificity and its treatment, becomes universal, is what I love to do.
You also have a bridge program for Ugandan students, Maisha, to learn about filmmaking.
Yes, Maisha: it’s a film school now for 11 years that works in the four countries of Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda and we have now trained more than 650 filmmakers. And that is the point because the slogan of Maisha is one of my great philosophies which is “If we don’t tell our own stories, no one else will.” So this is a way for Africans to tell their stories and in the process of it, I have made my own stories there, the Queen of Katwe, which is a new film.
Oh! Tell us more.
It’s a Disney film, there will be a clip of it tonight, and it’s with Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo and it’s releasing all over the world in September.
The Athena Film Festival announced today its 2016 lineup, featuring an array of narrative, documentary, and short films. The festival honors extraordinary women in the entertainment industry and spotlights films that showcase women’s courage, power and influence in real life and the fictional world. This celebration of women and leadership runs from Thursday, February 18 through Sunday, February 21 on the Barnard College campus in New York. Artemis Rising Foundation / Regina K. Scully, Founder and CEO is the festival’s Founding Sponsor.
The festival opens on Thursday, February 18th with the New York premiere of the highly anticipated reproductive rights documentary TRAPPED,directed by Dawn Porter.
The Centerpiece film will be SUFFRAGETTE, directed by Sarah Gavron and starring Carey Mulligan. The festival will close with the documentary CODEGIRL directed by Lesley Chilcott.
Among the feature films included in this year’s lineup are: FREEHELD, starring Julianne Moore and Ellen Page and directed by Peter Sollett, TESTAMENT OF YOUTH, starring Alicia Vikander and directed by James Kent, and MUSTANG, the debut feature from director Deniz Gamze Ergüven and the French entry to the Academy Awards. The documentary category includes: HE NAMED ME MALALA, directed by Davis Guggenheim, SPEED SISTERS, directed by Amber Fares, and MAVIS!, directed by Jessica Edwards. A wide variety of shorts will be featured including: ETERNAL PRINCESS, directed by Katie Holmes, QUEEN VEE, directed by Melissa Johnson, BEACH FLAGS, directed by Sarah Saidan, and FEMINIST HIGH, produced by Kelley Lord.
At this year’s Athena Film Festival, President of HBO Documentary Films Sheila Nevins will launch a three-part Master Class series on documentary filmmaking. Other programs will include a Master Class with composer Jeanine Tesori, an Athena List Reading of THE BURNING SEASON and panels for filmmakers.
“This unique festival showcases the stories of courageous and audacious women who are making a difference in their lives and communities. By celebrating women from across the globe, we offer a new, more inclusive vision of leadership and help young women see who they can be” said Kathryn Kolbert, co-founder of the Festival and Constance Hess Williams Director of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies at Barnard College.
“As the Athena Film Festival continues to grow, so too do the stories that feature strong female leads and issues. We carefully curated the films and artists to highlight their incredible talents and the broad scope they cover, from acting, to writing and producing,” said Melissa Silverstein, co-founder and Artistic Director of the Festival and founder of Women and Hollywood. “The 2016 lineup features women making waves not only in film but in life.”
As previously announced, prolific filmmaker and activist Mira Nair will receive this year’s Laura Ziskin Lifetime Achievement Award. Additional awardees include producer Geralyn Dreyfus, director Karyn Kusama, and composer Jeanine Tesori, as well as an ensemble award to the cast and crew of Suffragette.
The current lineup follows. Additional screenings, panels and special events will be announced in the coming weeks.
Tickets and passes are now on sale. Please visit http://www.athenafilmfestival.com for regular updates.
Director: Boo Ji-young
Sun-hee, a diligent cashier and divorced mother, works at a retail superstore dreaming of a better life for her children. When the store’s corporate honchos suddenly lay off all temporary employees, Sun-hee and her co-workers organize a strike and discover their courage and inner strength.
Director: Daryl Wein
This dramatic thriller tells the story of Sophie, a single mom, who searches relentlessly to uncover the cause of her son’s mysterious illness. When she suspects that the new biotech company in town might be responsible, she sets out on a mission to discover the truth.
Far From the Madding Crowd
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Based on the literary classic by Thomas Hardy, this film tells the story of fiercely independent Bathsheba Everdene as she manages her newly inherited estate and chooses among three suitors: a humble sheep farmer, an alluring soldier, and a wealthy older man.
Director: Peter Sollett
Based on a true story, this film depicts New Jersey police lieutenant, Laurel Hester who has terminal cancer and her domestic partner, Stacie Andree, as they battle to ensure that Stacie can collect Hester’s pension benefits after her death.
Director: Pete Docter and Ronnie Del Carmen
In this animated feature made by Pixar, young Riley is uprooted from her Midwest life and moves to San Francisco. Her emotions—Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness— conflict on how best to navigate a new city, house, and school.
Director: Christian Faure
With edge-of-your seat tension, the struggle for reproductive rights unfolds in this story of France in 1975. The film follows groundbreaking health minister Simone Veil during the fight for the legalization of abortion.
Director: Deniz Gamze Ergüven
Five Turkish sisters are punished for playing innocently with boys on their way home from school. Imprisoned in the family home, where instruction in homemaking replaces school and talk of arranged marriages begins, the girls share their passion for freedom and find ways to resist.
Suffragette – CENTERPIECE FILM
Director: Sarah Gavron
An intense drama that tracks the story of working women fighting for the right to vote in early twentieth century Britain. Finding that their peaceful protests achieved little and galvanized by political activist Emmeline Pankhurst, they turn to violence, sacrificing their jobs, their homes, and their children as they fight for a just cause.
Testament of Youth
Director: James Kent
Based on the autobiography of Vera Brittain, this story of young love and the futility of war, stars Alicia Vikander as a British woman who comes of age during World War I when she postpones her studies at Oxford to serve as a nurse in London and abroad.
Director: James Vanderbilt
This is a newsroom drama detailing the 2004 CBS 60 Minutes report that investigated then President George W. Bush’s military service and the subsequent firestorm of criticism that cost anchor Dan Rather and producer Mary Mapes their careers.
A Ballerina’s Tale
Director: Nelson George
Few dancers make it to the highest levels of classical ballet. Of that already small number only a fraction of them are black women. Misty Copeland has pulled herself up the ladder at American Ballet Theater (ABT) from the studio company to the corps de ballet to soloist. Copeland’s career shines a light on the absence of women of color at major companies. A Ballerina’s Tale is the story of how a great talent and a powerful will combined can open doors within a very cloistered world.
Codegirl – CLOSING FILM
Director: Lesley Chilcott
The Technovation Challenge, an international competition for girls ages 10-18, aims to inspire girls to learn coding and other technological skills. From rural Moldova to urban Brazil to suburban Massachusetts, Codegirl follows teams who dream of holding their own in the world’s fastest-growing industry.
He Named Me Malala
Director: Davis Guggenheim
Now a household name, Malala Yousafzai is both an extraordinary leader and an ordinary teen. After the Taliban’s attack on the young Pakistani school girl, she became an outspoken advocate for education and girls’ rights, as well as the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
Makers: Once and For All
Director: Dyllan McGee, Michael Epstein
Once and For All takes us behind the scenes of the 1995 Beijing Women’s Conference as representatives from 189 countries including 17,000 participants and 30,000 advocates hammered out the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the most progressive blueprint ever for advancing women’s rights.
Director: Jessica Edwards
Mavis! chronicles the inspiring career of gospel/soul music legend and civil rights icon Mavis Staples and her family group, The Staple Singers. From the freedom songs of the ’60s to funked-up collaborations with Prince and Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, Mavis has stayed true to her roots and inspired millions along the way. At 75, she’s making the most vital music of her career, winning Grammy awards, and reaching a new generation of fans with her message of love and equality.
Now En Español
Director: Andrea Meller
Now En Español is an entertaining portrait of the five dynamic Latina actresses who dub Desperate Housewives for Spanish language audiences in the US as they fight for a more diverse and visible portrayal of themselves and their community.
Radical Grace – NEW YORK PREMIERE
Director: Rebecca Parrish
When the Vatican publicly admonished a group of American nuns for their “radical feminism”, they find themselves and their work at the center of a long overdue debate that straddles issues of social justice, women’s rights, and the future of the Catholic Church.
Director: Nick Spark
Jessica Cox was born without arms but manages to overcome many challenges to live independently. She types, drives a car and, amazingly, flies an airplane with her feet. Right Footed follows Jessica as she becomes a mentor and advocate for persons with disabilities.
Director: Amber Fares
The Speed Sisters are the first all-women race car driving team in the Middle East. They’re bold. They’re fearless. And they’re tearing up tracks all over Palestine.
Trapped – OPENING FILM – NEW YORK PREMIERE
Director: Dawn Porter
American abortion clinics are in a fight for survival. Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws, like those recently passed in Texas and Alabama are increasingly being passed by states that insist they are for women’s safety and health. But as clinics are forced to shut their doors, supporters of abortion rights believe the real purpose of these laws is to outlaw abortion.
The Trials of Spring
Director: Gini Reticker
When 21-year-old Hend Nafea travels to Cairo to join the popular protests in Egypt, she is beaten, arrested, and tortured. Unbreakable and buoyed by her fellow activists, she sets out on a search for freedom and justice in a country gripped by a dangerous power struggle.
Directors: Drea Cooper and Zackary Canepari
Seventeen-year-old Claressa “T-Rex” Shields from Flint, Michigan dreams of becoming the first woman in history to win the gold medal in Olympic boxing. To succeed, she will need to stand her ground both inside and outside the ring.
Director: Sarah Saidan
Vida is a young Iranian lifeguard determined to participate in an international competition with her teammates but the arrival of talented newcomer Sareh threatens to alter her plans.
Director: Kristina Sorge
Art world pioneer Bernice Steinbaum spent her life working to help female artists and artists of color gain recognition when such artists were largely disregarded in America.
Director: Henry Hughes
Inspired by a true story, Day One depicts a new translator’s first day accompanying a US Army unit as it searches for a local terrorist.
Director: Katie Holmes
An intimate look at the inner struggles, personal dedication, and greatest success of Nadia Comăneci, the first female gymnast in history to score a perfect 10.
Producer: Kelley Lord
Ileana Jiménez, most notably known as “Feminist Teacher,” has created a course at a progressive New York City school that teaches high school students about feminism.
Giving Birth in America: New York
Director: Clancy McCarty
An examination into maternal healthcare in NYC through the stories of expecting women and those that care for them, focusing on the final weeks of their pregnancies.
Director: Zak Razvi
The story of paralympic tennis player Jordanne Whiley who attempts to make history by becoming the first British athlete to win all 4 grand slams in one year.
Director: Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee
The story of Marie Wilcox, the last fluent speaker of the Wukchumni language, and the dictionary she created in an effort to keep her language alive.
Pant Suits – NEW YORK PREMIERE
Director: Saralyn Armer
Set in 1972, an ambitious computer programmer finds herself maneuvering the minefield of a man’s world. When a crappy day gets worse, Karen is pushed to the brink.
Director: Melissa Johnson
For 17 years, Violet “Vee” Palmer has been grabbing her uniform and lacing up, night after night, to run with the big boys of the NBA.
The 100 Years Show
Director: Alison Klayman
Carmen Herrera was a pioneering abstract painter in the ’40s and ’50s, but only recently found the recognition she deserves as she approaches her 100th birthday.
The Trials of Constance Baker Motley
Director: Rick Rodgers
At the height of the civil rights movement, Motley joined the NAACP’s legal team. The story of a leader who met prejudice and danger with elegance and humor.
MASTER CLASSES, PROGRAMS AND PANELS
MASTER CLASS ON DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKING WITH SHEILA NEVINS
Sponsored by HBO
In the first of a three-part Master class series on documentary filmmaking sponsored by HBO, Sheila Nevins, President, HBO Documentary Films, brings her extensive experience to the Festival.
MASTER CLASS WITH COMPOSER JEANINE TESORI
Jeanine Tesori, the most prolific and honored female theatrical composer in history, won the Tony Award for Best Original Score with Lisa Kron for the musical Fun Home, which is currently playing on Broadway. She will discuss her experience composing music for Broadway and film in this intimate session.
ATHENA LIST READING: THE BURNING SEASON
A determined primatologist brings her teenage daughter to a remote region of Madagascar intent on proving her theory on endangered lemurs. But as complications arise their relationship and safety are soon at risk. Based on Laura Van Den Berg’s short story, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, the film will be directed by award-winning Australian filmmaker Claire McCarthy (The Waiting City, The Turning). Emmy-nominated producer Kate Sharp (Behind the Mask, Madame Bovary, The Hallow) is producing with Jenny Halper, who adapted the story.
Sponsored by Google
This panel discussion will focus on how to create systemic change for women in the entertainment industry. Panelists will share their personal experiences and explore evidence of unconscious bias, how it manifests within the entertainment industry, and what the industry can do to overcome its effects and create more opportunities for women.
CROWDFUNDING TO BUILD INDEPENDENCE with Seed & Spark
The only proven path to independence as an artist is a direct connection to your audience. Crowdfunding is becoming a fundamental piece of most financing plans for independent film. However, many filmmakers miss the opportunity to turn their funding campaigns into audience-building opportunities that can last an entire career—and provide the groundwork for distribution that the filmmaker controls. This class for film-related projects will create a crowdfunding action plan to foster a lasting, flourishing, direct relationship with your audience.
GENDER & SHORT FILMS: EMERGING FEMALE FILMMAKERS AND THE BARRIERS SURROUNDING THEIR CAREERS
Sponsored by Lunafest
A look at the research on women directors conducted by the Media, Diversity, and Social Change Initiative at USC’s Annenberg School for Communications. Drawing on more than 3,200 short and mid-length films screened at the 10 top film festivals worldwide, the research also highlights the occupational paths and career impediments of female directors.
ABOUT THE ATHENA FILM FESTIVAL
Now in its sixth year, the Athena Film Festival — a celebration of women and leadership—is an engaging weekend of feature films, documentaries and shorts that highlight women’s leadership in real life and the fictional world. It will be held February 18-21 in NYC at Barnard College. The Festival also created the Athena List, an annual slate of between 3-5 screenplays with female leaders or strong female protagonists that have yet to be made into films. The Founding Sponsor of the Athena Film Festival is Artemis Rising Foundation/ Regina K. Scully, Founder & CEO.
ABOUT WOMEN AND HOLLYWOOD
Women and Hollywood educates, advocates, and agitates for gender parity across the entertainment industry. In eight years, it has grown to be one of the most respected sites focused on women’s issues and popular culture, and its founder, Melissa Silverstein, has become a well-respected leader on the subject.
ABOUT THE ATHENA CENTER
Established at Barnard College in 2009, the Athena Center for Leadership Studies is a catalyst for the education, development and advancement of inspired and courageous women leaders worldwide. Renowned civil rights attorney, Kathryn Kolbert, is the Center’s Constance Hess Williams Director. For more information, visit: http://athenacenter.barnard.edu/
ABOUT BARNARD COLLEGE
The idea was bold for its time. Founded in 1889, Barnard was the only college in New York City, and one of the few in the nation, where women could receive the same rigorous and challenging education available to men. Today, as the world-renowned liberal arts college for women at Columbia University, Barnard remains devoted to empowering extraordinary women to become even more exceptional. For more information, visit www.barnard.edu.
Founding Sponsor: Artemis Rising Foundation
Regina K. Scully, Founder and CEO
The Athena Film Festival Partners with the Black List.