All about New York City’s pre-eminent female-focused film festival; The Athena Film Festival
It’s on this weekend! The Athena Film Festival, February 22 through 25, showcases films about powerful and courageous women leaders in real life and in the fictional world. The 4-day event is dedicated to elevating female voices and stories and inspiring a new generation of female filmmakers and individuals.
Now in its eighth year, The Athena Film Festival includes features, documentaries, and shorts—and events with trailblazing women in attendance. This year’s guests include Shiri Appleby, Gale Anne Hurd, Billie Jean King, Valerie Red-Horse Mohl, Stacy Rukeyser, Sarah Gertrude Shapiro and Gloria Steinem. The event takes place at Barnard College in New York City.
Kathryn Kolbert, the Constance Hess Williams Director of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies, co-founded the festival with Melissa Silverstein in order to advance women’s leadership in all walks of life. A public-interest attorney, journalist, and visionary in the not-for-profit world, Kolbert has worked on some of the country’s most important legal cases impacting the rights of women and continues to apply her own power, insight and experience to issues of civil rights, reproductive rights, women’s issues, and leadership.
The film festival is one way of furthering her objectives to change the culture and, ultimately, the balance of power as gendered. “Culture and art,” says Kolbert, “make a big difference in how we perceive our social justice and the advancement of women,” and this is one of the many reasons why the Athena Film Festival is an important platform for women, and an event worth getting behind. Kolbert has been a driving force since its inception.
“When I came to Barnard to start the Athena Center, Melissa Silverstein [founder of Women and Hollywood] invited me to a reception for Jane Campion, the filmmaker, at Gloria Steinem’s house and I was struck that evening by how many filmmakers walked around and talked about how they had made their first film but couldn’t get a second deal, couldn’t get their stories made into films.
It occurred to both Melissa and I that it was important to create a forum in which women could showcase their work and create a venue in which we started telling a different story about what leadership looked like.”
Historically, our culture has reflected the view that, “basically, white men are what leadership looks like. I am passionate about advancing the rights of women, advancing a new vision of leadership and frankly ensuring that the younger generation of women have both the opportunity to make a difference in the world but also feel accepted in that endeavour,” says Kolbert.
This year is a landmark year for the festival. The #MeToo movement and the Time’s Up cause are now indelibly linked to the film industry. Never before has the topic of women’s rights in filmmaking had such visibility or traction—and Athena will reflect that sea change.
The festival will open with Battle of the Sexes— a film that’s really about turning sexual harassment, discrimination, and oppression into leadership and victory—for all women. After the screening of the film, Billie Jean King will be in conversation with a younger woman athlete. “The conversation between older and younger women about role models is a key one that we wish to push at the festival,” says Kolbert.
And you can be assured that the Athena Film Festival is a women’s event that does not marginalize LGBT women. “Since our very founding we’ve been inclusive and it’s very important to us to be inclusive in all kinds of ways, whether it’s race, LGBT issues, issues of disability, issues of international perspective,” says Kolbert.
In addition to Battle of the Sexes, LGBTQ highlights this year include the complex and visually stunning lesbian psychological thriller Thelma; a captivating look at the unconventional life of beloved Mexican performer Chavela Vargas, in Chavela; and Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart, about the trailblazing black, feminist, lesbian, playwright Lorraine Hansberry.
And if you’re yet to catch the biggest female-driven films of recent months, including Wonder Woman, Lady Bird, or The Post (which is the closing night film), here’s your chance. To examine the full feast of feminist programming, which includes 55 events, from screenings to panel discussions, visit the festival website below.