Athena Film Festival
February 9-12, 2017
Barnard College



Dear Friends: 

We are just coming back to earth after an extraordinary weekend and wanted to thank all of you for your support of the 2015 Athena Film Festival For those of you who joined us for all or part of the weekend, I think you will agree that this year’s Festival was the best yet.  As one of our friend’s put it, we have passed infancy and adolescence and fully matured.  

A special thank you goes to our Founding Sponsor, the Artemis Rising Foundation and its founder and CEO, Regina K. Scully, as well as our Premiere Level Sponsor, the Ford Foundation’s JustFilms, our corporate and foundation sponsors, our Honorary Host Committee, and Festival Co-chairs. Your faith in us and your financial support has made the festival possible and inspired us to continue our goal -- highlighting women’s leadership in real life and the fictional world. Here are a few of the highlights from the weekend:



On Thursday evening prior to the opening film, we presented the Laura Ziskin Lifetime Achievement Award to the legendary Jodie Foster.  Jodie joined us at the President’s reception, walked the red carpet, and was extremely gracious to everyone she met.  She also delivered inspiring words about the importance of women directors and what a difference it made to see women on the set.  You can see her comments here

The awards ceremony, attended by over 300 guests on Saturday evening was equally inspiring.  Our red carpet was the place to be, with reporters and cameras from a wide range of entertainment outlets from Access Hollywood to Entertainment Tonight to People Magazine photographing comedienne and television personality Rosie O’Donnell, actor and Barnard board member Dylan McDermott, and our award winners.  

During the ceremony, co-chair Debra Martin Chase presented an Athena Award to Producer Cathy Shulman (CrashThe Illusionists) and Author, Producer, Director, Susan Fales-Hill proudly presented an award to Director Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love & BasketballThe Secret Life of Bees, Beyond the Lights).  Comedienne Rosie O’Donnell capped the evening when she presented the President’s Visionary Award to Sheila Nevins, President of HBO Documentary Films. We can’t overstate the energy and excitement in the room (as well as good food and music).  This article in the Hollywood Reporter includes a great summary of everyone’s remarks and this one in Entertainment Weekly reports on the Athena List winners, who were announced during the ceremony. 


We had a wonderful lineup of films this year and a host of directors, producers, and film subjects joined us for Q & A sessions. The opening film,Dreamcatcher, was an inspiring portrait of Brenda Myers-Powell, a former Chicago prostitute who helps women and teenage girls break the cycle of sexual abuse.  Kim Longinotto, a British documentary director, introduced her film via Skype. Following the movie, Brenda along with Sharita Parker, a woman she has helped, and producer Lisa Stevens, joined us for a Q & A session. 

On Friday, Kitty had the honor of interviewing one of America’s preeminent choreographers, Twyla Tharp, and explore her innovative use of dance in film. Among the films we screened that evening was Althea, a documentary about the trailblazing athlete, Althea Gibson, and her experiences in the highly segregated world of tennis.  Filmmaker Rex Miller joined an enthusiastic audience following the film.  Transgender activist Kate Bornstein joined a lively crowd for a Q & A following the documentary based on her life, Kate Bornstein is a Queer and Pleasant Danger. And both our reception for filmmakers and one for alumnae enjoyed enthusiastic crowds. 

Saturday was a blockbuster day with films beginning at noon and lasting nearly to midnight.  Among the standouts - the world premiere of HBO’s new documentary, Rosie: A Heartfelt Stand Up, about Rosie O’Donnell.  Following the screening, Rosie was joined by a panel of physicians to launch a new public education campaign about heart disease, the leading cause of death among women. The film is laugh-out-loud funny while at the same time delivering a powerful message about the dangers of heart disease and the symptoms for which women need to watch. Saturday evening continued with a screening of Beyond the Lights. Written and directed by Athena Award winner Gina Prince-Bythewood, the film met critical acclaim from festival fans who were riveted to their seats as Gina talked about her passion for filmmaking and what she went through to get her films made.

And on Sunday, we closed the festival with Difret, a powerful feature film about a young girl who is abducted into marriage and shoots her kidnapper in self defense.  The story of her legal challenge to the Ethiopian practice riveted a nation and our audience as well.  We were thrilled that the director and producer and their young family participated in a Q & A session following the film. We also had a wonderful Works-In-Progress program where three filmmakers were able to share clips of their work and get feedback from industry experts.



Throughout the weekend, we had a host of panels and workshops for filmmakers from a panel on cinematography to a guide to successful crowdfunding to a workshop with the Film Fatales.  Both Director Gina Prince-Bythewood and Producer Cathy Schulman conducted master classes for filmmakers with overflow crowds. And Melissa led a discussion on "Reimagining Gender Diversity."

We were particularly impressed by the diverse people who came from across the globe to attend the festival -- student filmmakers from China and Germany, a mother and an aspiring filmmaker daughter from North Carolina (who got the Athena trip as her 16th birthday present), a professor from Michigan studying Latina filmmakers. We had student delegations from ten colleges and universities from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point to Berkelee College of Music to the University of Hartford. More tickets and passes were sold this year than ever and our audiences reflected the diversity of the films.  

Lastly, we can’t say enough about the extensive media coverage we received.  We were featured in articles in the Wall Street JournalVariety,Hollywood, the New York Times, and numerous other publications.  Jodie Foster’s comments about the need for more women directors was picked up everywhere. Access Hollywood caught Rosie on the carpet and Rosie even mentioned us on The View on Monday.  

Of course, none of this is even remotely possible without all your support and encouragement. Please know that we are extraordinarily appreciative for all you do for Athena. We hope we can see you soon to give you the "in person" hugs and thanks that you deserve. 

Click Here for more photos from the weekend.


Melissa and Kitty


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Thank you to our Founding Sponsor: 


Athena Center Interns Have Done It Again! Check out this video created by 3 of our Film Festival Interns (past & present):


Athena Center Interns Profiled on MTVu -- watch the video! 


Athena Film Festival Sponsorship Opportunities