The Athena Film Festival (AFF) continues to showcase films about strong and courageous women leaders with its 2018 lineup of narrative, documentary, and short films. Among the feature films included in this year’s lineup are THE BREADWINNER, directed by Nora Twomey and executive produced by Angelina Jolie; the New York premiere of I AM NOT A WITCH, from first-time writer and director Rungano Nyoni; LADY BIRD, the directorial debut of Greta Gerwig (AFF ‘11 Honoree and 2006 Barnard graduate), starring Saoirse Ronan; MEGAN LEAVEY, directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite and starring Kate Mara; WONDER WOMAN, directed by Patty Jenkins and starring Gal Gadot; and THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE, directed by Niki Caro and starring Jessica Chastain, among others.
The documentary category includes BOMBSHELL: THE HEDY LAMARR STORY, directed and written by Alexandra Dean; I AM EVIDENCE, directed by Trish Adlesic and Geeta Gandbhir and produced by Mariska Hargitay; the New York City premiere of IT’S CRIMINAL, directed by Signe Taylor (1987 Barnard graduate); and the international premiere of MY YEAR WITH HELEN, directed by Gaylene Preston, among others.
A wide variety of shorts will be featured, including the world premiere of FRONTIER, directed by Jillian Banner; and the New York premieres of AL IMAM, directed by Omar Al Dakheel; BEADS, directed by Rachel Byrd; CON MADRE, directed by Clancy McCarty; THE FAN directed by Mohammad Ghanefard and Ali Delkari; and THE RED THUNDER, directed by Alvaro Ron, among others.
In addition, the festival will feature several Virtual Reality experiences including Look But With Love: A Story of Women, Look But With Love: A Story of Dance from Oscar-winning director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, Testimony from project creator Zohar Kfir, and Under the Net from director and writer Justin Perkison.
The festival will also host entertaining and informative panels including: The Female Gaze, Social Media and Branding For Filmmakers, and Revising the Canon.
“We are thrilled to announce an incredible line-up for the 2018 Athena Film Festival which highlights diverse female talent both in front of and behind the camera,” said Melissa Silverstein, co-founder and Artistic Director of the Festival and founder of Women and Hollywood. “Our goal as a festival has always been to highlight and recognize the strong and unique female voices and points of view in the industry by giving them a platform for their stories to be shared and amplified.”
“It’s an honor to once again host this inspiring festival that celebrates the stories of courageous and bold women leaders and the filmmakers who create them,” said Kathryn Kolbert, co-founder of the Festival and Constance Hess Williams ‘66 Director of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies at Barnard College. “We are thrilled to recognize the diverse talents of current filmmakers, actors and executives and ignite a spark in the next generation.”
The 2018 Athena Film Festival Awardees include two-time Academy Award®-winning documentary filmmaker Barbara Kopple who will receive the Laura Ziskin Lifetime Achievement Award; BAFTA-winning writer and director Amma Asante who will receive the Athena Award; world-renowned cabaret artist and actress Bridget Everett who will receive the inaugural Breakthrough Award; and director, producer and screenwriter J.J. Abrams who will receive the Athena Leading Man Award.
The 2018 festival co-chairs include Ava DuVernay, Julie Parker Benello, Debra Martin Chase, Geralyn Dreyfous, Paul Feig, Sherry Lansing, Jon Levin, Dylan McDermott, Sheila Nevins, David Oyelowo, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Susan Rovner, Regina K. Scully, and Rachel Weisz.
The eighth annual festival, co-founded by the Athena Center for Leadership Studies at Barnard College and Women and Hollywood, will take place February 22 to 25, 2018, at Barnard College in New York City.
Director: Nora Twomey
Writers: Anita Doron and Deborah Ellis
The Breadwinner is the story of Parvana, a young girl living under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, who must disguise herself as a boy to become the breadwinner of the family when her father is unfairly imprisoned. A story of self-empowerment and imagination in the face of oppression, The Breadwinner celebrates the culture, history, and beauty of Afghanistan
The Divine Order
Director and Writer: Petra Volpe
Political and religious leaders in Switzerland cited “Divine Order” as the reason why women still did not have to right to vote as late as 1970. Director Petra Volpe introduces us to Nora, an apolitical housewife, who becomes the unflinching suffragette leader of the village and helps shepherd equality to this European nation.
Director: Lola Doillon
Writers: Lola Doillon and Anne Peyregne
Based on a true story from WWII, this stirring film is an incredible tale of bravery, strength and survival that tells the story of a young Jewish girl in France, who is sent by her parents to a “safe-haven” school in Italy to avoid the Nazi occupation. When the Nazis arrive in Italy, 13-year-old Fanny finds a way to escape, leading her sisters and nine other children across the border to safety in Switzerland.
I Am Not a Witch [New York Premiere]
Director and Writer: Rungano Nyoni
First-time writer/director Rungano Nyoni spins a magical tale where comedy and tragedy are interwoven to virtuosic affect. After a harmless encounter in an African village, the state imprisons the quiet, withdrawn, 8-year-old orphan, Shula, in witch camp — where the witches wear ribbons tied to a tree to ‘keep them from flying’ — and are threatened with a curse if they try to escape.
Director and Writer: Greta Gerwig
Appearing on many of the 2017 best film lists, Barnard grad and Athena Award winner Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, loosely based on her teen years in Sacramento, stars Saoirse Ronan as Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson who navigates the pressures and constraints of Catholic school with awkward self-assuredness. Longing to break free, she dreams of a future full of east coast skyscrapers, Ivy League universities, and a cosmopolitan culture. The New York Times, A.O. Scott calls this “exceptionally well-written script, full of wordplay and lively argument,”. . . “perfect”.
Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite Writers: Pamela Gray, Annie Mumolo, Tim Lovestedt
Based on a true story, Kate Mara plays Marine corporal Megan Leavey whose exceptional skill and unique bond with a military combat dog, Rex, saves countless lives as they search for IEDs during 100+ combat missions in Iraq, proving that heroes come in many forms. After leaving the military with a Purple Heart, Megan fights valiantly to adopt the injured Rex, and bring him home.
Director: Ron Clements, John Musker
Writer: Jared Bush
Moana is a sweeping animated feature film about an adventurous teenager who is inspired to leave the safety and security of her island on a daring journey to save her people. Inexplicably drawn to the ocean, Moana convinces the mighty demigod Maui to join her mission, and he reluctantly helps her become a wayfinder like her ancestors. Together, they voyage across the open ocean and along the way, Moana fulfills her quest and discovers the one thing she’s always sought: her own identity.
Director: Nathan Frankowski
Writer: Esther Luttrell, Jeannie Barbour
This inspiring film is based on the true story of Mary Thompson Fisher who became one of the greatest Native American performers of all time. Born in Indian Territory, and raised on the songs and stories of her Chickasaw tribe, Te Ata’s journey (played by Q’orianka Kilcher) led her through isolation, discovery, love and a stage career that culminates in performances for a United States President, European royalty and audiences across the world. Yet, of all the stories she shared, none are more dramatic than her own.
Director: Lone Scherfig
Writer: Gaby Chiappe
Set in London in 1940, this wry comedy tells the story of Catrin Cole, a young copywriter drafted by the Ministry of Information to add a woman’s touch to its propaganda films that are intended to boost morale in the midst of the Blitz. Gemma Arterton leads a cast of Britain’s top talent, as Catrin and a cynical, witty screenwriter Buckley (Sam Claflin) set out to make an epic feature film based on the Dunkirk rescue starring the gloriously vain, former matinee idol Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy). As bombs are dropping all around them, Catrin, Buckley and their colorful cast and crew work furiously to make a film that will warm the hearts of the nation.
Director: Patty Jenkins
Screenplay: Allan Heinberg; Story: Zack Snyder, Allan Heinberg, Jason Fuchs
In the 2017 blockbuster of the year, based on the DC comics superhero, Gal Gadot plays Wonder Woman, aka Diana, the Amazonian princess trained to be an unconquerable warrior. Her sheltered island paradise is compromised when an American pilot (Chris Pine) crashes on their shores and tells of a massive conflict raging in the outside world. Diana decides to leave the only world she’s ever known, convinced she can stop the threat. Fighting in the war to end all wars, Diana discovers her full powers and her true destiny and inspires young women across the globe.
The Zookeeper’s Wife
Director: Niki Caro
Writer: Angela Workman
Academy Award-nominated actress Jessica Chastain stars in this stirring film as Antonina Zabinska, the title character in a true story of husband and wife team that run the Warsaw Zoo during the Nazi occupation. Working secretly with the Resistance throughout the Holocaust, the zookeepers sneak Jews out of the ghetto, and give them refuge in tunnels beneath their home, saving hundreds from extermination.
Director Brad Riley
Writers: Norma Bastidas, Jessie Marek, Alexis Rhyner, Brady Riley
On May 5, 2014, Norma Bastidas, a fearless survivor of human trafficking, sexual violence, abuse and addiction, shattered the Guinness World Record for longest triathlon—running, biking and swimming 3,762 miles from Cancún, Mexico to Washington D.C. Join Norma and her team on their 64-day trek and witness her unrelenting endurance, selflessness, and compassion as she takes a stand against human trafficking.
Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story
Director and Writer: Alexandra Dean
Alexandra Dean’s illuminating documentary reveals how Hedy Lamarr, considered by many to be the most beautiful woman in the world was also one of the smartest and most misunderstood. An Austrian Jewish émigré who acted by day and invented by night, Lamarr (1914-2000) developed a radio system to throw Nazi torpedoes off course during WWII, and the concepts underlying today’s cell phone and bluetooth technology. Weaving interviews and clips with never-before-heard audio tapes of Hedy speaking on the record about her incredible life, Bombshell brings to light the story of an unusual and accomplished woman who remains a role model to this day.
Directors: Catherine Gund and Daresha Kyi
Documentary filmmakers Gund and Kyi unearth previously unpublished material and footage to give us a captivating look at the unconventional life of beloved performer Chavela Vargas, whose passionate renditions of Mexican popular music and triumphant return to the stage late in life brought her international fame. Performing with an intense artistry unmatched by her contemporaries, Chavela was an open lesbian when being out in Mexico was rare and dangerous. By the end of her life, she earned a Lifetime Achievement Grammy, and sold out performances at prestigious concert halls around the world.
Dalya’s Other Country
Director: Julia Meltzer
With their country at war and her parents’ marriage falling apart, 12-year-old Dalya and her mother leave Aleppo, Syria, to join her brother in Los Angeles. Together they navigate life in a new country. Dalya, a smiling, effervescent teenager who is the only girl who wears a headscarf at her all-girls Catholic school, must balance her father’s expectations with her developing ideals. A remarkable story of a family displaced by the Syrian conflict explores how they must grow and change, caught between highly politicized identities.
I Am Evidence
Directors: Trish Adlesic and Geeta Gandbhir
Activist and actress Mariska Hargitay investigates the alarming backlog of untested rape kits that have denied justice to survivors of sexual assault for decades. Over 175,000 untested kits have been uncovered to date. As a result, perpetrators remaining free, victims ignored, and the potentially crucial evidence left to languish. Telling the story of four courageous women whose kits went untested for years, I Am Evidence reveals pervasive problems within the U.S. criminal justice system and sends a powerful message that this travesty must be stopped.
It’s Criminal [New York City Premiere]
Director: Signe Taylor
A powerful critique of the economic and social inequities that divide the United States, It’s Criminal follows a group of Dartmouth College students who as part of a college class, work with female inmates in a rural jail to create and perform an original play. Signe Taylor’s camera turns an intimate lens on these interactions and the life-changing experiences had by both the inmates and students, demonstrating that empathy is a powerful force in bridging divides.
Director: Valerie Red-Horse
Valerie Red-Horse’s documentary tells the tale of a true American legend, Wilma Mankiller (1945-2010), a community organizer turned political leader who defied all odds to make a difference for her people. During a time when American Indians found themselves disenfranchised and undervalued by the United States at large, Wilma emerged as a champion of the Cherokee Nation and became its first female Principal Chief.
My Year with Helen [International Premiere]
Director: Gaylene Preston
By any measure, Helen Clark is an exceptional woman. Her journey from one of four children on a remote New Zealand farm to becoming New Zealand’s first elected female Prime Minister is an inspirational life story. My Year with Helenfollows her in 2016 as she adds a new, ever more ambitious goal: to become the first female Secretary-General of the United Nations.
Play Your Gender
Director: Stephanie Clattenburg
Writers: Stephanie Clattenburg and Sahar Yousefi
Canadian musician, Kinnie Starr, goes on a quest to find out why only five percent of music producers are women despite bold advances in other industries. Through conversations with some of the leading talents and voices in the field including Melissa Auf der Maur (Smashing Pumpkins, Hole), Sara Quinn (Tegan and Sara) and others, Play Your Gender asks what it takes for a female producer to make it in the music industry.
Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart
Director and Writer: Tracy Heather Strain
Filmmaker Tracy Heather Strain delivers a moving account of the life of black playwright, communist, feminist, lesbian, and outspoken trailblazer Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965), a pivotal voice among black intellectuals of her time. Her legendary play, A Raisin in the Sun—the first Broadway play produced and written by a black woman—depicted the struggle for dignity of black Americans living under segregation in Chicago with a resonance that persists to the present day. In Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart, Tracy Heather Strain unveils the woman behind the words, revealing what it meant to be young, gifted and black in Hansberry’s world and remembering a light lost way too soon.
Director: Thomas Morgan
Writer: Thomas Morgan and Mohammed el Manasterly
Soufra follows the unlikely and wildly inspirational story of social entrepreneur and refugee, Mariam Shaar – a stateless refugee who has spent her entire life in a Lebanese refugee camp. The film follows Mariam as she sets out to launch a successful catering company, “Soufra,” and then expand it into a food truck business with a diverse group of women from Syria, Iraq and Palestine—who also call the camp home.
Susanne Bartsch: On Top
Directors and Writers: Anthony Caronna, Alexander Smith
Born and raised in Switzerland, Susanne Bartsch moved to the United States and reinvented herself as a legendary party girl “Queen of the Night” at the height of New York’s 1980s club scene. “Susanne Bartsch picked up where Warhol left off,” says RuPaul. The doyenne of NYC nightlife for decades, and still at it, she’s stirred together the art, fashion, and gay dance-club worlds to create extravagant spectacles. Along the way she married (bodybuilder/gym mogul David Barton) and had a son. The film follows Bartsch’s (now in her early 60’s) unconventional life as she plans a show-stopping party and takes stock of her life.
Director: Davina Pardo
A remarkable digital project created by the USC Shoah Foundation enables Auschwitz survivor Eva Schloss to share her story in 3D and interact with an audience for generations to come.
Al Imam [New York Premiere]
Director: Omar Al Dakheel
Despite controversy and threats, Muslim singer/songwriter turned spiritual leader Ani Zonneveld makes a stand for justice and the progressive practice of Islam.
Beads [New York Premiere]
Director: Rachel Byrd
Writers: Cydney Fisher, Lydia Lane
A new friendship is tested when it is confronted by racism.
Director: Lorena Alvarado
Beatrice Vio was twelve when she had her four limbs amputated due to complications from meningitis. Yet nothing could stop her from pursuing the sport she loved and becoming a world fencing champion at the age of nineteen.
Con Madre [New York Premiere]
Director: Clancy McCarty
Highlighting the importance of midwifery care in Guatemala, a country with high infant mortality, Erika and Dora Maria are training to be the first university-level midwives in the country, incorporating new skills into their culture’s traditional practices.
The Fan [New York Premiere]
Directors: Mohammad Ghanefard, Ali Delkari
Writers: Ali Dekari
When a rural elderly woman’s TV antenna is ruined, she only has a few hours until the national soccer tournament will begin. Will she be able to travel to town and back in time for the big game?
Frontier [World Premiere]
Director: Jillian Banner
The moving story of a retired bull rider, the younger rider she mentors, and the barriers they both face as women in the world of rodeo.
Director: Anya Adams
Writer: Keith Edie
Lemonade Mafia tells the story of a young girl pursuing her dream—to own her own business. But what happens when a rival enters the picture?
Director and Writer: Alireza Ghasemi
A 16-year-old girl, who has come to the hospital morgue to identify her mother’s body is turned away by hospital attendants because she’s too young.
Director: Molly Stuart
To protest abuses in the Palestinian territories, 18-year-old Atalya faces imprisonment for her decision to become a conscientious objector and forego enlistment in the Israeli army.
Director and Writer: Angela Jude
Stricken by grief and crippling dementia, an aging World War II veteran, dishonorably discharged for loving a woman, seeks out her beloved for one last dance.
The Red Thunder [New York Premiere]
Director: Alvaro Ron
Writer: Valentine Pozzoli, Alvaro Ron, Clara Viola, Rafael Alvarez
When Sarah, a nerdy teenager, steals her mom’s new car to go on a date, an unexpected event changes her life forever.
Director: Ashlen Renner
Studio owner Cheryl Bellamy takes her dance team from Durham’s inner city to suburban Smithfield, NC where they compete at the first competition of the year—the Showdown.
Waiting for Hassana
Director and Writer: Ifunanya Maduka
In 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped 276 teenage girls in Nigeria. Waiting for Hassana is the harrowing account of one girl’s escape from captivity and a lament for her closest friend, Hassana, who remains missing.
Director: Elizabeth Dixon
Writers: Elizabeth Dixon and Kate Baxter
Helen Keller might be known for being deaf and blind, but she was also an avid civil rights activist who fought to eliminate bias against the disabled within the public, her family, and even herself.
Director and Writer: Christine Chen
A Syrian refugee, Aya, adapts to life in an unfamiliar country on her own after her husband’s immigration visa is unexpectedly rejected.
Look But With Love: A Story of Women
Look But With Love: A Story of Dance
Director: Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
Directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and presented by WITHIN, this nonfiction series follows extraordinary women in Pakistan actively working to change their communities. A Story of Dance features a dancer who has stood up to old community norms to teach children their cultural history through dance and A Story of Women features a community of courageous anti-terrorist officers in Nowshera, the epicenter of the terrorist insurgency.
Project creator: Zohar Kfir
Testimony shares the stories of five survivors of sexual assault and their journey to healing. Its goal is to inspire those who have been silenced to speak out, while building courage amongst survivors.
Under the Net
Director and writer: Justin Perkison
In one of the world’s largest refugee camps in Tanzania, where malaria is the number one killer, the lives of an 11-year-old girl named Amisa and her ill-stricken family are changed forever by the simple gift of mosquito bed nets.
PANELS AND SPECIAL EVENTS
The Female Gaze
One of the most pressing conversations in Hollywood is how to increase the number of female storytellers. In building on our conversation from last year, we will discuss how vital the female gaze is for progressively depicting the intersectional female narrative.
Social Media and Branding For Filmmakers
Social Media is a key component in crowdfunding but it also plays a vital role in a film’s promotion. This panel brings together social media experts to introduce filmmakers to the latest tools and strategies integral to creating a successful campaign.
Revising the Canon
For as long as any of us have been around, the canon – those books, plays, films and TV series – anointed as the most important of their kind has been largely defined as white and male. Join us for a discussion on how we can make the canon more inclusive of women and people of color whose voices and experiences have been historically omitted from the cultural narratives.