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Athena Film Festival: Celebrating Women’s Cinema, Leadership

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February 9th, 2011

By Guest Blogger Melissa Silverstein

The Athena Film Festival kicks off this week. The lineup has something for everyone. There are some films that are a couple of years old but are gems, some that recently played in theaters, some about to come out in theaters, and some making their way around the festival circuit. It’s diverse and not too overly serious (that was one thing we wanted to avoid).

I have to say that curating this festival has been incredibly rewarding and incredibly difficult. I wanted to include so many of films that we screened. But we are doing a new film festival, focused on women, in NYC in the winter so we had to be smart and not over-program. I want to give a big shout out to my co-founder Kathryn Kolbert, director of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies at Barnard, for saying we should do this, and to the folks at Barnard College who have been behind this effort 100%.

Think about it. The world will now have a film festival that is focused on women’s leadership. How cool is that?

I want to share some of the things that I learned during this process. I want to say that this process is not perfect. We operated with a very small staff and we did our best to reach out and find films from all over the world, but the honest reality is that we did not reach everyone. We searched film festival rosters and spoke with colleagues.

1. There are not enough feature films focused on women’s leadership directed by women.

This is a film festival and also a cultural conversation. We decided early on in the process before looking at any films that we would include films directed by men and women. Most women’s film festivals have only women-directed films and if this would have been a documentary film festival focused on women’s leadership that would have been fine, but because we wanted to include features we needed to include men. Look at the films released this year that have women’s leadership as a focus: all of them except for Winter’s Bone are directed by men. Secretariat, Made in Dagenham, Fair Game, Conviction: all good movies about female leaders, all directed by men. I actually strongly believe that bringing men into this conversation about women’s leadership can help change the conversation.

I am excited to finally have people see a movie I have been tracking for a long time that will be released in April: The Mighty Macs, directed by Tim Chambers. Also, Mo, directed by Philip Martin, a feature based on the life of Mo Mowlam played by Julie Walters in an award-winning performance. Mo has never been seen here in the US and we are grateful to the BBC for letting us screen the film.

2. We need more women of color documentary film makers.

I know that there are women of color filmmakers everywhere, but very few of the films that came to our attention with the focus on leadership that we were looking for were directed by women of color. Next year, we’re going to focus more on this issue.

I am very proud of the documentary programs we will be screening. The films include:

* Pink Smoke Over the Vatican, directed by Jules Hart, which looks at women who have the calling to be priests and their fight for ordination in the Catholic Church

* Passionate Politics: The Life and Work of Charlotte Bunch, directed by Tami Gold, gives an overview of the global feminist movement of the last 40 years through the life of one of its long time activists and leaders.

* Bhutto, directed by Duane Baughman, is a fascinating look at Benazir Bhutto which includes footage from her last trip to Pakistan.

* Miss Representation, directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, is a look at sexism in the media through the voices of many women who work in the media and others who are fighting to change the media. [EDITORIAL NOTE: Several WIMN’s Voices contributors and allies are featured in this film, including Jennifer L. Pozner of Women In Media & News, advertising critic Jean Kilbourne, Carol Jenkins, Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda of the Women’s Media Center, Malkia Cyril of the Center for Media Justice, and antiviolence educator Jackson Katz, among others.]

* My So-Called Enemy, directed by Lisa Gossels, asks Israeli and Palestinian young women whether they can find common ground despite all their differences.

* Pink Saris, directed by Kim Longinotto, tells the story of an Indian woman who stands up and protects other women.

* The Topp Twins, directed by Leanne Pooley, is the story of activist lesbian twins sisters from New Zealand who make great music and also have the funniest vaudeville-type act you have ever seen.

* Chisholm ’72- Unbought and Unbossed, directed by Shola Lynch, tells the story of Shirley Chisholm’s 1972 campaign for the Democratic party nomination for president.

3. The shorts are so diverse and rockin’

I had the best time looking at the shorts. We will have three programs as of now (maybe a 4th) and all the films are so different. There are some films that will push your buttons and some that might not seem to be about leadership per se, but all raise great questions about leadership and I am so excited for people to see these films and talk about them.

Come join us at the festival. More information and tickets available here.

Guest blogger Melissa Siverstein is founder and editor of the popular Women and Hollywood blog, and the cofounder and producer of the Athena Film Festival.

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