The Athena Film Festival at Barnard College in New York City, is a weekend of inspiring films that tell the extraordinary stories of fierce and fearless women leaders. Over the last ten years, the festival has welcomed more than 35,000 people from all over the world to 200+ screenings of narratives, documentaries, and shorts that feature diverse stories of ambition, courage, and resilience.

Additionally, as part of our work we offer writing labs for TV and film writers, masterclasses and works in progress programs for women filmmakers, and other skill-building panels and opportunities for women who are breaking into film.

A signature program is the Athena List – an annual slate of between 3-5 screenplays about women leaders that have yet to be made into films. Now in its 6th year, three Athena List films have been released: Little Pink House, written and directed by Courtney Balaker starring Catherine Keener; On the Basis of Sex, written by Daniel Stiepleman and starring Felicity Jones; and Clemency, written and directed by Chinonye Chukwu, premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Grand Jury Prize and now has been nominated for three Independent Spirit Awards. In addition, Athena List winner The Burning Season by Jenny Halper will go into production this year.

The festival is a project of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies at Barnard College and Women and Hollywood, a leading voice for women in the entertainment industry.  The Artemis Rising Foundation and its CEO Regina K. Scully is the festival’s founding sponsor.  The tenth annual Athena Film Festival will be held Feb. 27-  March 1, 2020. Here are our picks for this year’s festival.

A Regular Woman tells the story of 23-year-old Hatun Ayhrun Sürücü, a Turkish-Kurdish woman living in Germany who in February 2005, was shot dead at a Berlin bus stop in an ‘honour killing’ by her youngest brother. This film gives Ayhrun the opportunity to narrate her own story as she leaves her abusive marriage and struggles for a free, self-determined life in the face of her family’s opposition.

Filmmaker Bio:
Sherry Hormann is a German-American writer and director. Her directorial debut, Silent Shadow, won the Bavarian Film Award for Best Young Direction, the Film Award in Silver for Outstanding Feature Film at the German Film Awards, and the Interfilm Award at the Max Ophüls Festival in 1992. Her comedy Guys and Balls won the Audience Award for Outstanding Narrative Feature at LA Outfest in 2005. She also wrote and directed Desert Flower, based on the best-selling autobiography, which won the Audience Award for Best European Film at the 2009 San Sebastián Film Festival. Following the box office success of her 2013 film 3096 Days in Germany, she went on to work on several TV projects.

PICK is a short, fictional drama about Alliyah, an 11-year-old girl who wears her afro to school for the first time, on picture day. The film follows her as she deals with subtle racist comments and microaggressions. Eventually, it comes time to take her personal photo. Alliyah is faced with the decision of wearing her hair in its natural state or tying it up.

Based on real conversations and events, the film will challenge the viewer to reflect on their role as a bystander, or even a perpetrator, of these common microaggressions in their own lives. A microaggression is a subtle, offensive comment or action directed at a minority or marginalized group, that is often unintentional or unconsciously reinforces a stereotype.

The film does not feature Alliyah’s face, turning the viewer into a bystander, observing and overhearing. Her immediate reactions are not shown, forcing the viewer to empathizeSilhouette lightingcreative angles and composition are used to hide her face. In the final shot, Alliyah takes her personal portrait. Her face is revealed for the first time, along with her decision about whether to wear her afro or to tie it up.

The colors in the film are carefully selected for each space and character. Mint green (representing healing) and yellow (representing light) will be be associated with Alliyah’s safe spaces in the film. Red will be associated with her aggressors and the spaces where she feels most threatened. Alliyah is the only character in the film wearing white, representing her innocence.

Moving exploration of the rise of state laws that protect “fetal rights” at the expense of the rights of pregnant women, Personhood tells the story of Tamara Loertscher, a rural Wisconsin mother who was jailed after telling her doctor about her occasional drug use before she knew she was pregnant and her fight to overturn Wisconsin’s ‘Unborn Child Protection Act.’

Filmmaker Bio:
Jo Ardinger is a director and Telly and CINE Golden Eagle Award-winning editor and founder of Tandybrook Productions. Her recent documentary editing credits include Imba Means Sing (2016), Beyond The Visible: The Story of the Very Large Array, narrated by Jodi Foster; and PBS documentaries, Into Deepest Space: The Birth of the ALMA Observatory and Papa Boss. Ardinger is also a guest instructor at the University of Washington, where she teaches digital storytelling in science.

With their partners serving in Afghanistan, a band of women form a choir on the military base and quickly discover that they can rely on each other for more than beautiful harmonies. The women, who must confront the challenges of having a partner at war, find themselves at the center of a media sensation and global movement.

Filmmaker Bio:
Peter Cattaneo was born in London, and graduated from the Royal College of Art. He made his feature debut with The Full Monty (1997), which won over 30 awards, including an Oscar and four BAFTAs. He went on to direct the features Lucky Break (2001), Opal Dream (2006), and The Rocker (2008). Military Wives (2019) is his latest film.

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