Friday night marked the opening of the first ever Athena Film Festival (February 10 to 13), organized by Barnard’s Athena Center for Leadership Studies director Kathryn Kolbert and Women and Hollywood’s Melissa Silverstein. Athena turns out to be the first ever women and leadership festival, revealed Barnard president Debora L. Spar as she kicked off the fest with a string of hideous statistics proving that the percentage of women in leadership positions in Hollywood today is still worse than the aerospace industry.
Three of the thirteen initial award-winners will accept their crystal Athena Awards later, including Winter’s Bone writer-director Debra Granik and producer-writer Anne Rossellini, who will get theirs at Friday’s screening (I’m doing the Q & A afterward) and Greenberg emerging actress and recent Barnard grad Greta Gerwig, who will accept hers Saturday when she participates in a Hollywood Conversation with Vanity Fair’s Leslie Bennetts.
I was delighted to be part of the group of award-winners who talked about the women who inspired them: writer and Barnard alumna Delia Ephron (You’ve Got Mail), filmmaker Tanya Hamilton (Night Catches Us), producer Debra Martin Chase (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants), VF’s Bennetts (whose 2005 Jennifer Aniston cover story was the best-selling issue of the magazine), documentarians Chris Hegedus (The War Room, Kings of Pastry) and Abby Disney and Gini Reticker (producer and director of must-see Pray the Devil Back to Hell), Debra Zimmerman, executive director, Women Make Movies, and cinematographer Nancy Schreiber (November). The wise and inspirational women cited include suffragette Susan B. Anthony, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, African-American Oscar-winner Dorothy Dandridge, Sundance’s Michelle Satter and adaptable media baron Arianna Huffington. Newswoman Lynn Sherr ably hosted the evening.
As for me, I told the Barnard crowd that I’ve worked at too many places to name, including a bi-monthly, monthly, weekly and finally a daily. Now I work 24/7: I’ve never worked harder in my life, and I’m exhausted—but exhilarated. Most of these jobs were not an available option to the women in my family who came before me. Even my mother, who was the first female reporter at the Cornell Sun, took up the family profession: school teacher, which was the most realistic career choice for smart women back then. My inspiration was trailblazing film journalist Aljean Harmetz (The Making of the Wizard of Oz, The Making of Casablanca, On the Road to Tara), Hollywood correspondent for The New York Times for twelve years. She took me under her wing when I first arrived in Hollywood from New York in my late 20s, a little green. She’s been a mentor and friend ever since. I can’t thank her enough.
Other films to be screened this weekend include feminist media expose Miss Representation (which was recently acquired by OWN), BBC’s Mo, starring Julie Walters as Mo Mowlam, the no-nonsense Brit politician who brokered the Good Friday Peace Agreement, and National Geographic’s Desert Flower (March 18), which is based on the worldwide bestseller and stars Liya Kebede as supermodel Waris Dirie (pictured above). Athena has also slated three shorts programs, including 12 features and documentaries, all directed by women.
Kudos to the two women who organized the Fest: Barnard’s Athena Center for Leadership Studies director Kathryn Kolbert and Women and Hollywood’s Melissa Silverstein.