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Guest Post: The Athena Film Festival Kicks Off by Kathleen Sweeney

Guest Post: The Athena Film Festival Kicks Off by Kathleen Sweeney

The Athena Film Festival kicked off last night at Barnard College with an awards ceremony honoring the breakthrough achievements of thirteen extraordinary film world mavericks.

Citing them as her “colleagues and influences,” former ABC correspondent and author Lynn Sherr called ten women to the podium to receive awards for their achievements as directors, producers, distributors, film reporters, screenwriters, and cinematographers: Delia Ephron, Chris Hegedus, Debra Martin Chase, Anne Thompson, Debra Zimmerman, Nancy Schreiber, Tanya Hamilton, Leslie Bennetts, Abigail Disney and Gini Reticker.

In an interesting spin, award recipients were asked to name their film world inspiration. With responses as unique and diverse as the women being honored, all underscored an Athena-esque theme of determination against the odds, adaptability and a vigorous nod to the importance of sisterhood networks in media biz survival.

Delia Ephron, celebrated with an Athena screenwriting award, cited her best friends as a resource throughout her career, and ended by encouraging aspiring writers to “locate the personal in storytelling.” Chris Hegedus, who received an Athena award for directing, acknowledged Hillary Clinton, featured in her celebrated 1994 documentary “The War Room,” as a revelation of unflinching determination and dedication to public service.

Debra Martin Chase, who accepted an Athena Award for “exceptional success as a motion picture and television producer,” has played a pivotal role in Academy-Award- and Emmy-Nominated films and television productions including The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and The Princess Diaries. Chase evoked Dorothy Dandridge as a role model for her industry breakthroughs in the 1950s, and her own determination to open doors wider for those who follow.  

Tanya Hamilton, 2010 Grand Jury Prize winner at Sundance for debut feature Night Catches All, also earned an Athena directing award. She mentioned the news reporter Gwen Ifill as an industry role model and highlighted the pivotal mentorship of Michelle Satter, Director of the Sundance Institute’s Feature Film Program.

Leslie Bennetts, Contributing Editor at Vanity Fair, was awarded along with Anne Thompson, for “distinguished reporting and commentary about women and film.” Bennetts noted the fearlessness and Internet re-inventiveness of Arianna Huffington as an inspiration, then quickly added, “even though I don’t agree with her non-payment of writers.”

Abigail Disney and Gini Reticker took to the podium as a team, echoing their collaboration on the startling documentary “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” about the successful Liberian Revolution which resulted in its first democratically elected female head of state, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Awarded for “their extraordinary use of film for social change” Disney spotlit Reticker as her muse, while Reticker named Asmaa Mahfouz, the young Egyptian woman credited with launching the recent revolution through her online video call to action. Reticker concluded with a Susan B. Anthony quote: “Failure is not an option.”

Tonight, Debra Granik, Director and co-writer of the Academy Award-nominated film “Winter’s Bone” will receive a directing award and her co-writer, Anne Rosellini, a screenwriting award. Both will be present after the screening for a fascinating Q&A tonight, 8 p.m. at Miller Theater, Columbia campus.

Photo Credit: Barnard College/Asiya Khaki

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