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Athena FF: Tales from the Trenches

Athena FF: Tales from the Trenches

No one group of women has cornered the market on terrifying tales from
the trenches, but women working in TV and film definitely have a few riveting stories to
tell. Documenting and archiving those stories is the mission of the Women in Film
Foundation’s Legacy Series. At this year’s Athena Film Festival, a WIF co-hosted panel of women shared their own experiences.

Kahn Power, the Chair of the Legacy Series, recounted her first stint
as a producer. While shepherding the HBO movie Stalin
she was faced with a screaming lead actor in a hotel lobby in Budapest. It was Robert Duvall, who was furious about how he looked in the raw dailies. When he refused to come down to the set the next morning, Kahn Power dug into
her experience “as a mother setting limits” and told his assistant that she’d
be happy to talk about the scenes, but if the actor wouldn’t come down to the
set all, she would shut down the production. Then, she said, “I got under the
covers” in dread. An hour later, Duvall called her to acquiesce, and Stalin went on to win four Emmy and three Golden Globe awards, including a statuette for Duvall’s performance. 

Actress Lee Grant told a harrowing tale of being blacklisted for 12 years during the McCarthy era, an awful situation that included offers from Hollywood to hire her on the condition that she report her then-husband Arnold Manoff as a Communist. She also related her Emmy-winning comeback on TV’s Peyton Place, as well as her later reinvention as a director of narrative features and and socially conscious documentaries. Marketing consultant Paula Silver shared her experience of drumming up support for My Big Fat Greek Wedding through an intensive grass-roots publicity campaign targeted at the Greek American community. 

TV and film director Neema “Harlem to Hollywood” Barnette almost left directing when she faced seemingly insurmountable resistance on a project close to her heart. With Civil Brand, she wanted to make a serious drama that addressed the ugly realities of the prison industrial complex through women’s stories, but found her production shut down by the prison officials in North Carolina. Barnette ultimately persevered with the legal might of the DGA behind her, but the process was still a bruising one. 

Once the film was screened for audiences, though, Barnette couldn’t help being proud of her work. “When
I went to those film festivals and got letters from women in prison and from the
people who backed that film,” she said, echoing the sentiments of many women
who survived in the trenches, “I realized the journey was worth it.”

Angela Bonavoglia writes about women’s issues, including television and cinema. An author and journalist, her work has appeared in many publications, including Ms., the Chicago Tribune, The Nation, and Salon. She blogs at the Huffington Post. 

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