Highlights from the 2018 Athena Film Festival

People filled New York’s Barnard College’s basement theater to its seams this weekend, attending films and events celebrating female activists and filmmakers. With special events featuring speakers like Gloria Steinem, Billie Jean King and former prime minister of New Zealand Helen Clark, to rising filmmakers like Valerie Red-Horse and Gaylene Preston, the film festival has established itself again in its eighth year as a place for female celebration and appreciation.

This year’s festival featured well-known films like Battle of the Sexes (of which King helped introduce), Moana and Patti Cake$, as well as upcoming hits like Chavela (a documentary about Mexican performa Chavela Vargas) and Dalya’s Other Country (a documentary following a Syrian girl living in LA applying to colleges).

Several films saw their North American and New York premieres, like I Am Not A Witch from first-time writer and director Rungano Nyoni, Beads about a friendship turned sour by racism, and Al Imam, about a Muslim singer taking a progressive stance.

The festival also featured several female-heavy classics, like everyone’s favorite 9 to 5. Even documentaries and films featuring tried and true stories were screened, like The Post , Miss Sharon Jones! or even Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story.

Above all, the festival organizes several panels and workshops for aspiring female and minority filmmakers to take advantage of. Emmy nominated writer for Friends, The West Wing, and Grace and Frankie Alexa Junge led a masterclass for writing for television. Several panelists for “Social Media and Branding for Filmmakers” featured prominent social media influencers, including Christina Raia, the founder of CongestedCat Productions, and Emmy-nominated writer Tanya Selvaratnam, the co-founder of The Federation. There were also panels on rewriting film canons to include more than just white and male dominated films, as well as a panel highlighting women in STEM.

There was even a town hall about sexual harassment and violence– a topic all can agree is rather timely in Hollywood and in the professional field. The town hall, “From Outrage to Power,” featured Breakthrough CEO Mallika Dutt, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United co-founder Saru Jayaraman, ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project attorney Gillian Thomas, and VoteRunLead activist Jehmu Greene.

Below are some highlights from the festival, from Q&As with Gloria Steinem, Helen Clark, and Billie Jean King and

Billie Jean King in conversation with U.S. top three fencer Margaret Lu: 


“I’m glad you’re able to pursue your dreams and also to be your authentic self which is also really, really important for each and every one of us. And it does take us all on a different pathway, and when I was playing, obviously I was outted by Marilyn, that sweet little thing in the movie that wasn’t so sweet. She outted me and I lost everything overnight, all my endorsements except maybe one but they dropped the price enormously. But basically I started over in ’81, and I wasn’t no spring chicken then. And I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin until I was maybe 51. I think because I was outted, that also put another trauma on me as well, because I was trying to figure things out. So I’m a big believer in you never out anyone, you let them find their own way and when they’re ready, they’re ready.”

Helen Clark on growing up with all sisters on a farm:

“It never really occurred to me until I first started to contest serious political matters that not everyone thought girls could do any job, because I’d always done each job from going back to my childhood…

It’s never easy breaking into these positions. New Zealand is of course very proud of being the first country where women fought for and gained the right vote. It didn’t come on a plate, the women worked extremely hard for it and persuaded an all male parliament that it should happen.”


Gloria Steinem on speaking with Wilma Mankiller:

“Nothing could be more dire than the original folks in North America went through. There were 5 or 600 different language groups, a level of civilization, agriculture, government, metallurgy. Our US constitution is based on the Iroquois Confederacy, it’s the basis of our constitution. And of course, 90% of people who were originally here were killed by war and epidemic, and to then be treated by less developed people as if they were the ones—- I couldn’t understand how she could bear it. I still don’t. And whenever I got into this state, she would say, ‘We’re still here.’ And I think that kind of endurance and clinging to—not clinging but representing one’s values and seeing that they influence every act that you do and you keep your community and you keep understanding that the paradigm of life is a circle; not a pyramid, not a hierarchy. That we are in this room linked, not ranked. She kept telling me I had to put it on a t-shirt. If she could bear it, how much less do we have to put up with?”

Tracy Heather Strain on making Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart:

“We really always thought that people would get inspiration from her and also feel that her words were timely. But I never imagined that they would feel especially timely—it’s coincidence when we got the film finished… so it really just came at a really good time to get people to realize that yes, we’ve had gains but we’ve lost. It seems that we’ve gotten nowhere at times. And like most films, it could have started differently and it could have ended differently and we finally stuck with the ending of her saying she’s depressed—that’s particularly related to a feeling I had and other people had about the state of the world at this time. So the times did inform this.”




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