The 2017 Athena Film Festival premiered from February 9 to 12 at Barnard College in New York. The festival, founded on the idea on seeing more female protagonists in films, celebrated its seventh year by showcasing a town hall meeting with multiple female activists. Along with the highly awaited event, the festival also premiered several female-leading movies, including Little Pink House, Girl Unbound, and Dolores. With such a packed schedule, the festival saw a huge turn out despite the large snowstorm that occurred just hours beforehand.
The festival was founded seven years ago by Kathryn Kolbert (from the Athena Center for Leadership Studies at Barnard College) and Melissa Silverstein (the artistic director of Women and Hollywood) with the original idea of seeing more leading ladies in films. That idea has skyrocketed to showcasing not only films with strong female roles, but also honoring screenplays in the festival’s own Black List, dubbed the Athena List, as well as hosting a number of panels and Q&As, and even this year, instilling the town hall meeting. With such an amazing outlet for filmmakers to showcase their work, the festival has seen a number of films and experts in the field, including this year with Hidden Figures, or even last year’s Q&A between Kate McKinnon and Paul Feig.
Some highlights from this year’s festival include opening night’s installation of Little Pink House, a finalist in the 2015 Athena List. The film stars Catherine Keener as Susette Kelo, a real life nurse who took a case to the Supreme Court in 2005 after her little pink house was threatened under eminent domain. The Q&A that followed the screening proved to be exceptionally heartbreaking for Kelo, as the audience finds what has happened of her home, as well as what she and writer/director Courtney Moorehead Balaker have to say about the new administration.
Other films featured at the festival included The Handmaid’s Tale starring Elizabeth Moss, Denial with Rachel Weisz and Tom Wilkinson, and Custody with Viola Davis. Overall, the festival screened 34 films, which composed of 15 features, 13 documentaries and 19 shorts. In addition to the screenings, the festival featured a number of panels, including one on overlooked women during the climax of Hollywood which followed the screening of The Women Who Run Hollywood. How it Feels to be Free was screened and then followed by a panel discussion on black female entertainers fighting for equal rights, while Netizens and Women of the 1st Intifada were screenings and panels on women facing cyber harassment and Palestinian working together to build a social movement, respectively.
However, the most anticipated event was the town hall discussion that featured Gloria Steinem, Dolores Huerta, Paola Mendoza and Carmen Perez (leaders of the Women’s March on Washington), Jamia Wilson (Women, Action and the Media) and two Barnard student activists. There, the panel discussed plans with the new administration as well as what forms of action people can take to help the disadvantaged.
The festival presented awards to people who aided women in Hollywood, giving David Oyelowo the 2017 Leading Man Award, as well as Regina K. Scully, Patricia Riggen and Eve Ensler the Athena Award. In addition to these awards, the Athena List’s winners included Hannah Patterson’s Claude, Chinonye Chukwe’s Clemency, Jamie Dawson’s Mrs. Christie and Anna Rose Moore’s Scott. So we can expect to keep an eye out for these films in the next coming years.