Barnard’s Athena Film Festival | Celebrating the Courageous & Audacious

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Barnard’s eighth annual Athena Film Festival brought together more than 6,000 filmmakers, like J.J. Abrams and Barbara Kopple, and film lovers, 2,000 of whom were Barnard students, faculty, staff, alumnae or family members, to enjoy a range of films that elevated the power of women. The festival, which ran from February 22 to 25, honored “courageous and audacious” women depicted in recent films and the women who made them.

Demme Durrett ’19, who was one of more than 200 Barnard volunteers, said, “I am so proud of what the Athena Film Festival represents: lifting the voices of underrepresented women and ensuring that meaningful stories get told. As a Barnard junior, it’s an incredible opportunity to have women that I’ve admired for my whole life, like Gloria Steinem, come to campus to celebrate women and the unique narratives being represented at this pivotal moment in the entertainment industry.”

The Opening Ceremony

The festival opened on Thursday evening with a standing room–only screening of Battle of the Sexes, which told the story of tennis legend Billie Jean King’s famous 1973 match against Bobby Riggs. King hosted a Q & A session following the film, and together with six-time national champion fencer Margaret Lu CC’17 discussed the impact of Title IX, the importance of representation and equality in sports, and King’s hopes for a new generation of activists.

President Sian Leah Beilock hosted a reception prior to the film, where she thanked Constance Hess Williams Director of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies and festival co-founder Kathryn Kolbert, who will retire in June, for her years of inspirational leadership. Festival co-founder and Artistic Director Melissa Silverstein, the founder and editor of Women and Hollywood, also surprised Kolbert with an award recognizing her service during Friday’s awards gala.

The Athena Awards Gala

On Friday, the awards gala provided an opportunity to honor women’s accomplishments in the film industry and the men who champion them. Kopple, the director and producer of festival favorite Miss Sharon Jones!, received the Laura Ziskin Lifetime Achievement Award. Kopple’s accomplishments include the Academy Award-winning documentaries Harlan County USA and American Dream, profiles of cultural icons, and projects focused on human rights issues: homeless veterans, U.S. gun culture, union strikes, the plight of women in the Middle East, and immigration law.

Amma Asante received this year’s Athena Award, presented by Barnard Center for Research on Women Director and Clare Tow and Ann Whitney Olin Professor Tina Campt, who worked with Asante on a film about the experiences of black German citizens during World War II. In 2004, Asante became the first black woman director to win a BAFTA Film Award, for her first film A Way of Life, and is best-known for her 2016 film A United Kingdom, starring Rosamund Pike and 2017 Athena Leading Man Award-winner David Oyelowo. Last year, she was named a Member of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth for her services to film as a writer and director. 

Cabaret artist and comedian Bridget Everett received the inaugural Athena Breakthrough

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