Monday, February 2, 2015

Athena Film Fest Honors Leaders Through Film

Visionaries are highlighted on and off the screen at this year's Athena Film Festival, which is just days away.

Returning to Morningside Heights, the weekend is bursting with insightful workshops, exclusive screenings and selective events centered around diverse women and leadership.

“Women onscreen is a plus, not a minus,” said Melissa Silverstein, co-founder, about celebrating dynamic female protagonists from various walks of life.

Going on five years strong, the 2015 line-up provides connective, interactive experiences and meld the ideas around production with a sense of community.

Festival-goers also have a first look of the opening film Dreamcatchers, making its New York debut. Produced by British filmmaker, Kim Longinotto, the story revolves around a Chicago woman’s efforts to positively transform the lives of women seeking an alternative to a life in prostitution.

Rosie O’Donnell is also premiering her documentary sponsored by HBO at the festival. In Rosie O’Donnell: A Heartfelt Stand Up, the comedian openly shares her journey dealing with heart disease and describes how it affected her outlook, career and family. Following the film, O’Donnell will also appear before the audience.

“I want them to come away with seeing wonderful film makers and wonderful stories that should be told,” said Silverstein.

Althea featured on Feb. 6
From critically-buzzed about Dear White People, to Angelina Jolie’s Difret, to recently-released Beyond the Lights, the feature films chosen touch upon issues of pop culture, race and social politics, and international culture.

Also garnering attention is Althea, a documentary produced by Rex Miller. He brings to light Althea Gibson’s historic, barrier-breaking tennis career. It chronicles her rise from Harlem in the 1950s, to her reign as a champion in an arena that was not ready for her.

“She was a woman before her time,” said Silverstein, which applies to the narratives of many women showcased this weekend.

The festival is also honoring Jodi Foster with the Laura Ziskin Lifetime Achievement Award for her portrayal of women in film, and her work that consistently pushes the boundaries of conventionality.

In order to disseminate knowledge gained through experience and make it accessible to all, Silverstein mentioned the importance of having the workshops and panel discussions as essential. 

“We try to create an entire environment where you are being stimulated though aspiration and inspiration,” she said.

Dreamcatcher opens the festival on Feb. 5
This year’s workshops feature Master Classes lead by award-winning directors such as Gina Prince-Bythewood, producer of Beyond the Lights, the Secret Life of Bees, and Love and Basketball; Cathy Schulman, Academy Award-winning producer of Crash; and Stephanie Laing, Emmy-nominated producer and current producer of Veep.

Additional panel discussions include “A Guide to Successful Crowdfunding,” on financing options for projects; “Below the Line,” on female cinematographers breaking into the field; and “Twyla Tharp’s Moving Notations and Comments,” where in dance, vision and creativity are explored.

“I always love the works-in-progress workshop where filmmakers show clips of their work and seek advice on ways to improve their films,” said Kathryn Kolbert, also co-founder of the Athena Film Festival. “Tharp and I will be discussing the role of film in her significant career and that promises to be intriguing.”

All-access passes general admission are $80 and $35 for students. Individual ticket prices vary, with most events at $12 for general admission and $5 for students. 

Barnard in the Biz Panel on Feb. 6
The festival is located at the Athena Center at Barnard College and will run from Feb. 5th - 8th. For additional information on scheduling, pricing or packages visit

“Our goal is simple: we want to change what leadership looks like so that when you picture a leader, you picture women from across the globe making a difference in their communities,” said Kolbert. “I think most New Yorkers can embrace that goal.”

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