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Athena Film Festival, a call to action on gender equality in media

Published on
February 19

In 2013 16% of the directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors of the top 250 domestic grossing films were women. This represents a decrease of two percentage points from 2012. Women accounted for 6% of US directors in 2013, and 8% of foreign films[1]. Athena Film Festival at Barnard College is a four-day Festival of feature films, documentaries, and shorts that raises awareness about gender disparity in media and highlights women’s leadership in real life and the fictional world. The shortage of women in the industry has a significant impact in our society, because as the festival website says, “The stories we tell determine what we think about what happens, which determines what happens next." Right on.

Even though this year's festival is over, you don’t have to wait until next year. There are a couple of things you can do to support the festival and gender equality in film. You can join their mailing list www.athenafilmfestival.com and you can watch movies that are produced or directed by women. I have selected two feature films and one short from this year's Athena Film Festival that inspired me because they tell stories about women in their own voices and terms.

  • Assembly” (5 minutes, 2012, Canada) is written, directed and edited by Jenn Strom. A hand painted experimental animation inspired by Kathleen Shannon, editor of the National Film Board of Canada and founder of the iconic women’s documentary Studio D in 1974. In the film, we see the hands of an imaginary editor (I like to think is Kathleen) working on archival footage of women protesting, and at the end we listen a message resulting from her expertise “We have to stop being invalidated by the people that call us idealistic or naïve or too emotional, or all these other things they say to silence the brilliance of ordinary people”. You can watch “Assembly” on the Canada Film Board's website https://www.nfb.ca/film/assembly

  • Farah Goes Bang” (90 minutes, 2013, USA) is the first movie of writer Laura Goode and director Meera Menon, who won the Nora Ephron Prize for Best Director in the TriBeCa Film Festival 2013. This unconventional roadtrip movie portrays the coming-of-age story of young Farah in the course of John Kerry's Presidential campaign in 2004. Farah’s performance gives depth and realism to the intricate journey of turning into an adult woman. Writer Laura Goode describes the process of making the movie as a passage as well but of a different kind when she remarks,  “The only way to solve gender disparity in film and TV leadership is for women to create content, period. This may mean working outside established systems; when Meera and I could not find the support we needed to make FGB from studios, grant making organizations, or other institutions, we found it in each other and bootstrapped our production. No one will give you permission to be the artist and leader you want to be. You have to take it”. The film hasn't yet been released, so join the mailing list or follow them on FB and Twitter for updates http://farahgoesbang.com

  • In a World” (93 minutes, 2013, UK) is written, directed by, and starring American actress and director Lake Bell. The movie has won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance 2013 and is nominated for best first screenplay at the Independent Spirit Awards 2014. Witty and hilarious, this comedy is about family dysfunction, sexism healing, and female empowerment. Lake plays Carol, a struggling vocal coach who pursues her aspiration to become a voiceover star, but she confronts fierce competition from the king of movie-trailers voice-overs: her father. There are cameos by Geena Davis and Eva Longoria, and bright performances by Demetri Martin, Fred Melamed, Alexandra Holdern and Stephanie Allynne. You can rent it for $3.99 from iTunes or get a hard copy through their website http://inaworldmovie.com

[1] Statistics from the Center for the Study of Women in television and Film http://womenintvfilm.sdsu.edu/research.html