Arts and Entertainment | Film

Athena Film Festival honors female filmmakers at awards reception

  • HONORED | Ava DuVernay accepts an award at the Athena Film Festival Awards Reception Thursday. DuVernay's film "Middle of Nowhere" was screened on Friday as part of the festival's narrative film lineup.

Women from across the film industry celebrated the achievements of their peers and shed light on inequalities they see in the industry at the third annual Athena Film Festival Awards Reception Thursday evening in the Diana Event Oval.

“You are individually and collectively an example of what it means to make a difference in an industry overwhelmingly shaped by men,” Barnard President Debra Spar said to the award recipients in the ceremony. “You’ve given Barnard students and young women everywhere a vibrant new roster of trailblazers to learn from and to emulate.”

After Spar’s opening remarks, the festival’s co-founders, Melissa Silverstein, SoA ’93, and Kathryn Kolbert, and some of the festival co-chairs presented awards to five women who have made an impact on the film industry.

“On 'The Walking Dead' TV series, half of our episodes are directed by women and underrepresented minorities," Executive Producer Gale Anne Hurd said in her acceptance speech for the Laura Ziskin Lifetime Achievement Award. "Why? Because the individual directors that we hire are the most qualified."

Hurd was not the only award recipient to cite racial inequalities in the industry. Athena Award recipient Ava DuVernay, who was the first African American woman to win Best Director of a Drama at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, talked about her identity as a black female filmmaker.

“I think of myself first as a black filmmaker," DuVernay said. "Not a woman filmmaker. I think my challenges in the film world are more race-based and culturally-based, and that is the way that I identify. I think it often keeps me from interfacing with people—with other women filmmakers.”

Fellow award recipient Rose Kuo also explained her own experiences as a minority in the film industry, citing the lack of Asian women that she saw in the media while growing up in Kansas.

During their acceptance speeches, each recipient was asked to talk about a woman who had an impact on their lives.

Columbia professor Molly Haskell, who received an Athena Award for her work as a film critic and author, cited feminist writer Simone De Beauvoir and Academy-Award winning director Kathryn Bigelow, SoA '81, as her inspiration.

“Arousing controversy is a sign of somebody entering forbidden territory and boy is she knee-deep,” Haskell said of Bigelow. “Even her first movie—women called her feminist pioneer or tough guy in drag.”

Others mentioned politically active women like Eleanor Roosevelt as well as women from within the industry, such as filmmaker Julie Dash.

Before presenting her award to Pat Mitchell, the president and CEO of The Paley Center for Media, festival co-chair Greta Gerwig talked about the importance of the festival to students.

“I was so excited to hear that Barnard was undertaking their own film festival,” Gerwig said. “I didn’t have it while I was here, and I am so happy that it has happened for the students that are here now, and I get to be a co-chair. I can’t wait to participate every year.”

Academy Award-winner Diablo Cody (Best Original Screenplay, "Juno") described her own reasoning for co-chairing the film festival.

“Wild horses couldn’t drag me away from this festival,” Cody said. “We need to shed a light on the inequality in Hollywood. For me it’s a no brainer.”

arts@columbiaspectator.com | @ColumbiaSpec

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