Barnard College's Monthly Magazine
By Kelly Kang
It is the 2010 Oscars, and the camera pans to show Kathryn Bigelow and James Cameron awaiting the results for Best Director. Bigelow wins. As “The Hurt Locker” director takes the stage, every woman’s inner feminist claps for Bigelow a little louder as she is the first female to ever win an Oscar for Best Director.
There is something deeply wrong with this fact. How, in the course of 83 years, is Bigelow the only woman to have received this accolade? Directorial prowess and talents could be endlessly thrown into the discussion, but as the Huffington Post stated so clearly in a January posting, “There is no denying that Hollywood is a man’s world.”
Kathryn Kolbert of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies at Barnard College and Melissa Silverstein of Women and Hollywood, a popular blog that follows news about women in the media, have both acknowledged and tackled this blaring flaw in the film industry by organizing the Athena Film Festival. The annual festival in its second year will be held from February 9-12 at Barnard.
Featured in the Huffington Post and the LA Times, the Athena Film Festival has clear goals: “to be a center that focuses on developing and sustaining women leaders in a wide range of fields… The failure of Hollywood to showcase women in leadership roles is one that can be corrected,” states Kolbert.
Shedding light on the festival’s foundation, Kolbert recalls, “I had attended an event, and I was struck, as Melissa was, that the room was telling us the same story, that filmmakers were unable to get stories of courageous women to the big screen…We think it’s very important that our culture reflects women in leadership roles.”
Silverstein adds, “Even though people talk about how far women have come in Hollywood, the statistics are horrible. All the movies you see are from a white male vision.”
The film festival, which attracted 2500 attendees last year, is upon us, complete with changes that will further the progress of women in the film industry. Workshops that are sponsored by the Ford Foundation and focus on filmmaking and marketing will “give people the tools to make these movies” that focus on women and leadership.
To promote change, the committee will also be presenting for the first time the Laura Ziskin Lifetime Achievement Award commemorating the work of Ziskin and her founding of Stand Up to Cancer, cofounded by esteemed reporter Katie Couric, who will be presenting the award. According to the Athena Film Festival’s webpage, the award “will be given to a trailblazer in the film industry who sets an exemplary standard for other women to emulate” in the future.
Regarding the films selected for the festival, both Silverstein and Kolbert provide their own criteria. “The woman has to be active in the movie. One of the criteria is that if there’s not a female lead in the first twenty minutes, that movie is out,” says Silverstein.
Kolbert adds, “I want it to be inspirational to others. There are some movies that are difficult, and that grapple with difficult issues, but the point is that we want them to be inspiring.”
Although the films are directed by men and women alike, Kolbert emphasizes that the award winners are all women: “We do want to showcase their accomplishments, because they are a model for others.”
So why do women not have the same opportunities for directing? “That’s the million dollar question,” declares Silverstein. “The director is the leader on the set, and Hollywood does not feel comfortable with women leading in that capacity.”
Because the festival only lasts four days, the struggle seems to arise when considering long-term change. Kolbert expresses her own aspirations for the future, “I will have my party when the second woman wins the Oscar for directing a movie about women. Real change comes when it becomes commonplace, not when we do it for the first time. We’ve been doing things for the first time for a long time. Too long a time.”
Silverstein responds briefly concerning the disparity between men and women in Hollywood: “Just look at the [movie] posters.”
The Athena Film Festival will take place on February 9th to 12th at Barnard College; tickets are available online at http://athenafilmfestival.com.