This weekend marked my first time at the Athena Film Festival, but definitely not my last. I saw a myriad of amazing female-oriented films and have never felt so inspired by the amazing women in front of and behind the camera.
The weekend started off with Te Ata. Written by Jeannie Barbour and Esther Luttrell, it’s an amazing story of the first Native American woman on Broadway. Not only was the film based on a real person, but it was made with the help of over 200 people from the Chickasaw nation. Mary Thompson Fisher’s theatrical act, known as Te Ata, served as a form of activism and helped change the future of the treatment of Native Americans in the US. This film was so well thought out and so well made that it will make an impact on anyone who sees it.
Next, I saw Lady Bird, written and directed by Greta Gerwig, for the second time. Seeing this film again, especially in a theater full of mostly young, female Barnard students, was exhilarating. Every high felt higher and every low lower. The first time I saw the film, I was in a mostly empty theater on a Sunday morning and seemed to be the only one laughing. The energy from a group of women who could so closely relate to this coming of age film and who were all anxious to see if Greta, an ‘06 Barnard alum, would appear, changed my perspective on it. Each moment felt more real and concrete. Lady Bird is definitely a film worth seeing and especially worth revisiting.
Saturday started off with an amazing shorts program that consisted of socially driven films about powerful moments in women’s lives. Con Madre, directed by Clancy McCarty, is a moving documentary short about the job of a midwife in Guatemala. Following the training of a new class of midwives, we see how these women, who provide care to 50% of pregnant women in Guatemala, make a lasting impact on their communities, but still face discrimination. Beatrice, directed by Lorena Alvarado, is a beautifully made, cross-genre film. With documentary elements and some narrative style, the director outlines the life of a Paralympic athlete beyond just her ability to fence.
I couldn’t decide which short was my favorite and it came down to a tie. Objector, directed by Molly Stuart, follows the story of a 17-year-old Israeli woman, who decide not to serve in the army, a mandatory 2 year period for all Israeli citizens. Her journey to making this decision and the significance of her choice are clearly outlined without forcing the audience to have a certain point of view on a consistently contested subject like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Whether or not you agree with her choice, Objector lays out a beautiful story of young, female activism and empowerment. Waiting for Hassana, directed by Ifunanya Maduka, is a tragic story of loss, following the kidnapping of 276 teenage girls by Boko Haram in 2014. One survivor recounts her daring escape and the sister she left behind. This documentary covers a moment that made headlines in a new and fresh way. The world seems to have forgotten that many families are still left waiting for their loved ones to return.
Following these amazing shorts, I watched another thoughtful documentary, It’s Criminal. Directed by Signe Taylor, this film challenges assumptions and forces the viewer to rethink what it means to have privilege. Through the eyes of Dartmouth students and female inmates, the unjust ways our society functions come to light. These powerful women come together to create a meaningful performance. When I was a sophomore in high school, I had the opportunity to travel to a prison to meet with inmates. While I was only there for a day, that experience changed how I thought about people in prison and our justice system. This film reminded me of that day and of how important it is to be compassionate and understanding. Everyone should have the opportunity to meet inmates and talk with them about how they ended up in prison. It’s important to recognize the way our society fails people before and after they become inmates.
I Am Evidence, a dynamic and harshly educational documentary, started off my morning. Directed by Trish Adlesic and Geeta Gandbhir, this film investigates the backlog of rape kits in the United States and the effect it has on communities around the country. With stories of victims and activists, including Mariska Hargitay from Law and Order: SVU, Adlesic and Gandbhir encompass every aspect of the issue and have made a documentary that everyone should watch. Especially exciting was the amazing Q&A after the film with Mariska Hargitay and Trish Adlesic who spoke about their work as activists and the intersection of the personal and political. It premieres on HBO on April 16th. Mark your calendar.
Lastly, I saw the FF2 Media sponsored film, The Divine Order, written and directed by Petra Volpe. Set in the early 1970’s in a small town in Switzerland, Volpe exposes the struggles of everyday women fighting for their right to vote. Being so young, I feel very removed from women’s suffrage, but seeing this film made it come to life. I realized that many women haven’t had the right to vote for as long as people expect. In the Q&A following the film, moderated by FF2’s Jan Lisa Huttner, Volpe touched on her research into suffragettes in Switzerland and the harsh reality that some women didn’t get the right to vote until 1991. This period piece is spectacular and will hopefully inspire more pieces about underappreciated moments in history.
My weekend at the Athena film festival was spectacular to say the least. Seeing stories of and hearing stories from powerful women inspires me every day to make new work. As an aspiring filmmaker, this festival opened up a world of creativity and originality that I hope to one day compete with. In the future, more festivals should follow Athena’s lead and focus on women in front of and behind the camera.
© Katharine Cutler (03/04/18) FF2 Media
Top Photo: Q'orianka Kilcher as Te Ata
Photo Credits: The Chickasaw Nation
Middle Photo: Mariska Hargitay and Kym Worthy investigating the backlog of rape kits.
Photo Credits: HBO Documentary Films
Bottom Photo: Women marching for the right to vote in The Divine Order.
Photo Credits: Zodiac Pictures