Reese’s Athena 2024: Reports on the Student Showcase & Disability Panel

Each March, FF2 team members ride the 1 train all the way up to 116th Street to congregate at the Athena Film Festival. Held on Barnard College’s campus near the northern tip of Manhattan, Athena describes itself as the “premier film festival dedicated to celebrating and elevating women’s leadership and advancing inclusion on screen.” Athena is a highlight of the year for many Metro NYC women film buffs, for whom a love of movies is almost equally balanced by disappointment as they continue to act as deeply patriarchal spaces. 

This is not so at Athena, whose films show stories by women for women. The stories found on screen at the Athena film festival have gotten there through the hard work of countless individuals, both professionals and students just breaking onto the scene. The festival seeks to uplift “complex” and often unheard narratives. In keeping with that mission, the tales told are often ones of inequality and injustice. However, their main focus is, without fail: one of hope, perseverance, and success. 

Though Athena weekend is aptly chosen to represent the beginning of Women’s History Month, unfortunately it also means midterm season for us students at Barnard and Columbia. Sadly, between three papers, I was only able to attend two screenings this year. (Let’s hope that next year my assignments fall on the weekend after!) Though not as much time at the festival as I’d like to have spent, the films I did get to see were well worth it!

Though the student filmmakers’ subjects varied greatly, the palpable love for their craft could be easily felt throughout.

After a wonderful brunch at Le Monde (thank you, Jan!), I spent Saturday afternoon immersed in the world of student films. At Athena’s 2024 Student Showcase, audience members dove quickly between the worlds brought to life by these young filmmakers. One minute I found myself in Ellie George’s Ink Running, a sombre domestic tableaux, the next within the surreal, whimsical landscape of  Selina Wu’s Reginald. Though the student filmmakers’ subjects varied greatly, the palpable love for their craft could be easily felt throughout. Each of the six short films were inventive and wonderful in their own ways. Though I do want to give a special shoutout to Linnea Hopkins-Ekdahl’s Journeys End in Lovers Meeting for both its witty, adorable dialogue and showstopping camera work.

The next day of Athena brought me to the Diana Event Oval for a screening of Is There Anybody Out There?. Directed by Ella Glendining, this documentary follows Ella’s own search to find another person in the world with her same disability. In a journey which spans years, continents, and seasons of life, Ella records every step along the way—the highs and lows, the moments of elation and dejection. From the opening shot, that of teenage Ella recording herself dancing passionately alone in her bedroom, the filmmaker intimately invites us into her world. 

Further than a moving tale of challenged ableism, self-acceptance, and love, this documentary is a true story told by the woman who has lived it. Is There Anybody Out There? is an authentic account of navigating the nuances of life with a disability. Its power lies in the fact that its subject is the same woman making every single decision for the film from start to finish. This point, one of representation rather than exploitation, was one driven home in the fantastic Q & A which took place after the film. (Another wonderful advantage to attending Athena is getting to hear so many amazing panels after each film’s conclusion.)

In my book, Athena 2024 was a smashing success. I experienced new films which changed my view of the world, was exposed to talented new filmmakers, and was able once again to meet up in person with the ladies of FF2. I said earlier that the Athena film festival shows stories “by women for women.” That is not exactly correct. These stories may be made by women, but they are for everyone. Too seldom are the voices of women showcased in film. This festival is one place where women’s stories may be held up for all to see and to enjoy.

© Reese Alexander (4/10/24) – Special for FF2 Media


Learn more about the Athena Film Festival here.

Watch the trailer for Is There Anybody Out There? here.

Student Showcase Films & Directors: Journeys End in Lovers Meeting, Linnea Hopkins-Ekdahl; Bake Sale, Molly Bynum; Mira Walks Home, Noelle Nafus; Red, Amy Zhang; Ink Running, Ellie George; Reginald, Selina Wu.


Featured Photo: After the “Student Showcase” at the 2024 Athena Film Festival. Photo Credit: Clarissa Sosin. Courtesy of Athena Film Festival. All Rights Reserved.

Middle Photo: Panel discussion with disability activists after Athena’s screening of Is There Anybody Out There?.

Bottom Photo: Reese Alexander  is all SWANned-up at the 2024 Athena Film Festival.

MP/BP Photo Credits: Jan Lisa Huttner (3/3/24). © FF2 Media. Authorized for responsible use provided user includes link to this post.

Tags: Amy Zhang, Athena Film Festival, Bake Sale, Ella Glendining, Ellie George, Ink Running, Is There Anybody Out There?, Journeys End in Lovers Meeting, Linnea Hopkins-Ekdahl, Mira Walks Home, Molly Bynum, Noelle Nafus, Red, Reginald, Selina Wu

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Reese Alexander is currently a student at Barnard College, where she studies English literature, creative writing, and French. Reese enjoys writing both fiction and nonfiction, and her work has been published in multiple campus publications, including Quarto, Echoes, The Barnard Bulletin, and The Columbia Federalist. Reese is most passionate about medieval literature, as she believes it illustrates the contributions of women artists throughout the centuries.
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