Now in its third year, the Athena Film Festival -- a celebration of women and leadership -- was an engaging weekend of feature films, documentaries and shorts that highlight women’s leadership in real life and the fictional world. The four-day festival included conversations with directors and Hollywood stars. The festival was held in the heart of New York -- at Barnard, the most sought-after women’s college in the nation.
Examiner.com was on the red carpet at the opening reception last week, presenters and Co-chairs actress Greta Gerwig, Diablo Cody and producer Debra Martin Chase; Award winners Rose Kuo, Molly Haskell, Ava DuVernay and Gale Anne Hurd; Presenter & Barnard President Debora Spar; and Co-Founders Kathryn Kolbert and Melissa Silverstein all walked the red carpet.
Q: Congrats on being honored. Tell us about your film "Middle of Nowhere."
Ava DuVernay: "Middle of Nowhere" is a love story set in the inner city that explores a woman who has lost her husband to incarceration, and really deals with the interior of her life. So I think we need to see more films about the intimate thoughts of women, and I'm really happy to be here at Athena and celebrating that.
Q: You also wrote the screenplay. What inspired it?
Ava DuVernay: Well, I was inspired by the millions of women who have fathers and brothers and sons and men in their lives who are incarcerated, and us not really understanding fully what that's like. And so, I had never seen it portrayed cinematically, so I thought we’d explore it.
Q: What upcoming projects can you share with us?
Ava DuVernay: I'm doing a documentary for ESPN right now on Venus Williams and her fight for equal pay at Wimbledon. Yeah, I'm cutting it out. I'm in post-production and it will debut on ESPN in the summertime.
Q: What was it like working with Venus Williams?
Ava DuVernay: She's fantastic. She's a star.
Q: What was it important for you to support this event?
Diablo Cody: You know wherever there are women in film, I'll be there. This is something that I really felt the need to participate in because women are so underrepresented still in the world of cinema and in leadership positions in films, so for me if they can call attention to that problem and call attention to some of the amazing work that's being done, who wouldn't want to be involved in that?
Q: Do you have any important female mentors in Hollywood?
Diablo Cody: It makes me feel bad because I wish I had like this amazing older women who had like handheld me through the process, instead I was like fighting my way through alone with a machete. But you know what? Honestly my role models and my mentors are my peers like my female screenwriter friends that I hang out with. We help each other fight injustice, as dramatic as that sounds because we’re all on the inside and we can offer each other that insight.
Q: And can you tell me about your upcoming projects?
Diablo Cody: I directed a movie, it's called Paradise. It should be coming out this year. That's it! So I'm very excited about that. And also, "Sweet Valley High," I'm trying to get a director on that movie, so people can finally see it.
Q: Can you tell us about "Paradise" your directorial debut?
Diablo Cody: That was cool. I have to say directing is completely different than writing. It's interesting to me that people view directing as a logical next step from writing, because they're completely different skills. And it was a challenge for me, but it was also incredibly rewarding and fun.
Julianne Hough, she plays a young woman who’s very sheltered and comes from a really sheltered rural community and she gets in an accident and she renounces God and she goes to Las Vegas to try and expose herself to the world of sin that she feels that she’s missed out on.
Q: What was it like working with Julianne?
Diablo Cody: She’s the best. She's so sweet. And Russell Brand is in the movie, he's great…Octavia Spencer, Holly Hunter, Nick Offerman – I mean, it was like a dream.
Debra Martin Chase
Q: You are a co-chair tonight.
Debra Martin Chase: Well, this is my second time co-chairing the Athena Film Festival. I think this is the most incredible film festival. First of all, it’s grown leaps and bounds and it's the only film festival for women by women in New York City, so it fills the need and it's wonderfully exciting to be here tonight...I've been a mentor to a lot of females, Shonda Rhimes started as my intern and I put in Anne Hathaway and Blake Lively in their first movies and I think it's really important to pay it forward. Many, many people have helped me and I'm glad to be able to help others.
Q: Do you have any other project that you're working on?
Debra Martin Chase: I have an original musical coming on ABC Family in April and I recently signed a deal with ABC Television, so I'm in the middle of developing a series and I'm very excited about that.