Athena Film Fest Launches Award Named After 'Clemency' Writer-Director Chinonye Chukwu (Exclusive)

Director Chinonye Chukwu
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The female-focused event, which highlights women's leadership onscreen and in real life, has also revealed its other honorees and additional screenings and panel lineups.

The 11th annual Athena Film Festival has unveiled its 2021 honorees as well as set two more screenings and additional panels for its month-long virtual edition.

The female-focused event this year has also added another grant to its annual awards, launching the Chinonye Chukwu Emerging Writer Award, named for the Clemency writer-director whose script for the acclaimed Alfre Woodard-starring death-row drama was on the festival's Black List-inspired Athena List.

The Chukwu award, sponsored by Christine A. Schantz, will be given to a promising feature-length writer who participated in an Athena Film Festival Writers Lab. The winner will receive a $10,000 grant to assist in script development and a year-long writing fellowship with a creative advisor. The inaugural prize will be given to Jane Therese for Sins of My Father.

“I am both humbled and honored to be selected as the 2021 recipient of the Chinonye Chukwu Emerging Writer Award for Sins of My Father," Therese said in a statement. "Sins of My Father holds a special place in my heart. Children learn what they live. If we hope for our most precious resources to reflect a bright future and flourish, then as parents and caregivers, we must establish a strong foundation both morally, ethically and honestly so as not to set them up for failure. Receiving the Chinonye Chukwu Emerging Writer Award brings that message closer to the forefront.”

The festival, a partnership between Barnard College’s Athena Center for Leadership and Women and Hollywood, will present filmmaker Ashley O'Shay with the Athena Breakthrough Award. O'Shay's doc, Unapologetic, which follows Black women abolitionist activists in Chicago, will screen at the festival. The Breakthrough Award, which includes a $25,000 grant, is given to a feature-length film directed by a first or second-time female filmmaker that didn't have U.S. distribution as of Feb. 1.

“I am absolutely honored to be chosen as this year’s Athena Film Festival’s Breakthrough Award recipient,” said O’Shay in a statement. “As a festival steeped in the tradition of uplifting women’s leadership, I can think of no better home than Athena for my debut feature, Unapologetic. You’ve created a moment of inspiration for a young Black girl from Indianapolis, who never knew her voice could have an impact such as this.”

The festival will present a $20,000 Alfred P. Sloan development grant to writer-director Cherien Dabis' What The Eyes Don't See, with the award given to an Athena List-winning script that focuses on a STEM topic.

“I’m thrilled and honored to be the recipient of this year’s development grant. The support and recognition will undoubtedly help us advance in telling the remarkable story of first generation immigrant, scientist and pediatrician Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha who helped expose one of the most emblematic environmental disasters of our time," Dabis said in a statement. "I’m beyond grateful to the Sloan Foundation for their continued support and to the Athena Film Festival for recognizing that this story must be told.”

Melissa Silverstein, Athena Film Festival co-founder and artistic director and founder of Women and Hollywood said of this year's honorees: “Creating a more inclusive entertainment industry starts with uplifting new voices and perspectives. The Athena Film Festival has always been committed to energizing and diversifying the industry by championing projects with women leaders from women filmmakers. We are thrilled to be able to recognize Jane, Cherien, and Ashley for their dynamic works. They have each created incredibly unique and powerful projects that push the boundaries when it comes to discussion of race and social justice in our world. We look forward to seeing what’s next for these women and how their work will elevate our industry and empower future filmmakers and storytellers.”

The festival also added screenings of the Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan starrer Ammonite, which will be featured in the Making it Happen: Women in STEM program, and the Oscar shortlisted film Quo Vadis, Aida?, which recently secured North American distribution and will be the international centerpiece film.

The festival has also set panels about how the pandemic changed the entertainment industry, the Black feminist future, disability access and visibility in film and TV, social media and identity and reproductive health.

The 2021 Athena Film Festival runs through the end of March, with more information about this year's event is available here.