Athena Film Festival: 'Beyond the Lights,' 'Obvious Child' Highlight Female-Focused Lineup

Beyond the Lights
Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival

The festival will screen narrative, documentary and short films from around the world that showcase women's leadership

The Athena Film Festival has unveiled the lineup for its 2015 edition. Two recent U.S. movies, Obvious Child and Beyond the Lights, are the most recognizable titles in the slate of narrative, documentary and short films from around the world that showcase women's leadership. Beyond the Lights director Gina Prince-Bythewood is set to be honored at the festival and will participate in a Q&A following the Feb. 7 screening of the film, starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Sweden's We Are the Best!, about an all-female punk band, which was released in the U.S. on May 30, is also included in the lineup.

The festival will open with the New York premiere of the documentary Dreamcatcher, directed by Kim Longinotto, about former Chicago prostitute Brenda Myers-Powell, who helps women and teenage girls break the cycle of sexual abuse and exploitation.

“We are thrilled to celebrate the fifth year of this unique film festival with an inspiring and diverse range of films,” festival co-founder and Constance Hess Williams director of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies Kathryn Kolbert said in a statement. “Where better to celebrate the power and leadership of women in film than on the Barnard College campus in New York, which will be transformed this February with screenings, panels and our annual awards ceremony.”

Festival co-founder and artistic director Melissa Silverstein added: “These films were selected for the power of their stories to inspire us to think about women's leadership differently. We are proud to unveil a 2015 lineup that continues to provide a place for audiences to learn, experience and connect.”

The festival, which honors women in the entertainment industry, previously announced that Jodie Foster will receive the Laura Ziskin Lifetime Achievement Award, joining fellow honorees Prince-Bythewood, HBO Documentary Films president Sheila Nevins and Oscar-winning producer and Mandalay Pictures president Cathy Schulman.

The festival, presented by Barnard College's Athena Center for Leadership Studies, runs from Feb. 5-8 on Barnard's Morningside Heights campus in New York.

The full slate, with descriptions of each film, is listed below. Additional screenings, panels and special events will be announced in the coming weeks. More information about the festival is available here.


Beyond The Lights
Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Run Time: 116 minutes
Language: English
The pressures of fame have superstar singer Noni on the edge, until she meets Kaz, a young cop who works to help her find the courage to develop her own voice and break free to become the artist she was meant to be. Named one of the top 10 best films of 2014 by New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis.  

Director: Afia Nathaniel
Run Time: 93 minutes
Language: Urdu/Pashto
Set in Pakistan, Dukhtar (Daughter) is a dramatic story of a mother who kidnaps her ten-year-old daughter to save her from the fate of a child bride. Their daring escape triggers a relentless hunt.  As their pursuers close in, mother and daughter meet a cynical truck driver who offers unlikely hope.

For Those Who Can Tell No Tales
Director: Jasmila Zbanic
Run Time: 82 minutes
Language: English/Bosnian
Instead of visiting Fiji like everybody else, Kym, an Australian tourist, decides to travel to Višegrad, Bosnia, a small town steeped in history, on the border of Serbia. After a night of insomnia in the 'romantic' Hotel Vilina Vlas, Kym discovers what happened there during the war. No longer an ordinary tourist, her life will never again be the same.

Director: Michel Poulette
Run Time: 100 minutes
Language: Innu
Six hundred years ago, in the aftermath of a bloody confrontation between her Innu tribe and the Inuit, the “Men from the Land of Ice”, Maïna fulfills a death-bed promise to her friend Matsii, following the trail of her enemies to retrieve Matsii’s 11-year-old son, Nipki, who has been captured by the Inuit. Maïna is taken captive herself and forced to travel to the Land of Ice.  This beautiful film daringly introduces us to the fascinating civilizations that lived on the American continent.

Obvious Child
Director: Gillian Robespierre
Run Time: 84 minutes
Language: English
On stage, aspiring comedian Donna Stern is unapologetically herself, joking about topics as intimate as her sex life and as crude as her day-old underwear. But when Donna gets dumped, loses her job, and finds herself pregnant, she surprisingly discovers that the most terrifying thing isn’t facing adulthood on her own, but allowing herself to accept the support and love of others.

We Are the Best!
Director: Lukas Moodysson
Run Time: 102 minutes
Language: Swedish
We are the Best! revolves around three girls in 1980’s Stockholm who decide to form a punk band—despite not having any instruments and being told by everyone that punk is dead. Based on a graphic novel, the feature is a paean to DIY culture and the power of rebellion.


#CHICAGOGIRL – The Social Network Takes on a Dictator
Director: Joe Piscatella
Run Time: 74 minutes
Language: English/Arabic
Armed only with a laptop, a smartphone, and her determination, 19-year-old Ala’a Basatneh is contributing to the Syrian revolution from her Chicago bedroom. Six thousand miles away from Damascus, she orchestrates an impressive array of social media to coordinate and protect the Syrian protestors from President Bashar al-Assad's rule of terror.  And while she is out of the regime’s reach, there’s no telling when the other shoe will drop.

Director: Rex Miller
Run Time: 83 minutes
Language: English
Althea Gibson was the first African-American to play and win at Wimbledon and Forest Hills, a decade before the great Arthur Ashe, only to be shunned by the highly segregated world of tennis. The film details her roots as a sharecropper's daughter, her family's migration north to Harlem, her mentoring from Sugar Ray Robinson, David Dinkins, and others, and her rising fame that thrusts her unwillingly into the glare of the early Civil Rights movement.

Born to Fly: Elizabeth Streb vs. Gravity
Director: Catherine Gund
Run Time: 82 minutes
Language: English
Elizabeth Streb and the STREB Extreme Action Company form a motley troupe of flyers and crashers. Propelled by Streb’s edict that “anything too safe is not action,” these daredevils challenge the assumptions of art, aging, injury, gender, and human possibility. Born to Fly offers a breathtaking tale about the necessity of art, inspiring audiences hungry for a more tactile and fierce experience.

Dreamcatcher – Opening Night Film & New York Premiere
Director: Kim Longinotto
Run Time: 98 minutes
Language: English
Dreamcatcher is a portrait of Brenda Myers-Powell, a former Chicago prostitute, who helps women and teenage girls break the cycle of sexual abuse and exploitation. The film lays bare the hidden violence that devastates the lives of young women, their families, and the communities where they live. It is Brenda’s compassion and unflinching intervention that turns these desperate lives around.

In The Game – Full-Length Work-in-Progress
Director: Maria Finitzo
Run Time: 77 minutes
Language: English/Spanish
In the Game follows the ups and downs of an Hispanic girls soccer team to reveal the impact that race, class, and gender has on life’s opportunities.

Kate Bornstein is a Queer & Pleasant Danger
Director: Sam Feder
Run Time: 72 minutes
Language: English
Trans-dyke. Reluctant polyamorist. Sadomasochist. Recovering Scientologist. Pioneering gender outlaw. Performance artist and writer, Kate Bornstein, deconstructs gender—and her own identity. Sam Feder’s playful and meditative portrait, captures rollicking public performances and painful personal revelations as it bears witness to Bornstein as a trailblazing artist-theorist-activist who inhabits a space between male and female with wit, style and astonishing candor.

Out in the Night
Director: Blair Dorosh-Walther
Run Time: 75 minutes
Language: English
Out in the Night tells the story of a group of African-American lesbian teenagers from Newark, N.J. who are out, one hot August night in 2006, in a gay friendly neighborhood of New York City.  When an older man sexually and violently confronts the group, two of the teens defend themselves and stabs the man. The women are rounded up and charged with gang assault, assault, and attempted murder. They are called a “Gang of Killer Lesbians” by the media and in activist circles become known as The New Jersey 4. 

Que Caramba Es La Vida
Director: Doris Dörrie
Run Time: 86 minutes
Language: Spanish
More than just music, Mariachi is an essential part of Mexican culture that views the world from a macho perspective. The business is tough and women are seldom appreciated in this strictly male domain. Nevertheless, a handful of female musicians choose to be Mariachi and when the Mariachi women sing about death, love and poverty, the heavy issues of everyday life in Mexico City appear slightly more bearable.

Sepideh – Reaching for the Stars
Director: Berit Madsen
Run Time: 90 minutes
Language: Farsi
In a rural village far from Tehran, the night sky glows brilliantly, unimpeded by light pollution, and a teenage girl named Sepideh dreams of becoming an astronomer. Lugging a telescope as tall as herself, Sepideh spends her nights stargazing, inspired by Anousheh Ansari, the first Iranian in space. But achieving such a lofty ambition is easier said than done for an Iranian girl.

Director: Diana Whitten
Run Time: 88 minutes
Language: English/Spanish/Portuguese/Swahili/Polish
Vessel begins with a young doctor, Rebecca Gomperts, horrified by the realities created by anti-abortion laws around the world. To challenge these inequities,  Gomperts provides abortions on a ship in offshore waters, but her project, Women on Waves, faces governmental, religious, and military blockades. But undeterred, Gomperts turns to new technologies to bypass the law—and trains women to give themselves safe medical abortions using WHO-sanctioned protocols with pills.


Director: Frances Bodomo
Run Time: 13 minutes
Language: English
As America prepares to send Apollo 11 to the moon, the Zambia Space Academy in the African desert is rushing to launch their rocket first. They train by rolling their astronaut, 17-year-old Matha Mwamba, down hills in barrels to simulate weightlessness. As the clock counts down to blast off, and as the Bantu-7 Rocket looks more and more lopsided, Matha, the only woman in the group, must decide if she’s willing to die to keep her dreams alive.

Brittney Griner: Lifesize
Director: Melissa Johnson
Run Time: 16 minutes
Language: English
Screening before the documentary Althea, this is a rite of passage story of Basketball Center, Brittney Griner’s, inaugural season with the Zhejiang Golden Bulls. Director Melissa Johnson collaborated with espnW’s Kate Fagan, to chronicle Brittney’s transformation from amateur to professional, as Griner moves from a celebrated kid with unlimited potential to a self-reliant adult with the capacity to make her championship dreams a reality.

Flying Solo: A Transgender Widow Fights Discrimination
Director: Leslie Von Pless
Run Time: 8 minutes
Language: English
At 92, Robina Asti, a WWII veteran and pilot, tells her story of living as a transgender woman and her fight to be treated like any other widow.

Haenyeo: Women of the Sea
Director: Alex Igidbashian, Daye Jeong, Kevin Sawicki
Run Time: 12 minutes
Language: Korean
This short documentary provides a portrait of Chuwar Park, an unbelievably vibrant 82-year-old free-diver from Jeju Island, South Korea. Examining her daily routine as well as her past, Park sheds light on the unique matriarchal culture that hunts for ocean game.

Houreya Wa Ein (Eye and Mermaid)
Director: Shahad Ameen
Run Time: 14 minutes
Language: Arabic
Ten-year-old Hanan lives in a fishing village on the coast of the Arabian Peninsula. She wants to join her father on his nighttime fishing trips, but he doesn’t want her to come along. In the morning, he always returns with wonderful black pearls, but where do they come from? Does he harbor a secret?

The Lion’s Mouth Opens
Director: Lucy Walker
Run Time: 27 minutes
Language: English
A courageous young Scottish actress takes the boldest step imaginable to confront the risk of having inherited the fatal, incurable Huntington's Disease.

Director: Rachel Goldberg
Run Time: 18 minutes
Language: English
The Gladwells struggle to get media attention and law enforcement support when their teenage daughter disappears.

Rosita Lopez for President
Director: Rachel Goldberg
Run Time: 9 minutes
Language: English
A 14-year-old girl is running for President of the United States. As she tries to garner votes, she renews more than just a faith in democracy in the people she meets.

Stop Telling Women to Smile
Director: Dean Peterson
Run Time: 7 minutes
Language: English
The film highlights an art series by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh that addresses gender-based street harassment by placing portraits of women, complete with captions that speak directly to offenders, in outdoor public spaces.