Athena Film Festival: Jodie Foster Reflects on Need for Female Directors

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Jodie Foster at Thursday's Athena Film Festival event.

The actress-director, who was honored with the Laura Ziskin Lifetime Achievement Award also shared her thoughts on Amy Pascal leaving her top post at Sony.

The Athena Film Festival, which kicked off its 2015 edition Thursday night, is designed to celebrate female leadership, recognizing trailblazing women in the entertainment industry and on the big screen. At a brief ceremony ahead of the festival's opening night, New York premiere of the documentary Dreamcatcher, the festival's lifetime achievement award honoree Jodie Foster explained how valuable it was for her to see women working in the film industry.

"When I was growing up in the film business, I never saw a woman's face," Foster said in her remarks at Barnard College before accepting her award. "Sometimes it would be a lady who played my mom. Occasionally, it would be a makeup artist, but most often it would really just be me and the script supervisor. Little by little, as time went on, a few female faces came onto crews, and it changed everything…Men [who were my] fathers and brothers, little by little, women came into their world and suddenly the family was a more realistic family."

She then praised female executives like Sherry Lansing and Laura Ziskinthe late producer, who also spent five years as Fox 2000 president, for whom the Athena Film Festival's Lifetime Achievement honor is named. "Really great women who could be at the forefront of...change in the industry," Foster said.

But the actress-director said she didn't think she'd be able to step behind the camera until she became aware that female directors existed.

"There I was a young girl wanting to be a director and never seeing a female director's face. I thought it was something…I would never be allowed to do," but after her mother took her to a film festival devoted to the work of Lina Wertmuller, Foster said, "I came to realize that I could be a woman director if I wanted to because there was one out there, and that was a life-changing moment for me."

She did note that "there aren't enough women directors," but before accepting her award, Foster told The Hollywood Reporter that she still wasn't sure why that's the case.

"I don't think there's a plot to keep women from directing," Foster said, explaining that women are directing with more regularity in television and on independent movies.

But with bigger films, where there's a lot of money involved, having a female director is seen as a risk, Foster added, saying that she doesn't understand why that perception still exists.

Foster spoke to THR just hours after Sony co-chairman Amy Pascal announced she'd be stepping down from her top post at the studio, and Foster had nothing but kind things to say about Pascal.

"I've had great experiences with Amy," Foster, whose last major acting role was in Sony's Elysium, said. "She's a wonderful executive, and I've really enjoyed working with her and enjoyed her as a friend. And I know that she'll go on to do other things."

The Athena Film Festival runs through Feb. 8, with HBO Documentary Films president Sheila Nevins, Beyond the Lights director Gina Prince-Bythewood and Oscar-winning Crash producer and Mandalay Pictures president Cathy Schulman all set to be honored Saturday night.