Breaking Barriers

Short films about Women of courage and conviction spark conversations about leadership

By Annette Kahn

While February has become synonymous with Barnard’s hosting the Athena Film Festival, the dialogues about women and leadership are meant to be robust and ongoing all year. Last fall, a special collection of four short films, the Athena Global Shorts, celebrated the personal strengths and influence of women in their communities around the world. About one hour long, this inaugural collection brings together four shorts directed by female filmmakers that were screened at the 2012 Athena Festival. Each year, the festival’s shorts program will provide the next year’s collection of Global Shorts. 

The collection was produced in collaboration with UN Women, a United Nations group that promotes gender equality and women’s empowerment. Through its worldwide committees, 200 copies of the Global Shorts have been distributed, providing the basis for an array of special events. ADP is the sponsor for the Global Shorts program. Kathryn Kolbert, Constance Hess Williams Director of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies, is in discussions with the Girl Scouts of America to distribute the collection; Global Shorts is also available to Barnard’s regional clubs. 

Kolbert, who cofounded the Athena Film Festival with Melissa Silverstein of Women and Hollywood, points to film as a medium known to nearly all people throughout the world. Using films written, directed, or produced by women or that feature them in positions of power, enhances awareness and expands the possibilities for cultural change. 

The first collection of Global Shorts features women of all ages in roles contradictory to their societies’ norms. The lead characters are all marked by their creativity and determination: A Bedouin girl invades the tent where her father and his male friends are discussing his desire to take another wife; a Mexican mother frantically raises money to save a son who has accidentally fallen prey to a vicious drug cartel and finds she has endangered her own life; and, in Kenya, a band of women set up their own economically viable village—no men allowed—to escape their abusive, lazy husbands. Finally, an animated feature briefly, yet pointedly, speaks to the difficulties of women as they pursue careers in the male-dominated film industry.

Included with the Athena Global Shorts collection on DVD are some eye-opening statistics from a recent study, It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World: On-screen Representations of Female Characters in the Top 100 Films of 2011, conducted by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film. Only 33 percent of on-screen characters in the films are women, and only 11 percent are actual leads; this is actually a loss for women, since 10 years ago, women made up 16 percent of overall movie leads. Women of color account for 27 percent of female characters shown on screen, with their leading roles diminishing to eight percent in 2011 from 15 percent in 2002.

Through ongoing projects supporting women in film, like the Athena Film Festival and the selection and distribution of the Athena Global Shorts (a new collection is planned for the 2014 festival), the dialogue will most assuredly continue. 

For more information on the Athena Global Shorts, or if you would like to bring the program to your community, organization, or company, please contact Maria Perez-Martinez at 212-854-1264 or at

Latest IssueWinter 2021

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