Fierce Compassion

Women’s stories of “love, resilience, and joy” drive the Athena Film Festival’s most ardent supporter

By June D. Bell

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Headshot of Regina Scully
Regina K. Scully

Regina K. Scully’s perfect weekend is spent in the dark. She’s happiest in a movie theater soaking up film after film. A lifelong cinephile, she’s drawn to what she calls “DNA changers,” documentaries and narratives that radically and enduringly transform viewers’ perspectives.

Making those types of movies is the mission of her organization, Artemis Rising Foundation, which has produced more than 200 films on themes such as social justice, recovery, and healing. Scully was the executive producer of The Invisible War, which dug deep into sexual assault in the military, as well as I Am Evidence, which took an unsparing look at how the extreme backlog of untested rape kits affects victims. Both won Emmys. 

The Artemis Rising Foundation is also the largest supporter of Barnard’s Athena Film Festival, which this spring celebrated its 11th anniversary. “Without Regina’s commitment — her early and sustained commitment — the festival would not exist,” says Melissa Silverstein, the festival’s artistic director and co-founder. “She wanted to support and invest in the Festival, publicly. She is deeply committed to women philanthropists using their resources and voices to create change and inspire others.”

Scully’s generous donations over the past decade provide critical, general operating support that sustains the festival from year to year and bolsters its work to educate, connect, and empower women filmmakers. “It is Regina’s leadership and loyal commitment that undergird all of our efforts each year and allow us to grow and thrive,” says Victoria Lesourd, Chief of Staff at the Athena Center, who manages the festival and works on its annual fundraising. 

Scully is not a Barnard alumna (Georgetown is her alma mater), but she admires how Barnard nurtures and empowers women. “I have a real affinity and fondness for this school,” she says.

The Athena Film Festival highlights cinema that focuses on women’s leadership and showcases women’s creativity as producers, directors, and writers, an aim that resonates with Scully. “I love the emphasis on female storytelling and women behind the lens. Athena’s mission is in great alignment” with that of Artemis, she says.

Scully notes that the Athena Film Festival and the Artemis Rising Foundation are both named for deities. Artemis, she says, is “the goddess of fierce compassion, and to me, the greatest stories are told through a compassionate lens.” 

That compassion extends to her most recent documentary, What Would Sophia Loren Do?, which was screened at the 2021 Athena Film Festival and is available on Netflix. The short initially appears to be a valentine to Scully’s mother, Nancy Kulik, who idolizes the iconic Italian actress. But in a compact 32 minutes, the film also dips into a bottomless well of heartache and grief. Nonetheless, “it is a recovery film,” Scully says. “It’s about love, resilience, and joy.”

Fifteen other films produced by the Artemis Rising Foundation have screened at the Athena Film Festival. Attendees at the first festival, in 2011, viewed Miss Representation, a documentary exploring the subtle and overt media and cultural factors that discourage women from pursuing leadership roles. Scully was the film’s executive producer. 

Silverstein credits Scully’s support with empowering female directors and producers as they find and raise their unique voices. “All the images in our culture have been white and male,” she says. “Now, it’s all about disrupting the status quo and bringing in new storytellers, because stories are how we connect with one another.” Thanks in no small part to Scully’s generosity, she says, the Athena Film Festival showcases a world “where women are front and center, unapologetically.” 

Latest IssueSpring 2021