Athena Awards 2020
2020 Athena List Winners: Tricia Lee, Cherien Dabis, Nina Kentsis

For the past 14 years, Barnard College, through the Athena Film Festival (AFF), has established itself as the place where stories about women’s leadership take center stage. This is accomplished every year with an impressive roster of narratives, documentaries, and shorts. But for every powerful story that makes it to the big screen, there are countless more still waiting for that chance. The Athena List was created for this very reason: to bring attention to those scripts and the writers behind them.

“In my view, if you care about feminist storytelling, Barnard is where you want to be,” said Umbreen Bhatti ’00, the Constance Hess Williams ’66 Director of the Athena Center. “Barnard has long been known as a place that produces incredible writers. We’re now a place that supports the success of incredible visual storytellers as well — something that is so important in an increasingly visual world.”

Debra Souza Silva and guest at the 2019 Works in Progress Pitch Program

The annual script competition, now in its ninth iteration, recognizes writers who have crafted screenplays around the themes of women and leadership. Each year, a handful of winners are selected from a list of finalists; there have been 70 winners and finalists so far. 

“We bring attention to these stories in any way we can,” said Bhatti.

The Athena List has proven to be a successful launchpad for writers — many of whom are women — telling the kinds of women-centered stories that remain vastly underrepresented in the film industry. The annual Celluloid Ceiling study from San Diego State University found that in 2022, women accounted for only “24% of the directors, writers, producers, editors and cinematographers working on the top 250 grossing films.”

“Doors have really opened for women, particularly in television. Not so much in features,” said Rachel Feldman. Feldman’s screenplay for the political drama Lilly, about fair-pay whistleblower and activist Lilly Ledbetter, was a winner on the first-ever Athena List in 2014. Lilly, which features Patricia Clarkson in the lead role of Ledbetter, wrapped up production last year.

Many scripts that become Athena List finalists have garnered success. This includes an inaugural Athena List winner, the biopic of a young Ruth Bader Ginsburg, On the Basis of Sex, written by Daniel Stiepelman and directed by Mimi Leder in 2018. And 2017 finalist Clemency, written and directed by Chinonye Chukwu, won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.

Screenshot from "On the Basis of Sex
Screenshot from On the Basis of Sex trailer, courtesy of Focus Films

For filmmakers such as Feldman, having a platform to showcase an original story made a huge difference. “It’s always a great acknowledgement to know that your story resonates, that it connects with an audience. The Athena List certainly helped create a community, made us aware that there were other people that were writing scripts like us, people that cared about the same subjects that we did.”

This year, scripts encompass everything from coming-of-age stories and personal liberation narratives to historical retrospectives on pioneers, such as writer Edith Wharton and engineer Emily Warren Roebling, who had enduring impacts as female pioneers.

Learn about 2024’s Athena List finalists and their screenplays below.

Gina Hackett AFF

Gina Hackett, A Bridge Between Us

Based on the true story of Emily Warren Roebling — who becomes the world’s first female engineer after she reluctantly assumes the role as chief engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge following her husband’s paralyzation during the bridge’s Victorian-era construction — the film tracks the jealousy and discrimination Emily faces while her marriage collapses.

Katherine Hayes AFF finalist

Katherine Hayes, The Pendulum Woman

The well-connected and recently divorced Edith Wharton remains in Paris at the beginning of World War I to help in the fight for France. 

Missy Hernandez AFF finalist

Missy Hernandez, I Don’t Dream in Spanish Anymore

To escape an ancestral curse that threatens to kill a scientist and her unborn child, the scientist returns to her roots.

Samantha Lavin AFF finalist

Samantha Lavin, 7 on 10

Sentenced to seven years in prison for vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, a former WNBA player faces her past, on and off the court, to find freedom.

Alicia Louzoun-Heisler AFF finalist

Alicia Louzoun-Heisler, Liars

A queer, character-driven thriller set in Silicon Valley. Vera, a brilliant neuroscientist whose work has been overlooked, is desperate to escape the stress of conceiving her first child with her wife. She’s hired by a major tech company to use her patented AI lie-detection technology to vet sexual misconduct accusations against the would-be CEO.

Gabriela García Medina & Katherine Craft, AFF Finalists

Gabriela García Medina & Katherine Craft, SKRRRT!

A teenage girl who has been accepted into Harvard but can’t afford to go gathers a high school crew of frenemies to attempt a car heist during Miami’s Art Basel art fair. 

Rebecca Jordan Smith, AFF Finalist

Rebecca Jordan Smith, Keesha Goes to Camp

An introverted, booksmart Black tween is sent to an outdoor summer camp where she’s challenged by nature, rivals, and the opposite sex. 

AFF Long Image