Despite Winter Storm Niko blanketing New York City with more than ten inches of snow, thousands of film-lovers were present for the seventh annual Athena Film Festival on February 9-12, honoring extraordinary women in the film industry and showcasing films that highlight women’s lives and successes. Among the attendees for the festival’s 45-event schedule were Barnard students and alumnae, a delegation of West Point cadets, and even many who were visiting the College for the first time.

Previously in Athena Film Festival coverage: Women Who Run Hollywood

Athena Film Festival 2017

Stars joined the festival at the awards gala on Friday night, which honored women’s accomplishments in the film industry and the men who champion them. The event opened with a rendition of Women’s March anthem “Quiet,” performed by the all-female a cappella group Columbia Metrotones to raucous applause. Barnard Board of Trustees member Dylan McDermott P ’18 presented Eve Ensler—his adoptive mother—one of the three Athena Awards. Ensler, who wrote the award-winning play The Vagina Monologues and several other plays and books, is also the founder of V-Day, a movement that has raised over $100 million to end violence against women and girls. She is also one of the cofounders of the City of Joy, a center in Congo that works with survivors of sexual violence to help them become community leaders; a documentary about the center aired at the festival this weekend.

Patricia Riggen and Regina K. Scully also received Athena Awards. Riggen has directed films including the Chilean miners saga The 33Girl in ProgressLa Misma Luna (Under the Same Moon), which she also produced; and Miracles from Heaven. In 2016, Mexican-born Riggen was the top grossing woman director for a live action film for Miracles from Heaven. Scully has executive produced over 100 social justice films and is the Emmy- and Academy Award-nominated executive producer of The Invisible War. She is the founder and CEO of Artemis Rising Foundation, a philanthropic organization—and Athena Film Festival Founding Sponsor—dedicated to developing and promoting media, education, and the arts. Actor David Oyelowo received the Athena Leading Man award, and in his acceptance speech emphasized that, just as in the political sphere, Hollywood must be intentional in its championing of women in leadership roles, rather than waiting for change to happen organically.

View a playlist of the awardees and other luminaries who attended the gala:

The Athena Center for Leadership Studies, one of the festival’s founding organizations, launched in 2009 as a special initiative of Barnard President Debora Spar. This year’s festival was Spar’s last as President, as she will depart in early March to helm Lincoln Center as its CEO. The festival hosted a President’s Reception in her honor on Thursday night. Jyoti Menon ’01 led an intimate group in toasting Spar’s vision and work to further Barnard’s and the Athena Center’s mission, both at the College and around the world, and to wish her well in the next stage of her career.

After a screening of Women Who Run Hollywood, panelists Cari Beauchamp and Marjorie Rosen noted that successful women-helmed films are still considered flukes, but that digital filmmaking is ushering in a new age of accessibility that has not been seen since the 1920s and will undoubtedly be advantageous for women and minorities in the arts. Sheila Nevins ’60 and Bright Lights co-director Alexis Bloom shared fond memories of working with Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, and Reed Morano, the director of the first three episodes of upcoming Hulu series The Handmaid’s Tale, discussed the unexpected relevance of the series and imparted words of hope from series star Elisabeth Moss.

Dolores, a documentary about United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta, was the festival’s closing night film. The screening took place after a town hall meeting, which was hosted by Huerta, Gloria Steinem, Women’s March on Washington organizers Carmen Perez and Paola Mendoza, Women, Action, and the Media’s Executive Director Jamia Wilson, and Barnard student activists Camila Puig Ibarra ’17 and Naomi Tewodros ’17. Attendees listened to the panelists discuss next steps for budding activists, the importance of unity and solidarity across movements, and legislative strategy. After the screening—and a standing ovation for Huerta—Steinem joined Huerta and the film’s director and producers to continue the conversation about activism and the importance of, in Steinem’s words, “behaving as if everything you do matters.”