I kicked off Athena with a ‘Panel on Filmmaking’ with Julia Hart, writer and director of Fast Color, which had aired at the festival the evening before. Not only was Hart effortlessly witty and intelligent, it felt like she spoke to my soul. She introduced the concept of “uncentering” yourself as the director—in other words, removing yourself from your role as the sole decision-maker and voice of authority on set and opening up the floor for collaboration from the cast and the creative team.
In my limited number of directorial pursuits, I was always drawn to that exact approach. I was enlivened and empowered by the people around me and couldn’t help but allow my production to be shaped by them. Hearing Hart voice that exact creative philosophy made me think: maybe this is a female thing. Fast Color is about women with superpowers—but their powers are not destructive like those of their male predecessors. The superhuman women are creative—they put things back together. I think the ability to “uncenter,” to collaborate and bring people together, is one of the superpowers of a female director. This was the first of many moments of the weekend that reminded me just how important it is that women’s voices are heard in the film industry.
After the panel, I went to Rafiki, a Kenya-set film about two girls, the daughters of political rivals, who fall in love. As their relationship blossoms, they must fight to protect it against their opposing fathers and the atmosphere of homophobia throughout their town. I thought the film was wonderfully romantic and offered a strong portrayal of powerful women who, despite sometimes feeling vulnerable and wavering, continue to fight nonetheless. At the end of the film, my fellow FF2 critics and I stayed for a Q&A with Sontenish Myers, the director of ‘Cross My Heart,’ a short that had precluded the screening of Rafiki. During the Q&A, Myers discussed how with ‘Cross My Heart,’ she wanted to create a space for “black women to be quiet,”: in other words, for them to step out of their stereotypical roles as the funny or sassy one, and just be pensive. I loved the idea that Myers, as a black women, saw a harmful gap in the portrayal of black women in film and did something about it.
The next film I saw was Netizens, which is about revenge porn (releasing explicit photos or information about a person in order to spite them). The documentary follows several different women who are victims of online harassment and revenge porn. Netizens is truly eye-opening; I had no idea the extent to which revenge porn exists and impacts the lives of so many individuals. However, the film is not just a sob story. It also depicts how badass these women, who are actively fighting to increase both public awareness of the issue and legislation to protect others from it, truly are. Netizens is terrifying, mystifying, infuriating, and empowering all at the same time. The film was followed by a Q&A with director Cynthia Lowen and one of the film’s subjects, Carrie Goldberg, an attorney who specializes in revenge porn and online abuse. Both Lowen and Goldberg expressed the same do-it-yourself energy as ‘Cross my Heart’ director Sontenish Myers. They saw a problem in society and decided to fix it—one by going to law school and becoming an attorney, and the other by creating a film to shed light on the issue. Have I mentioned that women are powerhouses and must be recognized in film more often?
I finished that night with the FF2 Media-sponsored film, Working Woman, about a young woman experiencing sexual violence in the workplace. Before the film aired, FF2 editor in chief Jan Huttner explained that writer and director Michal Aviad started working on Working Woman six years ago— long before the time of the current MeToo movement. It just so happens that she hit the nail on the head six years early: Working Woman captures exactly what the MeToo movement is only now beginning to fight against. I believe that everyone who wants to understand the experience of sexual assault in a working environment—and why it is such a heated and emotional topic—should watch this film.
Last but definitely not least, I finished the festival with Knock Down the House, a documentary about grassroots political campaigns dismantling the systems that keep government powers in power and outsiders out. I won’t get into just what made this film so amazing, because a full review on it is to come, but I will say that this film is revolutionary and must be seen by anyone who can watch it. ‘Knock Down the House’ was followed by a Q&A with the director Rachel Lears and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez herself, whom the film features as one of its spotlights. Needless to say, the crowd was thrilled to be in AOC’s presence. She delivered a beautiful speech about being brave as a woman to the enraptured crowd. Standing in a crowd of people cheering as hard as they could, I was overwhelmed with what a hero AOC is: all odds were against her as a young bartender who’s a woman of color from the Bronx, and she still fought her way into Congress. Again, AOC and Knock Down the House are perfect examples of the kind of powerful get-it-done energy that I felt coursing through my veins throughout all of Athena.
The TL;DR of my Athena weekend is that women have a thousand different things to say and a thousand different means of saying them, all of them incredible and revolutionary in their own way. Athena allows women to say what they want to say, and as women continue to fight for their voices to be heard, this festival marks only the beginning of the tidal wave of female creativity that’s coming to the film industry, to politics, and beyond.
© Julia Lasker (3/18/19) FF2 Media
Featured Photo: Sheila Munyiva and Samantha Mugatsia in Rafiki (Credit: IMDB)
Top Photo: Liron Ben-Shlush in Working Woman (Credit: IMDB)
Middle Photo: Q&A with the Knock Down the House team and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Bottom Photo: Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez