Throughout the month of March, Barnard College is hosting the annual Athena Film Festival. Founded in 2011, the Athena Film Festival features female leadership. Issues discussed in the films cover both international and local topics. Unlike other years, the festival is hosted online this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, making it more accessible than ever before. Various films are released throughout the month for an allotted amount of time. Student passes can be purchased through the festival’s site, giving access to live events and panels in addition to the films. Although each film offered by the festival is exciting in its own right, here are a few highlights:
Directed and written by Tracey Deer, “Beans” is a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story centered around Tekehentahkhwa, a young Mohawk girl affectionately nicknamed “Beans.” Throughout the film, the racial tension between the Canadian government and two Mohawk communities heavily impacts Beans’ understanding of herself. The film inserts archival news footage from the real-life Oka Crisis to highlight the Canadian government’s historic cruelty toward the Mohawks. The footage is used to great effect, juxtaposing against poignant scenes of Bean picking golf balls off of graves and having rocks thrown at her and her family. Towards the end of the film, as Beans and her family attempt to return to the reservation, they are forced to flee from a mob that is burning an effigy. “Beans” draws attention to the racism and discrimination faced by Indigenous Peoples in the present day as well. The film points out that the fight against the Canadian government for Indigenous land is still ongoing, despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promises. The broader issues of racism serve as a backdrop for Tekehentahkhwa’s coming-of-age story; however, much of her story is centered around grappling with the racism she and her community faces. Racism embeds itself into Beans’ life and plays a crucial role in how she navigates the world. Although Beans’ identity cannot be reduced to her race, “Beans” highlights how society reduces individuals to their race.
“Mama Gloria” explores the life of Gloria Allen, an elder of the transgender community affectionately dubbed “Mama Gloria” by students of her “charm school.”Throughout the documentary, Mama Gloria shares her experiences growing up as a Black transgender woman in Chicago during the 1950s and ‘60s. Mama Gloria fondly recalls her mother and grandmother, both of whom were in the entertainment industry, claiming that they accepted her without question. She speaks of the queer community that accepted her and the trans women who inspired her. However, she also discusses the harassment she faced at the hands of high school classmates. While she chooses to focus on the positives, she does not sugarcoat the violence she faced. Her story, full of both acceptance and violence, is a story of resilience and strength, and is well worth watching.
“The Dilemma of Desire”
A documentary surrounding the clitoris and female sexuality, “The Dilemma of Desire” centers around female sexual desire. While improving “cliteracy” is important for medical professionals, “The Dilemma of Desire” primarily focuses on removing the social taboos surrounding female sexual freedom. Throughout the documentary, different women share their experiences with their sexuality. Underlying each story is the inherent discomfort women are made to feel regarding their sexual wants. The film argues that women should be allowed to be sexual beings and talk about their sexual wants. Female masturbation, pleasure and women’s bodies, in general, have consistently been shamed. The documentary’s frank discussions surrounding women’s bodies seeks to remove that shame and increase “cliteracy.”
“My Name Is Ada Hegerberg”
A short documentary following Ada Hegerberg, a world-famous soccer player, “My Name Is Ada Hegerberg” takes a cursory glance at the sexist world of professional sports. Hegerberg, the first female player to win the Ballon d’Or Féminin, shares her story as a female professional soccer player fighting for equality in sports. It’s well worth watching for those interested in seeing how sexism can affect all aspects of society, including sports.
“Test Pattern” follows Renesha and Evan, an interracial couple, as they navigate the health care system in search of a rape kit. The film focuses on the medical system’s inadequate resources for victims of sexual assault with Renesha and Evan going to several different hospitals across the city in an attempt to find a hospital that can administer a rape kit. The hospitals repeatedly turn Renesha away and even when they do manage to get a rape kit, there are no mental health services provided. “Test Pattern” also explores Renesha’s lack of agency. In one flashback, Evan describes tattooing Ranesha as “branding” her, marking her as “his.” This scene has heavy implications given the interracial nature of their relationship, and when paired with scenes of Evan repeatedly ignoring Renesha’s wants, this scene turns a questionable sentence into something more sinister. Rather than providing emotional support, he drags her to various hospitals, even going as far as calling the cops against Renesha’s will, scolding her when she tells him to stop. The first instance in which someone asks Renesha what she wants is the Black nurse who administers the test. “Test Pattern” calls attention to the healthcare system’s failure to adequately provide for victims of sexual assault and additionally highlights how victims of sexual assault are repeatedly robbed of their agency even following the assault.
“Nothing About Us Without Us”
A series of shorts dedicated to drawing attention to the lack of representation within films, “Nothing About Us Without Us” features creators from a variety of backgrounds. The phrase “nothing about us without us” originally was used by marginalized communities across the world. Expanding on the idea, the short program applies the phrase to various other communities, including the transgender community. Focused on the voices of people in marginalized groups, the program advocates for greater representation both in front of and behind the camera.
I am looking forward to watching the rest of the films at the Athena Film Festival and highly encourage people to join! Since the festival is usually hosted in New York City, the move online has made the festival more accessible. Viewers from across the globe can now access these films to gain new perspectives on international women’s issues.
Passes are available at https://watch.athenafilmfestival.com/bundle/student-pass/.