Athena Film Festival Movie Review: Out in the Night

By Mariah Castillo

Warning: this contains spoilers!

The New Jersey 4

The 2015 Athena Film Festival had an amazing line-up of movies. One that especially stood out to me was Out in the Night, a documentary by Blair Dorosh-Walther. Dorosh-Walther delves into the story of the New Jersey 4, a group of friends who, in 2006, were sent to prison after defending themselves from a violent catcaller. Typically, when people reasonably act in self-defense, they at most receive lighter sentences. These four young women were sentenced to up to 11 years in prison, serving longer than others who’ve intentionally committed even graver acts. Why were these women treated differently?

The answer: they are queer women of color.

Renata, Patreese, Venice, and Terrain grew up in a bad neighborhood in New Jersey. Their families were accepting when they came out, and they would often go to the West Village together to meet other members of the LGBTQ community. One night, they and three other friends were hanging out, when a man in front of a store started catcalling them. One of the women, Patreese, told him that they were gay, but after finding out that they were lesbians, the man made comments such as “I’d fuck you straight,” and started getting even more violent. It all escalated to the point that the man was stabbed. The group was arrested, and when they went to court, Renata, Terrain, Venice, and Patreese all pled not guilty.

The whole incident and the trial caused a firestorm in the media. Newspapers, magazines, and TV anchors identified them as a “gang,” “raging Lesbians,” and even “wolf pack.” A few of the media talked about the catcaller in passing, if at all. The judge in their case misled the jury, and the four women received, among others, charges that included “Gang Assault,” even though they weren’t part of a gang at all.

Seeing the trial and the media backlash, it was impossible to not get angry. Now the four women have to go to prison, and their families have to cope. Seeing how each person reacted was difficult to watch. There were a lot of tears shed (by the people in the documentary and by the audience- or just me). One could hear the gasps and outcries by the members of the audience when even more devastating revelations came to light. Dorosh-Walther was able to film starting from when the four women were appealing their cases to when Patreese was finally released from prison. The New Jersey 4 were seen trying to lead a normal life, trying to find employment and a place to live with a criminal record. Despite the obstacles, Renata, Terrain, Venice, and Patreese are all determined to succeed in their future endeavors.

The audience applauded loudly for the movie, and gave Renata, Terrain, and Patreese a standing ovation when they sat on stage with Dorosh-Walther for the Q & A. Aside from answering one painstakingly awkward question about why Dorosh-Walther, as a white person, felt hesitant to tell the story of queer women of color (which she answered flawlessly), the Q & A was handled very well. Renata, Terrain, and Patreese are some of the funniest people to have the floor at Barnard 304. They mixed humor with their deep answers, and they continued to inspire the audience when the whole event was over. They each took the time to talk to those who went up to them. I was literally star struck!

As one person commented, for a project that started in the mid-2000’s, the cinematography was of pretty high quality. Sometimes the transitions between words and clips were a bit abrupt, but it never detracted from the whole experience.

Out in the Night is one of those movies you think about long afterwards. The emotions it evoked helped highlight the injustice queer women of color are at risk of facing every day. For a movie that was featured at 9PM on a Saturday night, the full house and the energetic, engaged audience showed how much of an impact it has made.

Mariah Castillo is a Junior at Barnard College and the Editor-in-Chief of The Nine Ways of Knowing

Image courtesy of

For more information on the film, visit the official website.


Obvious Child Movie Review

by Clara Butler

If you haven’t watched Obvious Child yet, you’re missing out!

I’m going to start out by saying that I absolutely love this movie. I love this movie so much that I went to the Athena Film Festival to see it AGAIN because this movie is perfection. As a lover of rom-coms but also strong, female protagonists, this movie was exactly what I wanted it to be without playing into the usual tropes that frame women as solely defined by their relationship with men. This movie was the complete opposite of the “manic pixie dream girl” that shows up all too often in male driven rom-coms where the girl only exists to change the man’s perspective in some way rather than being her own fully functional human being.

Jenny Slate absolutely kills it as Donna Stern, a stand-up comedian who gets dumped by her cheating boyfriend and after a one-night stand, realizes that she’s pregnant. While Obvious Child has been dubbed “an abortion comedy”, this movie is so much more than its important political undertones. Although the movie does center around her decision to get an abortion, it’s more about a life of a woman who is trying to figure everything out and who wants both a career doing what she loves and a guy who isn’t going to treat her like shit. She also has a strong support system around her, something that is often lacking in movies, since her best friend is there for her every step of the way and both her parents are supportive of her decision. But it is super important that we finally see something that is common, yet taboo, in society played out on screen and represented in an inherently feminist way.

What really makes this movie shine though is its relatability. Unlike Frances Ha and other movies that depict that weird in-between time where you still feel like a kid but are expected to act like an adult, Obvious Child frames this “figuring it out” stage as awkward but beautiful and shows that although every one has faults and makes mistakes, they are still lovable and inherently human. Even though Donna doesn’t always make the best choices or isn’t always the most sane person, she’s still hilarious and has a great heart. Jenny Slate does a great job at letting us into Donna’s head a little because although she might make a bad choice (like hiding from the guy she obviously likes), we know exactly why she’s doing it because we both know and can relate to her every step of the way.

After the movie, the director had a Q and A that provided great insights into the process of making Obvious Child. Gillian Robespierre was a lot younger than I expected but she was just as witty and smart as the character she created on screen. Wearing an oversized sweater (much like the one that Donna wore throughout the movie), she answered questions about working with Jenny Slate, if there were any protests to the movie, and what she was working on now. Basically, Gillian saw Jenny Slate doing stand-up one night (at the same kind of place they show in the movie) and knew that she would be perfect for the short film that eventually became the feature film. Five years later, Jenny Slate starred in the film and did end up helping write some of the lines. There weren’t any protests that Gillian had heard of and the film had a warm reception at its initial premiere, not surprising since it was an underrated masterpiece that I encourage everyone to see right this minute.

If you want to check out Jenny Slate, she did a hilarious interview where she talks about her time at Columbia and here is a link to Gillian Robespierre’s twitter so you can be updated about her (awesome) current projects.

Clara Butler is a Junior at Barnard College and is the Girl Talk, Opinions, and New York Editor of The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Image courtesy of Obvious Child‘s official Tumblr page

Volunteering at the Athena Film Festival

by Manuela Hiches 

I had never heard of the Athena Film Festival before coming to Barnard and hadn’t thought of volunteering for it at first. But, as I kept receiving the emails and seeing the fliers about it, I was growing more tempted to volunteer. I was free those days so it couldn’t hurt, right? On a whim, I filled out the form and signed up for volunteering.

I didn’t know if any of my friends had signed up, but I figured I needed to try new things on my own. When sitting in the training session for the festival, it started to become more and more real that I was going to be part of this huge event: the director plainly said: “the festival’s success all depends on you guys.” Once the session ended, I was anticipating the festival because it was no longer something I was going to be doing for the heck of it, but rather because I was going to be part of something big and being an asset to someone.

I had arrived for my shift a little late but it didn’t seem to matter as the coordinators were simply happy that I showed up. I was given my volunteer pass and the Athena Film Festival T-shirt and was put to work right away.

Since I was a floater, I was prepared to be assigned to do anything and go wherever I was needed, but I definitely didn’t expect my first job to be a greeter. I went out with another volunteer to find where we should be. Once there, we all divided ourselves into teams of two and took turns on who greeted outside and who greeted inside. I was definitely grateful for the team of two idea because whenever I didn’t know the answer, my partner backed me up and helped out in leading people to their destination.

My partner ended up being a senior at Barnard named Maria. I was worried at first that it would be awkward since I’m not the most talkative person with strangers, but this worry seemed to blow out the window as we hit it off, talking about anything that came up. And despite the fact that we had to stand outside in the cold quite a few times for about two hours or so, I had fun.

Once my partner and I parted ways, since her shift had ended, I wound up finding one of my own friends who had also volunteered. Since there wasn’t much need for volunteers at the moment, we went off and saw one of the movies that was playing, The 99ers. I’m not the biggest fan of sports but this movie was definitely worth seeing. It was not only inspirational in the way that makes you want to strive for your dreams, it gave me a few laughs. I learned that we aren’t alone in our journey because our friends, and even teammates, always got our backs.

In volunteering for the Athena Film Festival, I not only was able to give back to the Barnard community by helping in this huge event, I also got to meet new people, including an exchange student from Australia! Additionally, I was able to see a great movie that I probably would have never considered seeing had I heard about it under different circumstances. Next year, I definitely want to volunteer for the Athena Film Festival and help execute an even better show.

Manuela Hiches is a first-year at Barnard and a staff writer for The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Image courtesy of Athena Film Festival.

Brave New World

by Ama Debrah

All a girl needs is a bow to look badass.

Several weeks ago, the banners went up over Lehman Lawn, announcing the return of Barnard College’s highly anticipated Athena Film Festival. Though many of the films initially caught my attention, I wasn’t planning on seeing any, since I got the false idea that I would devote the weekend to “studying.” However, after receiving nine free tickets to the Saturday showing of Pixar’s latest film, Brave, I realized that it would be against my civic duty as a diehard Pixar fan to miss this opportunity.

Even though I had already seen Brave when it was in theaters, I enjoyed it enough that I was very excited to see it again. Although Brave is not Pixar’s highest-rated film, it was considered a triumph, not only because it was much more critically acclaimed than the lackluster Cars 2, but because it also represented a milestone for women in filmmaking. Not only does Brave feature the first female protagonist in a Pixar film, the feisty and headstrong Princess Merida, but it’s also directed by Brenda Chapman, the first woman to ever direct a Pixar film.

Due to its strong female characters, Brave tries to be a feminist fairytale. When her domineering mother forces her to become betrothed, Merida takes to the woods and obtains a spell to change the nature of her mother, so she won’t have to get married. However, when the spell actually ends up turning her mother into a bear, Merida and her mother are forced to put aside their differences in order to figure out how to break the spell.

Hair: the crux of every mother-daughter relationship.

Though the movie is engrossing and I definitely shed some tears both times I saw it, the plot struck me as surprisingly predictable for a Pixar film. Although the twist of her mother turning into a bear was quite unexpected, the progression of the film seemed to follow the pattern of a typical Disney cartoon; not the innovative and thought-provoking films we’ve come to expect from Pixar.

That being said, Brave is still beautifully animated and a good film overall. Though Merida might not be a particularly original character, she is still a strong female role model for young girls, who until this point, may have only had princesses motivated by love interests. The Athena Film Festival’s showing of Brave was partnered with the Girl Scouts of America, and the numerous troops present at the showing served as the best possible audience members. Whenever my seasoned cynical critic would try to destroy my viewing experience, all it took was the high-pitched laughter of some of the Girl Scouts to bring my ego down a view notches.

While The Incredibles might still reign as number one in my mind, Brave definitely paves the way for many empowered, independent heroines to come.

Ama is a junior at Barnard and the New York and On Campus Editor for The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Images courtesy of IMDb and Punk Rock Parents.

WONDER WOMEN! The Untold Story of American Superheroines

by Mariah Castillo

Wonder Woman to the rescue!

As someone who had recently gotten interested by comic books, I was very excited to see a documentary featuring women in comics, and I’m happy to say that I was not disappointed at all. WONDER WOMEN! The Untold Story of American Superheroines, featured at the Athena Film Festival, was a funny and thought-provoking film chronicling the evolution of Wonder Woman and how the Amazon princess helped pave the way for women and the feminist movement.

One of the most insightful parts of the film showed how Wonder Woman changed with American women over time. The character of Wonder Woman was developed by psychologist William Mourton Marston (also the creator of the precursor to the lie detector test) and was first seen in the December 1941 issue of All Star Comics. Her signature is the golden lasso, which makes men tell the truth and she hails from the island of Themyscira, an undetected land of female warriors protected by the Greek gods. An American pilot, Steve Trevor, crash lands onto the hidden island, seeking help in World War II. Princess Diana of Themyscira becomes the first Amazon to go to Man’s World to solve all the problems men have created, specifically war and inequality. The underlying parallel: in the early 1940s, women were encouraged to leave the house to take the jobs left vacant by men who were fighting in World War II, giving them a taste of life outside the house.

“In a study of 157 female characters in various action movies, half of them were evil, and 30% of them, both good and bad, were killed off typically as self-sacrifice so the male protagonist can save the day.”

Marston died before the end of the war, and the return of the women to the home ushered a change in Wonder Woman; instead of a spunky, independent woman who saves the day, Diana Prince (her new alias) became a love struck, less adventurous young woman who cried often. In the fifties and sixties, other comic book women were getting a similar treatment. One character, Batwoman, was continuously berated by Batman and yet eventually marries him (fun fact: even though Batwoman was created after rumors of Batman and Robin being homosexual, the modern Batwoman in DC comics is one of the most prominent lesbian superheroes). Another character, Lois Lane, changed from the sassy journalist risking everything to get the inside scoop to a young woman solely focused on being “Mrs. Superman.” It wasn’t until the feminist movement did Wonder Woman become more like the superhero we know today. Gloria Steinem, co-founder of Ms. Magazine, talked about how the feminist movement took back the character, placing her on the cover of the first issue of the magazine. On the 40th anniversary issue of the magazine that came out last fall, Wonder Woman graced the cover again, showing how she still is a symbol for the feminist movement, even though the movement itself has evolved.

The documentary itself also focused on the evolution of females portrayed in media. The 70’s and the 90’s especially spawned several strong female characters in shows such as Wonder Woman, Charlie’s Angels, Bionic Woman, Xena: Warrior Princess, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Despite the presence of some strong female characters, some disturbing tropes exist concerning female characters in general. In a study of 157 female characters in various action movies, half of them were evil, and 30% of them, both good and bad, were killed off typically as self-sacrifice so the male protagonist can save the day.

Battling the War on Women

Another disturbing concept is the hyper sexualizing of women, especially in comics (look up The Hawkeye Initiative to see how “strong women” portrayals in comics are typically ridiculous and anatomically impossible). One interviewee mentioned that rebukes often point out that men in comics are also hyper sexualized, however, that the hyper sexualizing of male characters are typically meant to demonstrate masculinity and strength, while female hyper-sexualizing, with the anatomical incorrectness and skimpy, gravity-defying outfits, are really for the (typically male) readers’ pleasure. It doesn’t help that there are few women in the big writing and editing roles in the Big Two comic book companies (DC and Marvel). Gail Simone, a writer currently working on the latest run of Batgirl, became the first female writer of Wonder Woman in 2007; that’s right, for over sixty years, the best known female superhero has been written by men!

Aside from emphasizing the obstacles that women, as writers, fans, and characters have to face in the comic book industry, Wonder Woman has also become a symbol for humanitarian issue awareness and philanthropy. In Oregon, an event called Wonder Woman Day takes place to raise awareness on domestic violence and raise money to domestic violence shelters. Artists donate their work to be sold or displayed in this comic book store, and the event, which still happens today, has raised tens of thousands of dollars for a cause Wonder Woman would have surely stood behind.

The Hawkeye Iniative” — replacing hyper-sexualized
female characters in comics with Hawkeye

WONDER WOMEN! was also filled with interviews from Wonder Woman fans; two of them, Katie Pineda and Carmela Lane, joined producer Kelcey Edwards for a half-hour Q&A session. Edwards talked about the five-year-long process of making this film (Katie, who was a 4th grader in her filmed interview, is now thirteen years old) and the careful footing she had to do concerning the fair use of the content shown. Edwards also talked about the power of consumers, who can voice their opinions by choosing to watch movies and shows that support strong women.

Overall, the WONDER WOMEN! experience was wonderful, for lack of a better term. It showed how this superhero, one of the longest running characters in comics of all time, has evolved and affected society, as well as the feminist movement. If you are even vaguely interested in comics, and if you get a little (or really) angry about being called a “Fake Nerd Girl,” this is one film you have to see. Not only does it chronicle the most well-known female superhero of all time, it also shows that there is a superhero in all of us.

WONDER WOMEN! The Untold Story of American Superheroines will be broadcasted on PBS on April 15!

Images from NY Sun and E!Online.

Mariah Castillo is a first-year at Barnard and a staff writer for The Nine Ways of Knowing.

The Athena Film Festival Opening Ceremony

by Alexandra Palacios

Barnard gets dressed up for the 
Athena Film Festival.

This weekend hundreds of New Yorkers and students will brave the snow to come to Barnard for the Athena Film Festival, a celebration for women leaders in the highly male-dominated industries of film and television. If you have yet to buy your tickets, I strongly urge you to spend a good portion of your day watching all the trailers for the films being shown (it is an excellent form of procrastination). Thursday night marked the beginning of this festival with the Opening Award Ceremony. In a word, I would describe the event as swanky. The event oval cleans up nicely and everything was decked out in a pretty baby blue, from the lights, to the tables, to the extremely tempting cocktails. I stood out like a sore thumb as one of the very, very few students at the opening. The first 40 minutes were dedicated to mingling, so I stood in the back and tried desperately to hide the hole in my tights. While I did pass on the seductively lax open bar, the hors d’oeuvres were a delicious dinner. Even better than the macaroni puffs was the cute guy who kept on serving them to me. You can tell me he was just doing his job, but I know we were soul mates. But, moving on.

Five prominent women were being honored by Barnard and the Athena crew for their various roles in paving the way for professional women in film. DSpar began the event by being her glamorous self and talking a bit about this new Barnard tradition that has only started three years ago, during our time here.

The first woman to be honored with an award was Molly Haskell, for her talents as a film critic and author. Haskell is one of the foremost authorities on film, particularly on the roles of women. She has written for New York Magazine, Vogue, The New York Times and many more publications. Amongst her female role models, she named Kathryn Bigelow, a sentiment that I know Barnard women would absolutely agree with. The next award went to Rose Kuo, who is the executive director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center. She also leads the annual New York Film Festival, which with her help has regained its popularity.

The third woman to be awarded last night was Pat Mitchell, for her commitment to supporting women across the globe. Quite fittingly, Mitchell couldn’t accept the award in person because she was providing humanitarian relief in The Republic of Congo. She sent in a video acceptance speech, declaring her role models were the “modern day Athenas.” Pat Mitchell is the President and CEO of The Paley Center for Media and is also the former president and CEO of the Public Broadcasting Service (a.k.a. a little station called PBS) the first woman, producer and journalist to hold the position.

Gale Anne Hurd wins the 2013 Laura Ziskin 
Lifetime Achievement Award

Ava Duvernay, an acclaimed Director, Film Marketer and Publicist, was the next woman to be awarded. She is the first African-American woman to win Best Director (Drama) at Sundance for her movie Middle of Nowhere, which is being screened at the festival this weekend. The movie is also nominated for Best Film at Gotham Awards and for four Indie Spirit Awards. She is a founder of the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement. Lastly, but in absolutely no way least, the 2013 Laura Ziskin Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Gale Anne Hurd, which besides being mistakenly identified as a filmmaker, was my favorite part of the evening. As an avid The Walking Dead fan (I mean, I have been counting down religiously until its return), seeing the woman behind such a gory “guy” show was very cool. Hurd has developed and produced film and television series that routinely gain attention from the Academy Awards and the Emmys. She is also a woman-leader in the male-dominated world of the blockbuster. Her films such as The Terminator Series and Alien, which she lovingly described as “chick flicks,” are just some of her most popular works. On a side note, she was rocking leather pants and a hat with a feather in it: the pure definition of badass.

These trailblazers are just some of the women being recognized at the Athena Festival this year. With each film being screened this weekend, a woman leader, both real and fictional, is being celebrated. So buy your tickets, bundle up and be sure to see at least some of these films, all of which will make you laugh, make you cry and will certainly resonate with you long after you’ve left the theatre.

Alexandra Palacios is a sophomore at Barnard and Social Media Strategist for The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Image of Gale Anne Hurd courtesy of Alien Anthology Wiki.

Women, War, and Gloria Steinem

By Laura K. Garrison

The Athena Film Festival may be over, but the movies are still available to reinforce the festival’s message and provide you with a good study break if you find something interesting (see a complete list of the movies shown at the festival). Here are short reviews of two documentaries that you can either catch on HBO or watch online.

Women, War, and Peace: War Redefined

In a war-torn world, we often see conflict from the viewpoint of the men on the battlefield. Rarely do we pause and think of how war affects those at home, specifically women and their children. Women, War, and Peace: War Redefined, however, challenges the conventional outlook on war and focuses on the homefront. This moving PBS documentary interweaves stories of women from countries such as Liberia, Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Colombia with interviews of top officials, most notably former Secretary of the State Condoleezza Rice and former First Lady and current Secretary of the State Hillary Clinton. In the years since the end of the Cold War, war has become a morbid game that targets civilians, and in many parts of the world, making it more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier during conflict. A perfect choice for those interested in international politics, Women, War, and Peace: War Redefined offers an emotional perspective to a subject that is often clinically discussed, if mentioned at all.

The entire series is available online.

Gloria: In Her Own Words

Gloria Steinem, rockin’ the
aviators in the 70s

Today, Gloria Steinem is considered more than a just leader of the women’s liberation movement; she’s a feminist icon to women around the world. In this HBO documentary, Steinem tells her life story with the help of video clips, photographs, and publications that chart her rise from an up-and-coming journalist to a prominent leader during the Second-Wave Feminism movement of the 1960s and 70s. An inspiration to many students and faculty on the Barnard campus, Steinem herself was present at the screening of Gloria: In Her Own Words for a Q and A session with Barnard graduate Amy Richards, a writer and activist working for women’s rights today. While the documentary itself was a comprehensive and poignant synopsis of her life, the real treat of the evening was having the opportunity to hear Steinem speak on issues that currently face feminist activists today. A good selection for any member of the Barnard community, Gloria: In Her Own Words was an excellent program to learn about and hear from Gloria Steinem herself.

For an interview with Gloria Steinem, and a schedule of when the documentary will next show on HBO, click here.

Laura is a first-year at Barnard and a staff writer for
The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Image courtesy of Henry Makow.