The Feministing Five: Melissa Silverstein and Kathryn Kolbert

Melissa Silverstein (left) & Kathryn Kolbert (right)

Melissa Silverstein and Kathryn Kolbert are co-founders of the Athena Film Festival taking place this weekend at Barnard College in New York. Silverstein is the founder and editor of Women and Hollywood, and Kolbert is director of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies. We’ve partnered with the festival for two years now with ticket giveaways, so we’re clearly fans of the festival. And why wouldn’t we be? Now in its third year, the Athena Film Festival is dedicated to showcasing films made by women. It’s hosted by Barnard College’s Athena Center for Women’s Leadership and features movie screenings, conversations with directors and workshops for filmmakers. I just screened Women Aren’t Funny and Wonder Women: The Untold Story of American Superheroines (both of which will be featured in upcoming Feministing Five director interviews!) and both movies are must-sees.

It ends tomorrow so if you’re in the area, make sure you go.

And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five, with Melissa Silverstein and Kathryn Kolbert.

Athena Film Festival flier

Anna Sterling: Why did the two of you decide to start the Athena Film Festival?

Melissa Silverstein: Kitty [Kathryn] attended an event I hosted for Jane Campion at Gloria Steinem’s home and one of the things we heard the women directors there talk about was the lack of opportunities to make films about strong women. We put our heads together and came up with the idea for the festival.

AS: Hollywood seems to be one of the last frontiers of diversity in this country not only in terms of gender, but also of race, size– you name it. Why do you think it’s taken so long to move forward in Hollywood?

MS: It is a very complicated question but in a nutshell, Hollywood is very focused on making the most money from the opening weekend and movies by and about women don’t fit that mold.

Kathryn Kolbert: The numbers of women in leadership are dismal in Hollywood and in many other areas as well, including Fortune 500 CEO positions, and politics. Women are graduating from college and graduate schools in higher numbers then men, but they are unable to ascend to positions of power in the number [that men have].

AS: What do you see as the AFF’s role in changing this?

MS: We are happy to create a conversation that makes people think and look at the lack of opportunities for women to lead on the screen and behind the scenes. At the core of our work at the Athena Center is the belief that if women are to advance to leadership, they must be seen and heard as leaders. Our culture needs to reflect the entire population of leaders. This film festival ensures that women leaders will no longer be invisible in leadership roles.

AS: In terms of this visibility, what have you seen come out of the Athena Film Festival ? Do you think it’s helped shift any culturally-ingrained beliefs in the male-dominated Hollywood industry?

KK: Any time you have a conversation about something that people don’t want you to talk about it helps shift the cultural terrain. The fact that Diablo Cody is talking to people all across Hollywood about why this festival is important makes a difference. Culture change takes a long time and we are only in our third year. We have both dedicated our lives to working on women’s issues in a variety of capacities. This is our latest endeavor.

AS: Who are your favorite female directors right now? And besides every movie in the festival this year (of course!), what movies do readers really need to see right now?

MS: I write about the importance of Kathryn Bigelow’s current work on Women and Hollywood all the time. Seeing a female role model at the highest level of this business is vital. I am also a huge fan of Andrea Arnold, Jane Campion, Lynn Shelton and Ava DuVernay.

KK: I would add Nora Ephron. Losing her this year was tragic.

AS: What recent news story made you want to scream?

MS: The crazy Go Daddy Super Bowl ad made me scream.

KK: I am particularly upset by the Verizon, bigger is better ads. Only the boys talk, and the male actor, “shhh’s” the little girl when she tries to talk. It’s horrible. But on a more serious note, the attempted assassination of the young activist in Pakistan, Malala was particularly disturbing.

AS: What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge facing feminism today?

MS: That people think women have achieved equality. That perception is ahead of accomplishments. That you can’t get an abortion in most places in the country.

KK: I have been an activist for reproductive freedom and gay and lesbian rights my entire career so I care deeply about the needs in these areas. But crucial to any advancement of women is a need for women to assume true positions of power and be advocates for women, when exercising that power.

AS: Who are your favorite fictional heroines, and who are your heroines in real life?

MS: Sigourney Weaver in Aliens. My heroines in real life are Barbra Streisand and Meryl Streep.

KK: [My favorite fictional heroine is also] Sigourney Weaver in Aliens. Supreme Court Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor make my list.

AS: You’re going to a desert island and get to take one food, one drink, and one feminist. What do you pick?

MS: Ben and Jerry’s chocolate fudge brownie fro-yo, diet coke, Gloria Steinem because we’d have such great conversations and I’d like to share a pint of ice cream with her.

KK: My partner’s apple pie with coffee ice cream, coffee from the Chestnut Hill coffee shop in Philadelphia, and Tina Fey. She’s a hoot.

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