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Member Profile: Melissa Silverstein, Athena Film Festival

Melissa Silverstein is a writer and speaker with extensive expertise in the area of women and filmmaking. She is the founder and editor of Women and Hollywood, one of the most respected sites for issues related to women and film as well as other areas of pop culture. Women and Hollywood educates, advocates, and agitates for gender parity across the entertainment industry.

Melissa is the Entertainment Correspondent for WMC Live with Robin Morgan and was selected to be a film envoy for the American Film Showcase, the major film diplomacy program of the U.S. Department of State. And she recently published the first book from Women and Hollywood, In Her Voice: Women Directors Talk Directing, a compilation of over 40 interviews that have appeared on the site.

Women and Hollywood's Melissa Silverstein
Melissa Silverstein

In addition, Melissa is the Artistic Director and co-founder of the Athena Film Festival—A Celebration of Women and Leadership at Barnard College, a four-day festival of feature films, documentaries, and shorts dedicated to highlighting women’s leadership in real life and the fictional world. The Festival, which includes conversations with producers, directors and talent, as well as Master Classes, will take place at Barnard College in New York City from February 5-8, 2015.

What are you working on?
Right now we are in the process of making decisions on the films we want to screen at Athena, finding panels and panelists and securing our awardees.

A-ha Moment?
The festival began following an event that I put together for Jane Campion for the film Bright Star at the home of Gloria Steinem. Kathryn Kolbert (Kitty) had just arrived at Barnard College to create the Athena Center for Leadership Studies. There were women directors at the event talking about how they were having very difficult times getting their films made, and so we decided to combine forces and start a film festival that focused on women’s leadership. We screen films directed by men and women, but all must focus on women’s leadership in some way. 

In Training
I come from the theatre and have an MFA in Theatre Administration. But my best training was working in women’s non-profit organizations.

Equipment/Software Must-Haves
Couldn’t survive without Google Docs and Gchat. 

My Mentor
I stand on the shoulders of all the women who came before me. 

Biggest Challenge
Fundraising is a challenge, but so is getting filmmakers to take a shot and come to Athena rather than a bigger or more well-known festival. But that is also an advantage, because we can allow the filmmakers to stand out and garner lots of publicity because there are not hundreds of titles vying for press.

Technology is also a challenge. We are small and we can’t afford DCP, so this will continue to be a challenge for us.

Best Advice
Trust your gut. 

Greatest Accomplishment
Getting the New York premiere of Belle at last year’s festival.

What is the Right Thing to Do?
Be true to your mission. Respect everyone who gives their time to come and participate—from the volunteers to the audience members—and remember how lucky we are to be doing the work we love.

Follow Melissa on Twitter @melsil and check out Athena Film Festival on Facebook and Twitter.