Columbia Filmmakers at the 2023 Athena Film Festival Writers Lab

Angeline Dimambro
March 30, 2023

The 13th annual Athena Film Festival took place March 2-5, 2023. The festival is a joint project of Barnard College’s Athena Center for Leadership and Women and Hollywood. Since its inception, AFF has become a premier festival dedicated to celebrating and elevating women’s leadership in the film industry.

An important cornerstone of the festival, the Athena Writers Lab is a three-day creative development workshop for emerging writers, providing storytellers with creative guidance, training, industry access, and a valuable, supportive network. Alumna and Adjunct Assistant Professor Valerie Castillo Martinez ’16 served as a Lab Mentor, working closely with the selected writers.

Alumni Gina Hackett ’20 and Ida Yazdi ’22 were both selected as participants for the Feature Lab. All accepted applicants must submit a project that includes a woman or women characters in a leadership role or position at the story’s center.

Based on a true story, Hackett’s feature-length script, A Bridge Between Us, centers devoted wife Emily as she reluctantly steps into her husband’s role as chief engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge when he’s paralyzed during its Victorian-era construction. Emily encounters jealousy and discrimination as she becomes the world’s first female engineer. The film tells the story of the building of a bridge and the collapse of a marriage. In Yazdi’s feature screenplay Houseguests,  family members overstay their welcome, and a seemingly happy couple’s bond is strained as they are forced to confront their own insecurities about their future. 

Through their participation in the lab, Hacket and Yazdi were able to participate in one-on-one mentor sessions, as well as peer-to-peer sessions that allow the lab participants to form collegial connections. The three-day program also included several panel discussions, including a talk on the state of the industry from Adjunct Assistant Professor Mary Jane Skalski. Skalski’s career in entertainment spans more than 25 years producing films that premiered at the Cannes, Venice, Toronto and Berlin Film Festivals. She is also a member of AMPAS, serving on the Producers Branch Executive Committee.

To read more about the 2023 Athena Film Festival and its complete program lineup, click here.