The Athena Film Festival Breakthrough Award

The Athena Film Festival Breakthrough Award is given to a feature-length film (narrative or documentary) directed by a first or second-time filmmaker that tells the story of a woman leader.

The winning film screens at the Athena Film Festival, and the director receives a $25,000 grant as part of the award.

Please note that in order for a film to be considered, the film cannot have a US theatrical distribution deal (including virtual cinema through a distributor) or a US streaming deal prior to February 1st, 2024.


2024 Athena Film Festival Breakthrough Award Winner
Sophie Jarvis, director of Until Branches Bend 

Sophie Jarvis is a Swiss-Canadian filmmaker whose background as a production designer deeply informs her practice as a writer and director. Her award-winning feature debut UNTIL BRANCHES BEND played at TIFF ‘22, SXSW ‘23, and Locarno ‘23, among others. She is currently in development on her next feature film.

Previous Winners 

2023 Athena Film Festival Breakthrough Award Winner Débora Souza Silva, director Black Mothers Love & Resist

Débora Souza Silva (Director, Producer) is an award-winning documentary filmmaker whose work examines systemic racism and inequality. Her work has been featured on PBS, BBC, Reveal News, KQED, and Fusion. She received the Les Payne Founder’s Award from the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) and was selected for a New York Times Institute Fellowship. Débora is FRONTLINE | Firelight fellow, a recipient of the 2021 Creative Capital Award, a member of the 2020 Chicken & Egg(celerator) Lab and the 2019 Firelight Media Lab. Her work has also been supported by Sundance, Glassbreaker Films, the Investigative Reporting Program, the Tribeca Film Institute, Fork Films, Perspective Fund, Catapult Film Fund, The Center for Investigative Reporting, Berkeley Film Foundation, DocPich, Sisters in Cinema, Athena Works-In-Progress Program, and California Humanities.

2022 Athena Film Festival Breakthrough Award Winner Ida Joglar, director Kili Big

Ida Joglar is a filmmaker and video artist from San Juan, Puerto Rico. In 2009 she relocated to New York City, where she completed her MFA in Photography, Video and Related Media from the School of Visual Arts. She has edited several narrative features (Keep In Touch, Babysitter), as well as short form documentaries. Her narrative short films The Gaze (2018) and Evaporar (2019) premiered at Fantasia Film Festival and Cinefiesta, respectively. Kili Big is her first documentary feature.

2021 Athena Film Festival Breakthrough Award Winner Ashley O’Shay, director Unapologetic

Ashley O’Shay is a DP and documentarian based in Chicago, IL, whose work focuses on illuminating marginalized voices. She has produced work for national brands, including Lifetime, Nike, KQED, and Dr. Martens. She filmed the final episode of Dr. Martens’ “Tough As You” series, starring the band Phony Ppl, accruing over 65K views on social and web. In 2019, she co-produced the Chicago episode of KQED’s award-winning series “If Cities Could Dance,” which became one of their most viewed episodes to date. Her work also appeared in the critically-acclaimed Lifetime docuseries Surviving R. Kelly. Most recently, she premiered her debut feature, Unapologetic, a deep look into the Movement for Black Lives in Chicago, told through the experiences of two young, Black queer women. The film premiered at the 2020 BlackStar Film Festival, and was shortlisted for the International Documentary Association Awards.

Inaugural Athena Film Festival Breakthrough Award Winner Unjoo Moon, director  I Am Woman 

Born in South Korea and raised in Australia, Unjoo Moon studied Arts/Law at the University of NSW before working at ABC TV as an on-air reporter. Her passion for storytelling led her to the Australian Film Television & Radio School (AFTRS) where she not only won the Kenneth Myer Producing award but where she also met her partner, Oscar-winning cinematographer Dion Beebe. Together they moved to Los Angeles where Unjoo attended the American Film Institute, graduating with a master of fine arts and the Franklin J. Schaffner Directing Award. Unjoo has directed and produced many award-winning short films, music videos, commercials, and documentaries which have screened internationally at film festivals and on network television. Her feature documentary The Zen of Bennett (described by the New York Times as a “tender, touching documentary portrait of the singer Tony Bennett”) was released theatrically and has streamed on both Netflix and Amazon. Unjoo’s PSA video on gun violence, “The Wrong Side of History” with spoken word artist In-Q has been viewed over 50 million times on social media and continues to keep the conversation going on gun reform. I Am Woman is Unjoo’s narrative feature directorial debut.


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