Even within the crowded New York film calendar, the Athena Film Festival stands out.

The annual event, the city's only major festival geared toward promoting women in movies, kicks off its fourth edition at Barnard College tonight. Athena opens with a screening of the movie "Belle," about the daughter of Admiral Sir John Lindsay, and runs through Sunday.

Journalist Melissa Silverstein and Barnard professor Kathryn Kolbert founded Athena four years ago as a direct response to the ongoing gender disparity in Hollywood, both in terms of the characters portrayed onscreen and the talent in front of and behind the camera.

"The festival started when Melissa invited me to a dinner at Gloria Steinem's to honor [filmmaker] Jane Campion," Kolbert said. "There were all these women filmmakers in the room, many of whom told the same story about the fact that they couldn't get their films made when the stories were about courageous, dynamic women. From my perspective, just starting a leadership center at [Barnard] ... we really wanted to change what I think of as the 'blink,' that is what happens when you picture a leader. What does a leader look like?"