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Tonight's Your Last Chance to See 'Girl Rising'

'One girl with courage is a revolution'

By Jessi Cape, 4:12PM, Thu. May. 2, 2013

Tonight's Your Last Chance to See 'Girl Rising'

Girl Rising is a story of big dreams. The feature film mixes gorgeous documentary footage with narrative reenactments of the personal stories of survival and truth from nine girls from nine countries.

The nine stories, written by celebrated writers from each of the girls' native countries, are narrated by as many acclaimed actresses. It is also, ultimately, topically centered around the statistically proven concept that the power to change to world exists in girls' education, a far-fetched notion in some corners of the world. To ease the cultural, financial, and other burdens that prevent millions of girls from receiving the same education as their brothers will reduce violence, poverty, and health crises across the globe.

The film itself employs several mediums, including creative animations and fascinating facts, to weave the accounts of these girls' heart-wrenching scenarios in their quests for freedom. Each chapter possesses it own unique arc and emotive personality, reflective of the individual girl: Sokha (Cambodia), Wadley (Haiti), Suma (Nepal), Azmera (Ethiopia), Yasmin (Egypt), Ruksana (India), Senna (Peru), Mariama (Sierra Leone), and Amina (Afghanistan). See here for more details, including info on the writers and actresses.

Girl Rising is a part of the 10x10 Campaign, a conglomerate of journalists, corporate financial backers, and a coalition of several NGOs who will receive any profits from the film. For such a widely acclaimed film with so many attached Hollywood A-listers, the theatrical distribution is unique: The film is screened on-demand via the Gathr platform. Resulting success and high audience demand for local theatre screenings landed Girl Rising with Regal Cinemas, which was then extended in many cities, including Austin, until today, Thursday, May 2. The Regal Metropolitan 14 (901 Little Texas Lane) showtime is tonight at 10:05pm. CNN films will air an abridged version of Girl Rising June 16. If you cannot make this screening, check here for details on how to bring the film to you.

This beautiful and poignant independent film is making waves, and rightly so. Yesterday we spoke with Girl Rising's Director, Academy Award Nominee Richard E. Robbins about his film, and here are a few snippets from that conversation.

Austin Chronicle: How did you first become interested in this project?

Richard E. Robbins: The project sort of started with me. It was my foolishly ambitious idea. Truthfully, it was a piece of research that I came across about the power of educating girls. I'm a little bit of a research nerd, so I started reading more and talking to more people and it just wouldn't let me go. I was trying to move on to other projects, and for whatever reason I just kept thinking about it. At a certain point when you keep coming back to the same idea over and over again, you start to pay attention.

AC: What was the selection process for the girls, the writers, and the actors?

RR: I chose the writers first … and then once we had the writers lined up, I would go out with members of the team, working with NGO partners in the field, and try to meet as many girls as possible. We spent about two weeks in each country on our first trip and met dozens and dozens of girls and recorded interviews and took a lot of notes. Then we presented our four or five favorite candidates to the writers and asked them to make the final choice about who they really wanted to write about. I felt that if they were going to do the best job they could with the writing, it would be because they were writing about someone they were really connected to.

It also required them to go and spend a week with the girl and her family, and traveling back to wherever the girl was going to be. The process of choosing the actresses was mostly about who is interested and whose voices matched the writing. Some were simple. I felt like the Sierra Leone chapter was a very young voice, so we thought about young actresses like Selena Gomez. Some were more instinctive. I always heard Cate Blanchett's voice for the Haiti part, and lucky for me, she wanted to do it.

AC: Was the entire film shot on location and did you encounter any difficulties shooting in these countries?

RR: Each location presented significant challenges. Everything is filmed on location except for Egypt and Afghanistan. Egypt is only half on location because the political situation was incredibly chaotic and the trip had to be cut short. Our Egypt chapter writer had both of her arms broken in Tahrir Sqaure – just an example of us competing with real events on the ground that were much bigger.

With Afghanistan we just felt very uncomfortable putting anybody at risk for cooperating with us. We shot in an undisclosed country that we felt was a good stand in for Afghanistan. It wasn't so much for our safety – we were going to come and film it and leave, but it was about about the people we would be leaving behind who had worked with us. In Peru we were working at 17,000 feet, so the weather and the altitude were an enormous challenge. In Kolkata, it was 108 degrees during the day when we were shooting, and it wasn't going to cool off for a good long time, so we just had to suck it up. But that's half the fun with making a film like this. You wouldn't want to do this as a vacation but as far as a job goes, it was pretty fun.

AC: The film received a PG-13 rating. Any thoughts?

RR: Have you ever seen Kirby Dick's film This Film is Not Yet Rated? I think that says almost everything you need to know about the rating system. The G is for guidance; it's not a law.

AC: Could - and do you hope - that teachers in our Western culture could use the film as a teaching tool?

RR: Absolutely. We're working with Pierson to develop a curriculum. I've shown it at a lot of school events, and they're always the most fun and interesting. It's always amazing to see how strong the reaction is from young audience. And because it's built in chapters, it can be used in a variety of ways.

AC: The style is a shift from some other documentaries that tackle the topic of gender-based issues. The animation and artistic merit is really interesting.

RR: It's about flipping people's preconceptions. If you show them a thing that is familiar, they will have their own familiar response to it. I'm always looking for ways to show people something that they think they already know about in a new way. Let's not think about these girls as victims. Let's not think about them as "the others." They're just girls, just like our girls.


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