Girl Rising: The Power of Film

Glitz and glamour aside, Sundance Film Festival delivers a cinematographic feat

By Sara Arison

In the past, documentaries have often been thought of as the red-headed stepchild of the film world. To the vast majority of the population, the term conjured up images of a piece tracking the life cycle of seagulls on a remote island in the middle of the Indian Ocean – or something similarly mind- numbing. However, in recent years documentaries have become an integral part of mainstream culture, garnering press, changing viewpoints, and impacting the behavior of viewers. Girl Rising is the perfect example of this new breed of documentaries.

girl1The film is the centerpiece of an organization called 10×10, which uses the power of storytelling and the leverage of strategic partnerships to deliver a single message: the education of girls in developing nations will change the world. This movie tells the stories of nine girls from countries all over the world – including Cambodia, Haiti, India, and Afghanistan – who face horrifying injustices that range from arranged marriages to child slavery – and shows how access to education could change their lives. While the film will premiere in March, it was previewed during the last Sundance Film Festival, which I had the opportunity to attend.

“With Girl Rising, I wanted to make a beautiful film that met three distinct goals: change minds, change lives, and change policy around educating girls,” said Academy Award nominated director, Richard Robbins. “The stories of these amazing girls are at once very typical and totally extraordinary. The response at Sundance was everything we could have hoped for.” While the stories themselves are compelling enough to move viewers to take action, the film uses star power to increase its impact and visibility, with Meryl Streep, Freida Pinto, Cate Blanchett, and a number of other A-listers narrating the tales of the young heroines.

girl2According to the film, there are 66 million girls who are not in school, 14 million girls under 18 who will be married this year, and 150 million girls who are victims of sexual violence each year. “No one is more vulnerable than an uneducated girl,” proclaimed Freida Pinto during the press conference. “Making a girl aware of her fundamental human rights through education can change all that. Girls who are educated marry later, have fewer and healthier children, achieve self-sufficiency, and continue the cycle of education with their own children. If you educate girls, you will change the world.”

Girl Rising’s message is universal, yet the implications for yours truly are personal. Having recently joined the film world as a producer, I find myself trying to wend my way through the complexities of the industry while discover- ing new and meaningful projects. This film not only renewed my faith in Sundance – that to my disappointment has been laced with absurdities of celebrity culture and its over-reaching tentacles – it reassured me that creativity can move mountains.

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