Tell us about your film. What inspired you to make it?
We're only showing a few sneak peeks of my film, Girl Rising, at Sundance. We weren't quite ready for a full screening as the film is still in post-production, but we were eager to be part of the festival. The film is a unique blend of both documentary and fiction filmmaking. We have real girls from around the world playing themselves in scripted stories based on their own lives. The stories focus on each of these girls, who live in the developing world, striving to get an education. The underlying message is really about the power of education for girls. It is an unusual film in the way it was made, but I hope feels very organic for the audience.
I was really inspired by the girls I have met in my travels, and their unfailing determination to make better lives for themselves and their families. When I started reading the reports coming out of the development community about how powerful an intervention education was for girls and their communities, I knew I had to try and make a film. The most important thing people need to know about educating girls is that it is incredibly effective. It works. I hope these stories will spread that message to a much wider audience.
What do you love about your film?
I'm proud of the fact that we told stories about girls who live in very difficult conditions, but never looked at them as victims. We wanted to tell stories about their world as they see it, not the way an American visitor would see it. I hope audiences will love with these girls as I do, as real people - not people in need of our charity.
How long did it take you to make your film?
I'm slightly embarrassed to say that we began working on the film six years ago. I've done a lot of other projects in the meantime, but this was always my passion. We began our pre-production travel about two and a half years ago.
How did you finance your film?
Most independent documentaries these days probably have an epic story behind the financing - just as complicated as the stories in the film, although far more tedious. This was an expensive film, primarily because it involved so much travel. I count myself as one of the luckiest doc filmmakers around because I had incredible executive producers who raised the money for this film. The money came from foundations, corporations, individuals, and the extra money under all my friend's sofa cushions.
What was the most challenging part of the filmmaking process and how did you overcome it?
The most challenging part was raising the money. But since I didn't do much of that, I can't complain. I think the hardest part for most documentary filmmakers is the determination to keep going when you lose your way, which of course we all do. For fiction filmmakers, you can always fall back to the script or the story. In documentary you're trying to find the story during the process of making the film, so it often feels like you are wandering in the wilderness. At some point, or at many points, you will find yourself completely lost and you have to find a way to keep moving forward. To me that is always a bigger challenge than the long days, lousy hotel rooms, difficult subjects, and all the other problems documentary filmmakers encounter.
If you had to make the film all over again, would you do anything different?
I could never make this film again. It almost killed me. But that's the beauty of filmmaking, the experiences are unique to who you are in the moment you are making it. Partly I couldn't make this film again because I know so much more and have learned so much in making this. I hope I'm smart enough to bring all those lessons to my next film. Maybe the most lasting lessons are about appreciating how fortunate I am to be doing this kind of work at all. I wish I could have enjoyed the process more, without all the angst and hand-wringing.
What's next for your film? Do you have distribution? If so, when and how can people see it and if not, what are your hopes for the film?
The film will be released nationally through Gathr on March 8th. By working with Gathr we're hoping to make this film available to anyone who wants to see it, regardless of where they live. It's essentially crowd-sourced distribution. I think Gathr's model is the future of independent film distribution because it is so much more focused and targeted.
And then in June we will be broadcast internationally as part of CNN's new venture CNN Films. We think CNN is an amazing home for the film, especially when it comes to reaching an international audience which is crucial to this project.
Can you provide any advice to other filmmakers who dream of getting their films made and into Sundance?
You can't make films because you want money, glory, fame, success, or a trip to Sundance. You can only do it because you can't do anything else. People will discourage you. Tell you what a thankless job it will be. Tell you how hard it will be. Tell you how unlikely you are to ever make real money. And all those things are true, so if they bother you, reconsider. If you don't care and want to do it anyway, you'll be just fine. The true key to success as a documentarian is a combination of moderate talent and pathological persistence.