Film preview: 'Girl Rising' vividly shows education's importance

Published: Saturday, March 16 2013 1:30 p.m. MDT

A scene from "Girl Rising."

Photo provided by 10x10act.org Educate Girls, Change the World

Nine girls. Nine writers. Nine countries. Nine celebrities.

Three goals: “change minds, change lives and change policy around educating girls.”

Academy Award-nominated director Richard E. Robbins will present “Girl Rising” at Park City’s Eccles Center in one of the first handfuls of screenings that he will personally introduce after the film’s star-studded March 7 New York City premiere. The film vividly testifies that providing a girl in a developing country with just a few years of education can break the cycle of poverty in a way that reverberates throughout a community.

“One of the most exciting things about the issue of educating girls is also one of the most depressing things about the issue of educating girls,” Robbins told the Deseret News while awaiting a flight at a Chicago airport. “That is, so little has been done. The issue is fairly new and we haven’t invested very much as a global community, but the opportunity is enormous. A fairly small investment and level of engagement could really make massive changes. We’ve seen some of it happen already.

"We wanted to make a film that was engaging and inspiring. So often films that deal with difficult social issues can feel like medicine."

Each of the girl’s stories is written by a renowned writer from her native country with narration by such celebrities as Anne Hathaway, Cate Blanchett and Salma Hayek.

The first girl selected to be filmed holds “a special place in my filmmaker’s heart,” he says. Sokha, a 12-year-old Cambodian orphan forced to pick through garbage to survive, is now on her way to college.

“Hers was a life that was discarded — living among the things that we throw away, but she has an incredibly bright future ahead of her. Sokha is smart and talented and dedicated. The fact that she’s made that change is just extraordinary.”

The most fascinating element of the project is the realization Robbins came to that monumental change can occur so quickly with so little effort.

“One of the things that I try to emphasize to people over and over again is that this is not one of these intractable situations where we all hope that someone really smart comes along and knows how to fix it,” he says. “This is not ending the AIDS epidemic or combating global warming or ending religious conflicts. We know what the solution is. We just need to have the determination and the will to make these changes a reality.”

With the Park City screening, “Girl Rising” makes a full circle. The film received its first acclaim after a 10-minute screening at January’s Sundance Film Festival, before Robbins was able to complete post-production work.

“I was weary of showing a portion of the film at Sundance, because this film is made in chapters and each chapter is very, very different,” he says. “And seeing just one chapter doesn’t really give a true sense of what the film is going to be like, but the audiences were very enthusiastic about it.”

Actress Freida Pinto introduced “Girl Rising” at Sundance by sharing a powerful statistic: Right now, 66 million girls around the world can only dream of going to school. They face barriers that boys do not, such as early and forced marriage, domestic slavery, sex trafficking and gender violence.

“No one is more vulnerable than an uneducated girl,” Pinto said. “Making a girl aware of her fundamental human rights through education can change all that.”

To secure the celebrities’ participation in the movie required “a lot of persistence.”

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