Two-in-one documentary screening and book talk in Chestnut Hill on power of girls’ education

On Wednesday night, a crowd of over 450 people joined bestselling writer Homa Sabet Tavangar for a special screening of the new feature film, “Girl Rising,” about the importance of educating girls throughout the world, at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy.

“We are among the first people in Philadelphia to see this film,” said Tavangar, author of “Growing Up Global: Raising Children to Be At Home in the World” to a rapt audience of students, parents, school staff, and community members.

The film had its world premiere on March 7th and arrived at SCHA through a personal connection. Executive producer of “Girl Rising,” Holly Gordon, a former content director for the Tribeca Film Festival and veteran ABC News producer, was the college roommate of SCHA parent Anne Rouse Sudduth. The two women remain close today.

In a video address to the Chestnut Hill audience, Gordon said Sudduth had been an “extraordinary source of support on this journey.”

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“What I hope that you take away from this film is how rewarding it can be to make a difference,” Gordon added.

To preface the film’s narratives, which show how education has impacted the lives of nine real life girls from around the world, the Iranian-born Tavangar shared some of her own family history.

The author’s story

In the early 20th century Tavangar’s grandmother was given an arranged marriage at age 15 and became pregnant with her first child within a year. The teenager’s husband declared to her family that he wanted his wife to get an education.

Tavangar explained that the “subversive” proposal shocked the bride’s parents, who turned Tavangar’s grandfather out of the house and ordered her grandmother to annul the marriage and abort her child. To her “great peril,” Tavangar’s grandmother defied her family, rejoined her husband and gave birth to a girl (Tavangar’s aunt) who eventually “became a leader in education in Iran.”

“These are stories that we all carry that show the incredible transformative power of education,” Tavangar said. “As much as this is a global issue that makes us look out to the bigger world, it’s also very personal.”

The film process

To develop the film, the organization 10×10: Educate Girls searched for the stories of nine different girls, from the slopes of the Andes to an Ethiopian village. Each girl was paired with a scriptwriter from her own country, to mine her true-life story for the screen. The resulting film segments, shot in a wide range of styles, including artful animations, illustrate stories of the girls’ inspiration, persistence, learning, and pivotal positive choices in some of the world’s most dangerous and impoverished environments.

Performers including Anne Hathaway, Alicia Keyes, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Selena Gomez, Liam Neeson and Salma Hayek provide narrative voice-overs, and composers Rachel Portman and Hans Zimmer lend an original score.

The girls’ stories

The stories of “Girl Rising” include Suma, who fought her way out of a childhood of illegal bonded labor in Nepal after learning to read, and now works to liberate others. In Cairo, a 12-year-old girl named Yasmin fights a sinister assailant, and in Ethiopia, Azmera, with the help of a loving older brother, escapes marriage at age 13. In Afganistan, Amina was sold into a marriage at 11 so her parents could buy a car for her brother. And after the 2010 earthquake, 8-year-old Wadley seeks her education in Haiti against all odds.

In between these stark and stirring vignettes, the film offers a variety of statistics on the value of educating the world’s girls, from lowered infant mortality to increased GDPs to a drop in HIV infections. According to the film, 75% of AIDS sufferers in sub-Saharan Africa are female, 50% of sexual assault victims worldwide are girls under 15 years old, and the number one cause of death worldwide for girls 15-18 years old is childbirth.

Through the film, 10X10 hopes to illustrate the ways that better education can solve these endemic problems of disease, poverty, discrimination and violence worldwide.”It’s a thrill to have this audience,” Sudduth, a mother of two girls said, speaking with NewsWorks after the screening about bringing the film to Chestnut Hill.

Sudduth the film as “inspiring and beautiful.” She appreciated the way the film brought a variety of powerful statistics to life, without leaving audiences feeling hopeless.

“It’s meaningful in a heart-filling way,” she says, “rather than a sad way.”

“Girl Rising” and its adjoining campaign are now hitting selected screens around the country.

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