After a successful run in Montgomery County last week, Regal Cinemas has added a second week of screenings for “Girl Rising,” an independent documentary from director Richard E. Robbins. The film will play at the Regal Majestic 20 & IMAX in Silver Spring through Friday.
Until Regal picked up the film at the beginning of April, “Girl Rising” was only available through Gathr, a new on-demand crowdsourcing site that allows people to request and attend screenings for movies that might be otherwise unavailable in their communities.
The film, produced by The Documentary Group, and the center of 10x10, a global social action campaign dedicated to the cause of girls’ education, tells the story of nine girls from nine developing countries around the world. The film is narrated by some of the biggest names in Hollywood including Meryl Streep, Kerry Washington, Selena Gomez and Alicia Keys.
“As someone who was trying to achieve scale, we knew that if we could have Meryl Streep, Selena Gomez and Alicia Keys, if you can have those actresses as a part of your campaign, you’re going to be able to reach audiences,” said Holly Gordon, executive director at The Documentary Group and executive producer of 10x10. “ ... They are the ones that help us have an impact.”
Originally Peter Jennings Productions, The Documentary Group was founded in 2006 by Robbins and other former ABC News journalists following Jennings’ death. The company is dedicated to innovative filmmaking with a focus on global issues. According to Robbins, the concept for “Girl Rising” was actually born out of research for another Documentary Group assignment. “Somebody had hired our company to do some research about global poverty issues,” said Robbins, a native of Montgomery County and a graduate of Bethesda Chevy Chase High School. “And I started reading about the power of educating girls just as a part of that general research. I was surprised at how clear it was and how dramatic it was really, and I guess I just sort of assumed ... that this was information that most people knew and I just missed somehow.”
But upon further research, Robbins said he realized the key information, that educating girls can break cycles of poverty, was not common knowledge.
“ ... It became clear that, well no, it wasn’t widely known information,” said Robbins.
With a background in journalism — in addition to his work with ABC News, Robbins was previously with PBS’s “Frontline,” and his 2007 documentary, “Operation Homecoming: Writing Wartime Experience,” earned an Academy Award nomination — Robbins said he couldn’t ignore the facts or the urge to inform the public.
“A fact comes across your desk that grabs on and doesn’t let go,” said Robbins. “ ... As a journalist or a filmmaker, when you learn something that is clearly important and demonstratively, unequivocally true, and widely unknown, that sounds like a pretty good opportunity for doing something.”
Robbins said the recent birth of his daughter also contributed to his interest in the subject matter.
“The idea that girls education has an effect ... really stuck,” added Gordon. “It kept coming up and it kept coming up.”
As executive director of the 10x10 campaign, Gordon was tasked with turning statistics, like the fact that according to the National Academies Press, girls with eight years of education are four times less likely to be married as children, or that according to the World Bank, a girl with an extra year of education can earn 20 percent more as an adult, into a visual reality that audiences would respond to.
“We had to figure out how to take this idea for a film ... how to make a film and actually make sure it has an impact,” said Gordon. “Create a through-line between film and the girls’ lives.”
For nine months, Gordon worked to establish partnerships with companies like Intel and CNN, which will show the film on June 16. Gordon also forged relationships with “Impact” partners, nonprofits like “Girl Up,” “A New Day Cambodia” and “Room to Read.”
These “Impact” partners were also the programs that helped connect the filmmakers with the girls.
“They were our entrée into these communities,” said Robbins. “In each country, we had either one or two partners who would show us their program and show us their village ... and help us explore.”
All of the money raised from “Girl Rising” ticket sales goes to the 10x10 campaign and is distributed among the “Impact” partners.
Ultimately, the nine girls in “Girl Rising” were selected by Robbins and his team, along with the writers from the girls’ native countries, who would spend time with them and help tell their stories.
For Robbins, the challenge was creating an impact with a documentary that didn’t resemble others.
“I knew more clearly the film I didn’t want to make than the film I did want to make,” said Robbins. “I had seen many very well-intentioned but not very successful films made in the developing world ... we all know that poverty exists in the world. I think the surprise for audiences is how strong the girls are and how powerful the intervention can be.”
The result is a hybrid of traditional documentary style, reenactments, most featuring the girls themselves, and fantastical elements.
“We designed the project differently because what we were really interested in was whether people were going to see the film and then do something about it,” said Gordon.
“It became clear we wanted to make a film that focused primarily on the girls themselves and less on the issue and more about trying to tell their stories in a way that really connected with people emotionally,” added Robbins. “We wanted to make a film about girls that are like our girls.”