“Girl Rising” OVEE recap: Catch our discussion on the film taking girls’ education by storm

“There is no miracle here; just a girl with dreams.” —Girl Rising

Yesterday, we hosted an OVEE featuring clips and conversation from Girl Rising, an incredible, uplifting film that chronicles the lives of nine girls in various countries across the developing world who must overcome enormous challenges to do what most of us take for granted: go to school.

If you missed the screening but want to be a part of the fantastic discussion we had around the relationship between education and poverty, and the film’s impact—including the global campaign’s efforts to send 62 million girls around the world to school—here are some excerpts of the conversation between Vince Stehle, our executive director, Holly Gordon, the film’s executive producer, and Hilary Sparrow from Vulcan Productions, a funder/producer of the film. (For those who are unfamiliar, OVEE is an online screening platform from Independent Television Service (ITVS) that allows viewers to watch and chat live together in a virtual theater.)

Girl Rising has led a global movement to break the cycle of poverty through education. It is an extraordinary film that allows viewers to witness the strength and courage of nine impoverished young girls who face incredible obstacles such as natural disasters, rape, slavery, homelessness and forced marriage. Their unforgettable stories recount the nearly impossible odds the girls had to overcome to pursue their dreams. Prize-winning authors put the girls’ remarkable stories into words, and renowned celebrities like Alicia KeysKerry Washington and Cate Blanchett give them voice.

Here is our OVEE, below, and a guide with time stamps and points of reference to help you follow along in the conversation. (Note: The discussion does not get started on this video until about 50 seconds into the recording.)

Vulcan Productions & its role in making the film

7:09: Hilary Sparrow of Vulcan Productions—the production company owned by Microsoft CEO Paul Allen—explains the company’s impetus for making Girl Rising.

“For Girl Rising, we actually started work on it in 2008 … when Paul Allen approach us with a question: ‘What can I do with media to really make an impact on global poverty?’ Through research, we learned that girls education is a true lever point for alleviating poverty. The statistics are phenomenal: If you educate a girl, you can break the cycle of poverty in just one generation. We realized that … this is the story we have to tell.”

9:07: Sparrow on developing the storyline.

We wanted to tell a hopeful story, and we knew that. And we wanted to break out from the classic poverty, ‘Look at these poor kids and how sad their life is,’ [story] and really provide something uplifting. We set out to do that from the very beginning.”

11:01: Holly Gordon, executive producer of the film, discusses the impetus for the film from her perspective.

The film that you see is incredibly hopeful, but it was borne out of failure. Richard Robbins [Girl Rising director] traveled to Kenya and Tanzania to shoot some initial footage and follow one girl’s story … when he came back to the edit room in L.A., he called us in New York and said, ‘I don’t want to make this movie. The camera sees the poverty, camera sees the hunger, camera sees the dirt. But what I saw was energy and hopefulness and happiness and joy, and these girls who are the future, and they are so, so courageous. That’s not what I came back with.’ So it was out of that failure, that sense of ‘We captured the wrong thing,’ that we went back to square one and re-imagined how to tell these stories.”

The making of nine incredible stories

24:11: Gordon on constructing the story of Wadley, the 6-year-old who refused to be turned away from school after a massive earthquake in Haiti:

The way we constructed the film was that we identified 12 barriers girls face to education. Some of those are easy to imagine. Sexual violence, for example. Or early marriage. It turns out, after a natural disaster, girls are the last to go back to school. For those who haven’t seen the film, when you watch Wadley’s film, you’re not going to be thinking, ‘Girls are the last to go to school after a natural disaster,’ but that’s exactly the story you’re seeing. Wadley…was just captivating.

Impact & outreach

33:23: Sparrow discusses the three areas of the film’s impact campaign: changing minds, changing lives and changing policy.

Changing minds was one of the easier ones because it’s about audience awareness. We did countless events across the country and world and really focused on audience building. We built a very intense and engaged social media following. We struck a chord with these extremely passionate people who were able to take the film and do what they needed with it.

36:51: Gordon on Vulcan as an engaged producer and not just a funder.

“From the beginning [Vulcan], was really focused on measurement. Unlike most filmmakers, who spent a lot of time thinking about what their film is going to be like, the [Girl Rising] campaign was begun even before the first frame of the film was shot. Vulcan supported the engagement of mission measurement, which counted our screenings … they really kept us accountable the whole way through. That was an enormous gift. It’s one of the reasons Girl Rising has had the impact it has had.”

42:07: Gordon on what did and didn’t work in terms of the outreach strategy.

“At the end of the film, we did what was the expected thing to do. We had endless conversations about what the call to action should be. We ended up landing on the thing that felt like the obvious answer: We’ll ask people to give. You’ve got them one time, there in the theater. But there’s a dissonance between the a film that’s as big and hopeful and global as Girl Rising, and, like, 5 bucks on your phone. The ask did not match the magnitude of the film itself.”

“The piece that we give is the catalyst.”

Visit to learn more about the film and its impact.

“Girl Rising” was one of the five powerful films selected for our 2015 Media Impact Festival, which celebrates the social impact of media, and its capacity to transform society.

Special thanks to Philanthropy NY and Women Moving Millions for partnering with us for this OVEE screening.