Film review: 'Girl Rising' sends message of empowerment

At the heart of the documentary "Girl Rising" is this idea: Educating a girl is a powerful force for change.

At a Friday screening of the film at the Garde Arts Center, a panel discussed that notion on a global scale — the movie does, after all, focus on girls from Cambodia, Sierra Leone, Haiti and beyond — but then brought it all to a local level.

The documentary directed by Richard E. Robbins follows nine girls living in various developing countries. It details their fight for their own education and human rights.

"Girl Rising" is narrated by a cavalcade of famous names, including Meryl Streep, Alicia Keys, Liam Neeson and Salma Hayek.

The film is at the center of 10x10's global campaign to educate and empower girls.

Cmdr. Erica Mohr from the U.S. Coast Guard Leadership Development Center was the person who came up with the idea of screening "Girl Rising" here and organizing a related panel discussion. She first saw the documentary at the Coast Guard Academy during a week celebrating diversity.

"I've always been interested in how we can get people in a community to take ownership in solving these problems and be part of the solution," Mohr said. "I think this movie provides a venue that capitalizes on the emotional attachment. You experience something that's very visceral, and then when you're done with that experience, you say, 'How can I help?'

"That's frankly my goal for the entire event, that people feel empowered to act — inspired to act — when they leave."

Leading the Friday panel was "Girl Rising" producer Martha Adams, who has been named a 2013 "Newsweek/Daily Beast" Women of Impact.

The moderator was Harriet Jones, who is the WNPR business desk editor. A native of Scotland, she used to work for the BBC. She now lives in Stonington.

The panel also featured Merrylyn Weaver, a founder of the Kente Cultural Center; Alison Ryan, principal of Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School; and Kim Sanchez, assistant director of the Connecticut College Office of Volunteers for Community Service.

Weaver noted that in other countries, education is a gift. Here, kids see it as that way in their younger years but then some tend to lose that spark somewhere between age 10 and 13.

"We have to find a way to make our children hunger for education," she said.

The panelists talked about the importance of mentorship, with Ryan encouraging people to provide kids with a sounding board and to inspire them to keep moving forward.

The panelists touched on, too, organizations that are already working to overcome challenges, with Weaver mentioning the Community Foundation of Southeastern Connecticut's Women & Girls Fund.

"Within our own community, we see women and girls going through these very same issues (as in 'Girl Rising'). We can help in other countries, but we can also help here," Weaver said.

After seeing "Girl Rising," Angelique Cyrique, 13, of Groton said that the movie opened her eyes more to what is out in the world. She was particularly struck by how a girl in Afghanistan had to hide her face behind a burqa.

Kayleigh Knowles, 13, of Groton talked about how kids here sometimes complain about going to class, while the girls in the film fought to be in school, learning.

Having seen "Girl Rising," Cyrique said, "I think it's going to empower us to do better things."

She believes, too, that it will inspire people not to give up because the girls in the film — despite facing dire circumstances — never gave up.

Knowles and Cyrique are both involved with the Groton-based S.T.E.P.S., an organization that strives to provide "adolescent girls the tools necessary to build a life of integrity and self-sufficiency through the empowerment of positive choice."

k.dorsey@theday.com

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