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Female Filmmakers Turn a Lens on Cultures

National Geographic All Roads Film Project Director Francene Blythe stopped by to discuss Women Hold Up Half the Sky, a series of films by women presented during the spring 2010 National Geographic Live season at our Washington, D.C. headquarters. Shadows, which documents the life of women in rural Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban, will be shown tonight at 7 p.m. Journalist and Shadows co-director Mary Ayubi will discuss the film following the screening.

What is the All Roads Film Project?

We focus on indigenous and underrepresented minority cultures. We work with emerging talent in both film and photography to provide platforms to showcase their work—through the All Roads Film Festival, All Roads on the Road, DVD collections, special screenings and exhibitions—plus grants to support continuation of works or new projects.


This is our sixth year—we launched in 2004. Over those half dozen years, we’ve screened hundreds of films. We’ve also recognized and exhibited the work of about 20 photographers.

While the films have changed, All Roads has presented a program titled Women Hold Up Half the Sky for several years. What prompted this enduring series?

When I first joined All Roads, the project’s originator asked me what I would do if I could create a film program. I thought immediately of a women’s series. I’m Navajo and come from a matriarchal culture—the creation of the people, mother Earth, so much that we value in our culture comes from women. So my first instinct was to create a series of films by women. It’s been one of our most popular programs.

How did you select the three films you’re presenting in the series this spring?

They’re strong stories. They represent cultures from someplace in the world outside the U.S. People are deeply interested in knowing more about the lives of women in the Middle East, particularly in places such as Afghanistan touched by such deep conflict. The Oaxacan film (2501 Migrants: A Journey) was chosen because it’s an excellent film and that director has earned many awards. She is Oaxacan herself, so she brings a unique awareness and understanding of Mexican communities to her filmmaking.

Why is it so important to bring All Roads films and photography to the public?

These are stories from places most people don’t know much about or don’t see often here in the U.S. We always try to work with artists in the communities represented in a film or a photographic portfolio, and to broaden awareness of the world through their inside perspectives.

Also, with our grants, many times All Roads is the first to fund a film project, then comes Sundance, HBO, ITBS, minority consortiums that also help fund such projects. Often, their panels will look closely at All Roads and who we’ve provided seed funding, because we’ve been able to find so many excellent stories with new talent behind them.

Any recommendations for the NetFlix queue?

Absolutely: Anything from directors Sterlin Harjo or Cherien Debis or producer Heather Rae.

Films by any of them would be a great introduction, and they’ve all come through All Roads. Also, our DVD sets (Collection 1, Collection 2, 5th Anniversary) include highlights from each year’s festivals.

Be on the lookout for our summer films series with TransAfrica Forum here in D.C. And the 2010 All Roads Film Festival takes place here at headquarters in Washington September 28th through October 3rd.

Is there anything else you’d like to share today?

Yes, some great news: Karin Chien, an All Roads film grant recipient, received the Piaget Producers Award last Friday. She and director Ron Morales were awarded the grant for their film Santa Mesa.

Subscribe to the All Roads Film Project‘s YouTube channel to learn more about All Roads films and filmmakers, and watch for All Roads screenings and photo exhibitions on the National Geographic Events site and the All Roads blog.