Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Curating Cinema: Lisa Russell Delivers on Films About Women and Girls

May 24, 2013

As we head into the week prior to the 2013 Women Deliver conference, the largest global meeting of the decade to focus on the health and well-being of girls and women, we thought it would be a perfect time to highlight the voices and stories of some of the amazing advocates, from around the world, who are attending this monumental world meeting. Today, meet Lisa Russell, EMMY-award winning filmmaker, public health expert, and curator of Cinema Corner, a film festival at the Women Deliver conference.

Impatient Optimists (IO): Tell me about the Women Deliver Conference in Kuala Lumpur in May. What is it and why are you excited to be a part of it?

Lisa Russell: Women Deliver to me is one of the most innovative organizations advocating for the betterment of women and girls worldwide.  Their international conference - which only happens every three years - is taking place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from May 28-30.  As a filmmaker and development specialist who has produced many films on maternal health issues, this is a gathering that particularly excites me.  Some of the most dedicated and influential people in this world will be attending and its an honor for me to be in their company.  The energy and enthusiasm for what we all aim to do, what we are passionate about, is accelerated in the lead up and during the Women Deliver conference so I am overly ecstatic that the 2013 conference is finally here!

 

Photo credit: David Evans, The Silkies of Madagascar: daughters of traditional Malagasy silk weavers see their mothers bring in an income and also provide work for their whole community

IO: You are curating the Cinema Corner at the conference. Can you talk about what this is and why film is so important to a conference about women's health?

Lisa Russell: The Cinema Corner, which had a formal Call for Film Submissions and is structured like a film festival, is a dedicated space at the conference where we have programmed nearly 80 films of different genres (documentaries, narratives, music videos, educational films, PSAs - public service announcements- etc,) to be shown over the three day event.  We received over 200 submissions of high quality and unique films.  It was quite a challenge to reject some really quality films.

 Films have an intimate way of sharing their personal stories at this high level gathering and giving a voice to the variety of individuals who are not only affected by the issues, but who also may be working diligently on the ground to solve problems affecting local communities.

In my opinion, films capture the essence of why this conference is happening in the first place. Realistically, most of the women and girls around the world who are most affected by the issues we bring to light at the conference are not able to attend themselves. So, films have an intimate way of sharing their personal stories at this high level gathering and giving a voice to the variety of individuals who are not only affected by the issues, but who also may be working diligently on the ground to solve problems affecting local communities.

One of the aspects of the Cinema Corner that is so exciting for me is that having screened my films at many international conferences for the past decade, this is the first international gathering where I feel like the films and filmmakers are being taken seriously. I'm a big advocate for integrating local artists (not just celebrities) into global health advocacy and the Cinema Corner has allowed us to tap into a very talented pool of independent filmmakers.  Some of them would never have known about the Women Deliver conference or the messaging that Women Deliver is promoting in the world.  By having their film accepted into the Cinema Corner, the filmmakers will, I hope, will become more knowledgeable and hopefully more inspired to continue their storytelling covering these issues.

IO: You are a filmmaker and global health advocate. What inspires you about film-making, in particular about the issues you cover and the stories you tell?

Lisa Russell: I personally have a love-hate relationship with film-making.  I love the craft, I am fortunate to meet the people I meet and tell the stories I have been exposed to.  And as someone with a MPH (Masters in Public Health) , I am really happy I found a powerful medium to do my global health advocacy.  Yet, as a working filmmaker, it is a challenge to always be hustling for new projects especially within the development world because support and funding for films or filmmakers hasn't been a priority.  My hope is that with the Cinema Corner, institutions and funders may view films and cinema and artistic development and expression in a different way - as a real and crucial element in addressing the most pressing global health issues facing our time.  My goal is this helps bridge a stronger bond between artists and humanitarian organizations so that we can appropriately give a powerful platform to the people whose real lives are the reason we attend these conferences in the first place.

Please follow the Cinema Corner on Twitter at #CinemaCorner.

 
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