Lights, Camera, Impact: Teens Win Award for Breakthrough Film

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The Girls Impact the World Festival is living up to its name, thanks to the groundbreaking films being made by teens and women all over the country. The film festival invites women in high school or undergraduate college programs to make short movies about global women’s issues—offering recognition and feedback from judges like Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus, plus $20,000 in total prizes!

In 2012, Oakland high school students Rebecca Dharmapalan and Zoë Simone Yi won the Judges’ Choice Grand Prize—and $5,000—for International Boulevard, a powerful film raising awareness about the sex trafficking of young girls. According to the film, 40 percent of sex trafficking in America happens in the Bay Area, and Rebecca and Zoë’s neighborhood is no exception. “Help us bring an end to the abuse, to the pain and to change society so that is no longer alright to buy sex from a child,” their movie concludes. “It all starts now.”

We talked with 17-year-old Rebecca about what inspired her film, what it was like to film it and her hopes for the movie’s future.

How did you get started with your project?

Rebecca: I heard about Girls Impact the World prior to starting the movie. I knew exactly what I wanted to do because the sex trafficking of girls is so prevalent in Oakland. I go to a very urban school, and some of this stuff happens right in front of campus. It’s very close to home and very relevant in our lives, so it was easy to come up with the idea.

I also knew I wanted to work with Zoe, who is a very talented filmmaker I know from Oakland School of the Arts (where we both go to school). We made the whole documentary in about three weeks. It came together very naturally. We conducted the interviews together—she filmed and I asked the questions.

You were dealing with pretty intense subject matter. Were you ever uncomfortable?

Rebecca: Sometimes, because we were underage ourselves, but we worked a lot with the Oakland Police Department and the officers there helped us feel safe during the process. We filmed a lot on International Boulevard because we knew we needed powerful footage. This was a little scary, but we knew [that in order to] get the message of the video across to a global audience, it would take us feeling a little uncomfortable.

How did you find out you won the Judges’ Choice Grand Prize?

Rebecca: Zoe and I were super excited about our end product but there were so many entries, and everyone did an extremely beautiful job and took on great topics. When we found out that we were in the top three, we were ecstatic and flew out to Boston for the awards ceremony…all bubbly and jittery!

What meant the most to us were the comments that the judges had—just to know that Muhammad Yunus, who is a role model of mine, liked our film. It brings me to tears that people around the world are watching our movie and know what is going on in our city.  Afterward, Zoe and I split up the prize money and used it to promote the video.

What are your plans for the movie now?

Rebecca: I am working with the Oakland City Council on this topic as a student representative. What we are doing right now is getting the video to be a learning tool for lower school and middle school students. We are starting with the Oakland public school district, then we will move to Bay Area and hopefully, the film and its message will spread worldwide.

Watch International Boulevard here!

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