The following article was written by Robert McTavish as part of a series of articles about filmmakers coming to the Salt Spring Film Festival on March 4-6, 2016.
Filmmaker Daniel Pierce will be attending the festival and leading a discussion about the film following the screening. The Filmmaker series is sponsored by Stonehouse Bed and Breakfast.
For Our Daughters
The long dusty road to northern Ghana was a good thing for Daniel Pierce. The SFU grad had recently directed his first documentary, about Vancouver's famed "Hollow Tree" in Stanley Park, and had signed on to do sound and production work for a documentary about four teenaged Ghanaian women about to embark on a Canadian speaking tour. But just before the flight to western Africa, the director bowed out. Now Pierce and the associated charity's founder, Shannen O'Brian, were to be co-directors. The slow-going drive offered lots of time to talk it out and Pierce was, as good documentary demands, adaptable: "I guess I'm doing this now!"
It was a good match too because, Pierce says, "We shared the same vision." His company, Ramshackle Productions, chose as its mandate to work to raise consciousness for social and environmental movements. His new co-director actually started a movement to help put more than a thousand girls through high school and university every year in Ghana. Vancouver's Shannen O'Brian saw inefficient and corrupt practices while on the ground with large non-profits and decided the remedy was to start her own foundation. Called Create Change, it guides and encourages Ghanaian girls as well as paying for school fees and supplies. As a fundraising experiment, O'Brien was now taking four of her recent graduates to Vancouver to speak about their lives. She also wanted a record of the trip that would resonate with a larger public, but how to do it?
"We walked the line between documentary and fundraising," says Pierce, as they asked themselves "What kind of film is this?" The Ghanaian images proved powerful to the newcomer, with stark dry landscapes and poor communities making the best of the difficult conditions, but it was the girls themselves seeking their own voices that answered Pierce's question. "We found that at the end of the day the focus was on the girls," he says of Beatrice, Gladys, Fayuda and Faiza and their remarkable stories. "We would show people how powerful and intelligent they were, while still being normal teenage girls. We had to honour them and what they had to say."
What they say are the many reasons it is so difficult for young women in Ghana, and without schooling thus near impossible to break the cycle of poverty. Yet once in British Columbia the film captures both the girls' complex joy and homesickness that the emotional roller coaster of the experience provided. It traces the wide view of both the girls' and the Canadians' culture shock, but really connects when utilising intimate footage shot by the girls themselves - a clear window into their perspectives that could not have emerged from interviews alone. Still, the tour over, the directors were "not really certain what we had."
This changed when they returned the next year to Ghana to discover "how much the girls had grown and changed and became leaders in their community." The experience, and the return to their reality, had matured and inspired them. Still, with a new generation of girls hard on their heels, Pierce reiterates "the film is a piece of the larger engagement, a tool to build the movement."
That movement hopes to grow its grassroots paradigm to other African countries, and it is unique. Create Change in Ghana now aims at full self-sufficiency by 2020 through charitable work using the labour and brains of its own students to build businesses in their own communities. Thus its social and clean water programs will no longer be dependent on foreign input.
Pierce too now moves on, with lessons learned from the drive and vision of his activist co-director O'Brian. At work on a new documentary about the ancient forests movement in BC, he knows this too will have a long difficult road. What else should commitment expect?