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91st Oscars Backstage Interview Transcript: DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT)

SPEECH BY: Rayka Zehtabchi and Melissa Berton


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Q. Guys, congratulations on your win.  I just wanted to ask you guys, of course you were in India for multiple months shooting this film.  You've seen a lot that's different from here in the United States.  And I wanted to ask if there was one moment, one specific moment in which you felt like it was really hard hitting and emotional and one moment that made you realized that making PERIOD was so worth it? 
A. (Rayka Zehtabchi)  I think when I was in India shooting with Sam Davis, my creative partner, we surveyed hundreds of women and men, and some of the    I think the responses that we would hear about what menstruation is that really took us aback were when women had been menstruating their entire lives and literally couldn't tell us what a period was.  They didn't know or understand why they would menstruate each month.  In fact, they had gone their entire lives believing that they had an illness.  I mean, I think that was one of the most heartbreaking things for me as a woman and especially as a young woman as well, seeing that you can go your entire life fearing this thing that happens to your body and can't even imagine what else you would be afraid to do. 

Q. Congratulations.  What does the win for this film mean for this sensational work that's going on there and perhaps other areas in the world where it needs to happen?
A. (Melissa Berton)  So this film started as an initiative of a group called Girls Learn International, which seeks to give high school students a voice in the global movement for equal access to education worldwide, because girls have less access to education; and one of the causes is that when they begin to menstruate, they drop out of school or are targets for forced early marriage.  So this actually began seven years ago with the creation of the Pad Project, which is our nonprofit organization that we used to raise awareness for this issue.  And since the Oscar nomination, actually we've received over 2500 e mails from all over the world saying we'd love a pad machine in this community, that community.  So now it's wonderful.  Now we really have to do the work of the nonprofit, and I think that this world platform will just bring more notoriety of that issue. 

Q. We got to talk on the Red Carpet.  I don't know if you remember or not. 
A. (Rayka Zehtabchi)  Yes. 
A. (Melissa Berton)  Of course.
A. (Rayka Zehtabchi)  ABC.

Q. Yes, ABC.  So how hard was it when you first arrived to India to get young girls and older women who had never spoken of this, how difficult was it to get them to open up at first?  And then once the flood gates were open, I'm sure that's when everything, you know, set itself into place.  But was it hard at first?
A. (Rayka Zehtabchi)  So Sam and I went to India twice to film.  The first time that we went, it was right when the machine had actually been delivered to the village.  It wasn't installed.  Nobody really knew about this machine yet.  So that's when we really took the opportunity to survey and understand what really is the thinking and mentality behind menstruation.  So, as you can imagine, it was incredibly difficult.  We're going into these really rural villages where a lot of the times these people have never even seen a film crew before, and then we're asking these subjects about something that is so painfully taboo that they haven't even spoken to their own mothers about it before.  So it's very challenging, and we got a lot of, I think, silence and bewilderment and a lot of misinformation.  But the second time we went back to India was six months after the machine had been installed, and it was absolutely remarkable to see how open and empowered these women were.  They were pulling me and Sam into the pad machine room to show us how to make a pad.  So it's insane to see how transformative it's been.
A. (Melissa Berton)  And I just want to add to that super quickly.  The students and I were able to go three months after that to meet everybody and see, and we were able to screen the film.  Actually, the women in the village were the first audience to actually see the finished film, one of the first audiences, and they really felt proud of how they came across.  And we've been talking to them all week, because they're here; and this has made a lot of change for them.  So we're very happy for them. 

Q. How do you think general audiences will react to the short?
A. (Rayka Zehtabchi)  So far the response has been absolutely amazing.  So I hope    and I do know that India is very excited about this film and hopefully now very excited about this win, so I think that we're using this here as a vehicle really for change and to really allow people to start the conversation about menstruation.



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