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92nd Oscars Backstage Interview Transcript: DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT)

SPEECH BY: Carol Dysinger and Elena Andreicheva


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Q. I'm just really curious how you arrived at this subject matter. What was the process? What gave you the idea?
A. (Carol Dysinger) Well, I mean, for one, Orlando von Einsiedel, who is our executive producer, had made a short film -- I think his first, but I can't remember -- about the beginning of Skateistan, and that was on the festival circuit with my first film. But I've been working in Afghanistan for a long time and we always hear -- I always heard about it. And then, you know, A&E contacted Grain, which is Orlando's company, because they wanted to do the girls' side of it. But Skateistan is very private. You know, they don't let anybody in. You know, they really protect their girls, they protect their teachers. And   so I came on. I had been working in Afghanistan, and as a woman and in all the situations I was in, I could go into the women's room from these very formal men's things, and it was like walking into the bathroom at high school, you know what I mean. It was, like, suddenly, they'd hand you a baby, some old lady puts stuff in your -- it was, like, so different. And I always desperately wanted to somehow get that -- what the women's room was really like and what the girls are like.  You know, really get it so that you could meet them clean, you know, for them, not with the male gaze on them or the respectfulness. So when they came to me with the Skateistan thing, I was, like, that's it, that's exactly the way to do it because I can -- you can just meet them and see them behave in the way they behave. Without having to ask them all kinds of crazy questions about what they think about war, you know, just be them. And that was -- kind of the seed was A&E wanting to do it and my -- the time -- I spent so much time there, I could calculate and figure out how to make it happen and look a lot easier than it was, yes.
A. (Elena Andreicheva) Yes.

Q. Thank you very much.
A. (Carol Dysinger) Sure thing.

Q. Well, I guess not. Thank you. Congratulations. Oh, I'm sorry. 43.
Q. Thank you so much and congratulations.
A. (Carol Dysinger) Thank you.

Q. What kind of advice would you give to filmmakers, young filmmakers in documentary as far as...
A. (Elena Andreicheva) Is there any specific sort of in the shorts world or...
A. (Carol Dysinger) Just generally, yeah, I would say make sure -- you have to really question -- you have to really make sure that you're the right person to tell the story. You know, it's very common that you read a New Yorker article and say, "Oh, my God, that was so cool, that was amazing, let's make a movie." But why are you the one to tell it? Because nowadays, you know, with cutting documentaries and how so much you can replicate your own misjudgment in the way you present the material, if you are not willing to put in the time to figure out where your blind spots are and how to close them. So, you know, access is the keystone to documentary. But you have to understand the nature of that access. Are people talking  to you because you're an American and they think they can get a visa or a job from you? Are they talking to you because they want you to be an arbiter in some -- you know, you really have to enter a situation and deal with it and know that you don't always know what's going on. And that's a good place to be. I had a guide in Afghanistan who used to say to me, "Afghanistan, Carol. If you think you know what is happening, you are about to buy a very bad rug." And it was true. You know, so I would say, question, why they want to make that movie.  And the answer may not be immediate. And just know that you don't know and keep trying to find out. That's what I would say.

Q. I want to know how did you get inspired to tell the story about these little girls and to empower these little girls to became a better person?
A. (Elena Andreicheva) Yeah, so just to sort of cut quite a long story short, A&E came to us at Grain Media in the UK and they wanted to tell a really powerful story about girls, young girls in Afghanistan and we were very fortunate in that we had an existing relationship with this wonderful NGO called Skateistan. Skateistan started out as one skateboarder coming to Kabul, skateboarding in the street and realizing that kids were interested and he just started teaching them right there, you know, he was like, "Okay, you want to learn to do an ollie? Sure. Let me teach you." He realized that a lot of kids were hanging around and they weren't going to school and he was troubled by that, and he started this wonderful organization that we've been very fortunate to be able to make a film about. This is an organization that we've known about for some time, but the time came when the lovely female executives at A&E also expressed their interest, and so our interests aligned and that's how it came about. It was, you know, I suppose less of a grassroots kind of start, but it was something that allowed us to finally bring those stories to light and through Carol's, you know, enormous experience in Afghanistan.
A. (Carol Dysinger) But I think the thing that's really -- and I've seen a lot of NGOs in Afghanistan. The military have a great phrase, "The good idea fairy is flying around." You know, and people come up with something that has nothing to do with the place that you are in. It's not rising from a problem. They fall in love with the solution and not the problem. So the thing that Skateistan does is so brilliant is they take poor kids who have not entered school at the appropriate age because of poverty, internal displacement, whatever, and they give them the first to third grade curriculum in one year, and to keep them from going insane, they teach them how to skateboard, right? So they  learn quickly and they learn physical courage, right? And then they can enter their own school system. It's not saying, hello, let me pluck you from the village and make you an eye surgeon. It's saying, like, okay, we're just going to get you to the next step.  So what inspires me about it is there's so few programs that solve that tiny little problem, like the nail in the shoe of the horse that lost the battle? Like, they  get that nail, right? And that's what Skateistan does and there's so few of these things that really just go, okay, if we fix this one little thing, we won't see the results immediately, but they will occur, and I find that kind of thinking very inspiring.


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