Documentary “Little Stones” holds world premiere at Vail Film Festival | SummitDaily.com
Jessica Smith
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Documentary “Little Stones” holds world premiere at Vail Film Festival

If you go …

What: “Little Stones” screens at the Vail Film Festival, followed by Q-and-A session.

When: 5:30 p.m. Saturday, April 1.

Where: CineBistro, 141 E. Meadow Drive, No. 104, Vail Village.

Cost: Four-day festival passes start at $50.

More information: Visit http://www.vailfilmfestival.com to purchase passes and learn more.

14th annual Vail Film Festival schedule

Film screenings take place at Cascade Theaters, 1310 Westhaven Drive, and CineBistro at Solaris, 141 E. Meadow Drive, No. 104, both in Vail.

Saturday, April 1

11 a.m. to 11 p.m. — Film screenings, Cascade Theaters and CineBistro

1 to 6 p.m. — Hospitality lounge, Cascade Theaters

3:45 p.m. — Panel: Women in Film, Cascade Theaters

7 p.m. — Awards ceremony, Cascade Theaters

7:30 p.m. — Closing Night film, “Sticky Notes,” Cascade Theaters

10 p.m. to midnight — Closing Night party, Larkspur Restaurant, 458 Vail Valley Drive, Golden Peak

Sunday, April 2

11 a.m. to 11 p.m. — Film screenings, Cascade Theaters and CineBistro

1 to 5 p.m. — Hospitality lounge, Cascade Theaters

The documentary "Little Stones," making its world premiere at the Vail Film Festival this weekend, begins with a quote from women's activist and suffragist Alice Paul.

"I always feel the movement is a sort of mosaic. Each of us puts in one little stone."

From this the film derives its title, its structure and its heart. Previously titled Creating4Change, filmmaker and producer Sophia Kruz felt "Little Stones" best represented what she was working to accomplish with this passion project.

"To me, that just perfectly encapsulates the whole point of the film, which is that none of us are going to solve this on our own," she said. "But if we all do our part and put in our stone, we'll get there."

Four unique voices

The film focuses on four different women, each using their own form of personal art to reach out and help women who have suffered from domestic violence, human trafficking, genital mutilation and extreme poverty.

Sohini Chakraborty was the first woman Kruz contacted for the documentary. A sociologist and also a dancer, Chakraborty works with young girls who are the survivors of sex trafficking. She volunteers at a shelter in Kolkata, India, as well as throughout Southeast Asia, teaching the girls dance therapy as a way of physically processing their trauma.

Kruz learned of Chakraborty's work through a friend. A dancer since the age of 2, Kruz was drawn to Chakraborty's method and her cause, and decided to investigate further. They connected over Skype.

"She's so driven and focused on what she knows is working and she wants to spread her model, because she's had incredible success already," Kruz said. "She's just really driven, so I was motivated by her and I was curious to see if there were other women (like her)."

So Kruz started researching. She maintained a growing spreadsheet of organizations worldwide that used art that connected in a thoughtful and meaningful way to the community it was meant to reach.

This led her to Brazil, where celebrated graffiti artist Panmela Castro is working to curb domestic violence. Traditionally a male-dominated form of art, graffiti is widely celebrated in Brazil, making it the perfect platform for spreading a message.

"(It made sense) that you would use this incredibly public art form, that you would speak out against domestic violence, a very private issue, (in this way)," Kruz said.

For the documentary, Kruz wanted to touch on a variety of challenges women face today, and economic inequality was a must on that list. This revealed Anna Taylor, an American who trains and employs women in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya, to sew and sell fashionable clothing and jewelry.

"She's just such an interesting person and character, someone who's from such a different world but has had this huge motivation which comes, I think, from such a genuine place," Kruz said of Taylor. "I think she's an incredibly talented fashion designer. She could do a lot of things with that talent and she's just really motivated to give these women their chance and give them an opportunity they wouldn't have otherwise."

The film also follows the story of Fatou Diatta, also known as Sister Fa. From Senegal, Sister Fa is a singer who lives in Berlin and takes annual tours to Senegal to speak out against genital mutilation. Herself, a survivor of the tradition that is still prevalent in many communities, Sister Fa uses her songs and concerts as a way of reaching out to youth in hopes of making a change.

Though narrowing the film's subjects down to simply four women was difficult, Kruz said that each one exemplifies her purpose for the documentary.

"We were looking for the best stories and the best characters and the best art and the biggest impact we could (find)," she said. "We wanted to make a film about people … who were really talented in their own right as artists."

Woman power

Creative women were not only the subjects of "Little Stones," but also its crew and creators. Nearly everyone who worked on the documentary, from composer to editor to cinematographer to producer, was female.

"We're excited to premiere at Vail because they're focusing on women filmmakers this year and our film, obviously, is about women who are using art, but the film was also intentionally made with female filmmakers," Kruz said.

During the making of the documentary, as Kruz and others involved in the project reached out to contacts and potential collaborators, they found those women were excited and passionate about working on a project with females in all of the key creative positions of the process, somewhat of a rarity in the industry today.

"There were just, along the way, so many women who were champions of the project," Kruz said.

"Little Stones" was also how Kruz met her cinematographer and co-producer, Meena Singh. Kruz jokingly refers to their first connection as similar to a blind date, set up through mutual connections.

"We just hit it off right away and really worked well together in New York and that was kind of a test," Kruz recalled with a laugh. "And because it went so well we were like, 'All right, let's go to India next.'"

The next time they saw each other was in Kolkata to interview and film Chakraborty's dance therapy.

Singh was eager to tackle the filming challenge that the documentary presented.

"When designing the visual aesthetic of 'Little Stones,' I wanted to showcase artists' stories in a very beautiful, cinematic way," Singh wrote by email recently. "I felt that since the film's subjects are all artists, we need to focus on shooting in the most artful and visually poetic manner."

Worldwide reach, intimate interviews

Filming "Little Stones" took Kruz and Singh around the world, multiple times. From India to Brazil to Germany to Senegal, they followed the stories that inspired them, and that they hope will inspire many more.

Part of that process was speaking with the women and girls around the four artists, a challenging and delicate task that tackled taboo, traumatizing subjects.

"For me the most important thing was having Meena be the cinematographer," Kruz said. Not only are females a very small percentage of cinematographers in the business, but the nature of the documentary required it.

Kruz, Singh and female interpreters often entered the homes of women and girls to hold these difficult interviews.

"They're really shy to share their experiences, and even give us some background about what they've been through, and I can't imagine trying to do that with a man in the room," Kruz said.

"They were all so brave and so strong for talking to us," she added.

Making an impact

Vail is the first stop for "Little Stones," which will make its way through other film festivals this year.

"First, I hope they have a greater understanding of some of the issues that we talk about in the film; that's number one," said Kruz, on what she hopes the audience takes away from "Little Stones." "Number two, is really see art as a potential tool to finding a solution to the issues we talk about, or other issues."

Kruz feels her film will particularly resonate with people due to the current political climate, and continued discussion around gender inequality in the United States and abroad.

"I think people are especially ready to see more positive stories," she said, in the face of discouraging statistics. "There's only so much you can learn from those statistics, and when you can hear positive stories that point to potential solutions — and maybe you're not a dancer or a graffiti artist, but we all have a skill that we can bring to the table, and for many of us that's a creative thing that we're passionate about — this is something we can all be a part of."