Girl Rising mixes documentary and narrative filmmaking to show how education lifted nine girls out of poverty and cruel circumstances. The young women's stories, narrated by the likes of Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Kerry Washington and Selena Gomez, stand as sober reminders of the kind of unforgiving obstacles faced by girls in developing countries and the positive, ripple effects that learning can bring.
Director Richard E. Robbins, Oscar-nominated for his 2007 documentary Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience, divides his new film into nine portrait segments, set apart by Liam Neeson's narration about the hard truths girls must confront to go to school — or simply show that they matter — in many nations.
The movie's locales — Cambodia, Sierra Leone, Haiti, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Peru, Egypt, Nepal and India — are far-flung, reflecting the diversity of the stories. Among the most affecting: Suma, a Nepalese girl who writes songs to help her navigate and ultimately overcome her life as a bonded laborer; and Wadley, a 7-year-old Haitian with a love for learning that's rocked by the devastating 2010 earthquake.
The film's re-creations, some involving actors and some the girls themselves, aren't always successful, but the truths at their core are rock-solid. Illuminating and ultimately hopeful, despite the horrible circumstances depicted, Girl Rising stands as a testament to the power of information.
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PG-13 for thematic material including disturbing images. CNN Films. 1:44. Hamburg.