Schiff a producer on women’s documentary
GAMBIER — Now that she has helped her creative team earn an Oscar for the Documentary Short Subject film “Period. End of Sentence,” Kenyon College sophomore Ruby Schiff — who turned 20 on Tuesday — will finally be able to schedule a film class at Kenyon.
Pursuing a double-major in Women’s and Gender Studies, and Psychology, Schiff stayed with her parents in her family’s North Hollywood home during Oscar week activities, including Sunday’s award show. Her father, Garrett Schiff, is a screenplay writer whom she said lended some of his own expertise to “Period. End of Sentence.”
The documentary covers the story of girls in India left in the dark about the taboo subject of menstruation. An effort Schiff was involved in, called The Pad Project, does its best to alleviate the situation, which results in as many as one-third of all girls from India missing part of their schooling due to menstruation and lack of sanitary padding. The documentary is currently streaming on Netflix.
Feb. 19, just five days before Oscar awards night, Schiff enjoyed a special Kenyon College screening of the film. Professor Misha Rai, the current Kenyon Fellow in Prose and English professor, discussed the documentary’s topic, as did a representative of Planned Parenthood from Columbus. Rai grew up not far from Kathikera village, about 70 miles from India’s capital, Delhi, where girls and young women were interviewed. The evening went well and Schiff enjoyed an outpouring of support before knowing how the film would fare at the Oscars.
Schiff actually started working on “Period. End of Sentence” as a sophomore — but as a sophomore at Oakwood High School in North Hollywood, not Kenyon. She did offer that some of her work preparing for International Film Festivals and the Oscars happened at Kenyon over the past year.
“I have felt so much support from the Kenyon community,” said Schiff, who chose her college because it appealed to her as a small, isolated college in the American heartland after growing up in greater Los Angeles. It also appealed to her because her older sister, Maddie, graduated from Kenyon last year with a degree in Art History.
As a freshman at Oakwood High in 2014, Schiff joined Girls Learn International, a U.S.-based group dedicated to the premise that humanitarianism has no age requirement, and that youth play a critical role in positive change worldwide. Her group adviser was Oakwood teacher Melissa Berton, who became one of two main producers of “Period. End of Sentence.” The other was Iranian-American Rayka Zehtabchi, who also directed the documentary.
During her sophomore year in high school, Schiff and other classmates with Girls Learn International, including two close friends, Claire Sliney and Avery Siegel, visited a United Nations function in Washington. Known as the Commission on the Status of Women, it was her first exposure to the plight of girls and young women in India — some of whom are forced into child marriage before they know what a menstrual cycle is, she said.
“We came back extremely motivated in wanting to make a difference on this issue. I think a lot of people weren’t aware of it. I wasn’t aware until I came back from the U.N.,” Schiff offered.
Berton, her Oakwood High teacher in Los Angeles, worked with Schiff and her peers to create an endeavor called The Pad Project. Working in India with Guneet Monga, the executive producer of “Period. End of Sentence,” The Pad Project focused on a group of girls and young women fighting patriarchy in Katherika village to be educated about their menstrual cycles. An appearance in the 26-minute long film is made by an Indian man, considered India’s “Pad Man,” who has developed a machine that makes low-cost pads. He did so after seeing the troubles his wife was facing due to lack of sanitary pads.
Schiff said she did not visit India for filming — too many privileged white women visiting the village would have been an affront to the culture. The on-location filming included just main co-producer Zehtabchi and a cinematographer.
“I was mainly part of the fund-raising because that’s what The Pad Project does,” Schiff said. She explained that she was part of developing a promotional kickstarter video that generated interest in donors, and there were multiple platforms available for accepting money online, Schiff offered. The video helped raise approximately $45,000 to fund the filming. Other events helped raise funds as well, including bake sales and Yoga-Thons.
“I’m a yoga instructor at Kenyon,” Schiff said. “I did a Yoga Sculpt class yesterday at the KAC (Kenyon Athletic Center).”
Once the film was shot, and edited, it was all about marketing in preparing “Period. End of Sentence” for film festival audiences. Her friend Claire’s mom, Lisa Taback, was instrumental in having the film viewed by the right jurists whenever possible. The documentary did well in winning awards at venues such as last year’s Cleveland International Film Festival and the American Film Institute awards, resulting in an eventual Oscar nomination. Two Oscars were actually given out for the award — with Berton holding onto one, and her fellow co-producer Zehtabchi the other. The entire team had convened Saturday evening for a relaxing group dinner before the Academy Awards.
For Schiff, just the opportunity to walk to the stage with her documentary co-creators, at the age of 19, is something she will never forget. She definitely plans to take one or more film classes at Kenyon, where such famous actors as Paul Newman and Allison Janney applied theatrical skills with Oscar-producing results. While interested in film editing and directing, Schiff said “film kind of comes second in mind to the issues I most care about.”
Although Schiff was unable to meet Janney during the Oscars — with Janney having taken Best Supporting Actress last year from the film, “I, Tonya,” a few shout-outs of support were offered to Schiff and her creative team.
“Probably one of the most exciting moments was when Emma Stone told one of my friends that she had watched the film and loved what we were doing,” Schiff said. “Reese Witherspoon also tweeted out that our award was her favorite Oscar moment.”