MOUNT VERNON — Kenyon College junior Ruby Schiff has something of which very few college students can boast: an Academy Award for a documentary film she executive produced while she was still in high school.
Schiff will show her film, “Period. End of Sentence,” and afterwards lead a discussion of it at the next Brown Bag Chat, Wednesday, Sept. 4, at noon at the Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County.
Schiff made international headlines when the short documentary film she executive produced won an Oscar this spring. “Period. End of Sentence.” follows a group of women in the rural Hapur district of India who start a microbusiness manufacturing and selling sanitary products door to door. The women’s business simultaneously wins them some economic freedom and overturns many stigma surrounding menstruation.
Schiff initially learned about these issues working on a high school research project about rural India, where restrictions and rules about menstruation, coupled with the lack of access to hygiene products, leads many young women to leave school at the onset of menses. Lack of education limits girls’ opportunities to pursue their dreams and be financially independent.
“When we found out that girls our age were dropping out of school because of their periods, it touched all of us on a very personal level. We knew we needed to find a solution,” Schiff said.
Schiff and her friends from North Hollywood High School began raising funds to finance a Pad Machine that would allow women to manufacture and then market the pads in their home communities. The high school girls organized bake sales, yogathons, and a Kickstarter campaign, which began with a modest goal of raising $12,000 to buy a pad machine for one village in India. Astounded by its success, Schiff soon realized that they could help more than just one village if they could spread the word about this project by making a film.
Undaunted by this risk, Schiff — herself the daughter of a film producer — and her peers collaborated with director Rayka Zahtabchi to create a documentary. Schiff’s risk paid off: “Period. End of Sentence.” has been nominated for 13 awards in addition to winning that Oscar. Excitement around the film and income generated by it have boosted donations, and the Pad Project, now a thriving nonprofit led by Schiff, has provided pad machines to communities around the globe.
Much of the film’s narrative centers on a young woman named Sneha, who wants to be a police investigator in Delhi. Sneha uses her income from selling pads to help pay for her training and education. The film is a powerful testimony to empowerment, and Schiff says, “I am amazed at how the women completely took this into their own hands, creating their own packaging, logo and everything. For some of them, this is the first time they are making their own wages.”
“Period. End of Sentence.” treats both the topic and the subjects of the film with sensitivity, humor and insight.
“I never wanted it to be a film that said, ‘Look at these poor women, at this backward village [when] the United States also has issues with menstruation and stigma around it,’” said Helen Yenser, one of the film’s executive producers. In the end, “Period. End of Sentence.” is an inspiring story about what is possible when two groups of women across the world from one another set out to enact meaningful change and both groups are transformed by the experience.
Brown Bag Chats are presented at the main branch of the Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County, 201 N. Mulberry St., Mount Vernon, on Wednesdays at noon. The sessions are free and open to all. Attendees are invited to bring a sack lunch, if they wish, and light refreshments are also served. The sessions are held in the library’s large basement multipurpose room.