Firstly, I want to congratulate filmmaker, Gayle Ferraro, whom I met when she first began this journey of making To Catch a Dollar, which premiered Saturday night at Sundance with Muhammad Yunus present. She, and cameraman, Bill Megalos, and editor, Keiko Deguchi, worked their bottoms off on this doc. The rough cut we viewed last October in New York showed the patience, the spirit and the time it took to follow not only an almost un-followable hero, Muhammad Yunus (he sleeps in airplanes as he travels so much spreading the good word about microcredit and social business), but to both capture the dignity and the dedication of the women at the first US branch of Grameen, in Queens, New York.
It is not easy to both keep a respectful distance, and yet still manage to portray real and intimate portraits of these women, whom Yunus calls the "true heroes" of the story of the spread of microcredit around the globe. The documentary is both wonderful and, at times, heartbreaking. Gayle Ferraro is known for making films focusing on women in extremely difficult situations. Her previous docs, Sixteen Decisions about the women of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, and Anonymously Yours, a fantastic doc on the sex trade and the effect it has on young women in Burma, are both the result of what I call "the real deal," a woman who can actually capture authenticity on camera, and relate to these women's predicaments. Gayle has really given her all, time and again, to her work as so many underappreciated doc filmmakers do, making little money, but knowing there is a real need to tell these stories, especially in a world where Entertainment is king.
As for Dr. Yunus and Sundance, it must be mentioned that both Jeff Skoll's commitment to social change and Dr. Yunus' work in particular, are part of what is becoming a growing, important trend in filmmaking...a strong, focused return to and promotion of film as both an agent of social change and an important educational tool. I taught and wrote about this while in graduate school and beyond. We can change lives with cinema. I know because cinema not only changed my life, it enriched it greatly, and I saw it change the lives of others from small villages in the Andes to rural villages in Indonesia. Films do make a difference! And we, as filmmakers, have a responsibility for what we are putting out there.
We must also give a huge congratulations to all of the women borrowers at Grameen America in Queens and to those who will help to spread this good work to other needy parts of the US. People are really hurting, including the little known, but very hard-working men who helped found Grameen America, Shah Newaz and Vidar Jorgensen, and all of the women and men helping the first Queens office to come together and make a real impact on the lives of the borrowers, and especially, their children.
The impact -- as Susan Davis of BRAC, Ashoka, Grameen, Ford Foundation fame, says -- of microcredit, has to be measured by generational change. The children of the often illiterate and underprivileged borrowers, end up as doctors, lawyers, agents of change. Often the women do as well, being elected to office, subtly shifting extremes towards a more human center where women have a voice.
The poor need access to credit and as Dr. Yunus says over and over again, this should be declared loudly as a 'human right." The unbanked will not remain so for long, and we will be hearing their voices more and more in the decades to come! Dignity, respect and compassion, for all human beings!
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