Human Journey

Women Hold Up Half the Sky—and Some Amazing Films

This weekend, National Geographic’s All Roads Film Project presents the film series, Women Hold Up Half the Sky, notable films by award-winning female directors, screening at NG headquarters in Washington, D.C. Here are previews of three of the films.


In a nutshell: Emily is a New Zealander from a conservative Chinese family. While her sisters toe the family line by attending medical school and marrying proper Chinese men, Emily has only two things on her mind: George Lucas and directing the greatest vampire kung fu film the world has ever seen. Enter James, an aspiring games designer with a nerdy streak to match. The two fall madly in love and get married to help finance their dreams on the New Zealand student allowance, but Emily must hide James from her family for fear of being disowned. These secrets test her marriage, career, and the core of her heritage, ultimately leading to a deeper understanding of all three.

Nerdiest Lines:

James’s friends ask about Emily:
“What’s her name? Where’d you meet her? Does she know about Dungeons and Dragons?”

Emily’s friends ask about James:
“He’s white AND he plays Dungeons and Dragons?”

The director’s accomplishment: Director Roseanne Liang depicts an appealing realistic female character: She trips over her own feet and almost screws up her relationship and has to try to win back her family and the guy.

-Jennifer Pocock


In a nutshell: After a three-year stint in an Australian prison, Karen fights to stay clean and regain a place in her young daughter’s life. Obstacles – some societal, some self imposed, and some just pure bad luck – crop up. In navigating them, we see her forced to choose between descent back into drugs or crafting a new life.

Best “sisterhood” scenes:

When Anita, the shelter’s oldest resident, takes over as group counselor and calls Jody out on her constant sneer.
The night when the house mother, Big Red, is off campus and the women drink and tell stories in Skinny’s room.
Karen freaking out as a fellow resident is taken away in a squad card for violating house arrest.
Karen overcoming conflict with Jody to borrow clothes so that Karen has something nice to wear when visiting her daughter.

The director’s accomplishment: Like a Japanese sumi-e brush painter, director Beck Cole produces a rich image with only a few strokes. Even if a couple of them are extraneous (a scene introducing Karen as an artist is never really followed up on), for the most part, they provide Karen with believability and a rich background. The director pulls back layers to show the struggle of this subset of Aboriginal people in Australia as well as the universal struggle to find healing and family.

–Rhett Register


In a nutshell:
Chris Mburu, a poor Kenyan boy, receives a sponsor to fund his secondary education—a $40 monthly fee. This “small act” by a Swedish benefactor changes the course of Mburu’s life, leading him to a degree from Harvard Law School and a job at the United Nations. The documentary follows Mburu as he meets his mysterious benefactor and sets up a scholarship for Kenyan children in her name. The camera also shadows three of the fund’s candidates as they struggle to rise out of poverty through education.

Inspirational scenes:

When the Swedish benefactor, a Jewish refugee from Germany named Hilde Back, finds out the life that her monthly checks have given Mburu.
When Mburu gives his benefactor a “Harvard mom” sweater.
When a class of Kenyan students anxiously take a test that will determine if they qualify for secondary education.
When Kimami receives the scholarship that makes further schooling possible.
When the closing credits reveal that the documentary crew sponsored two heartbroken students who didn’t qualify for the scholarship.

The director’s accomplishment:
This is Jennifer Arnold’s first feature documentary film, shot in a village where she didn’t speak the language, at a time when the tribal massacres following Kenya’s 2008 presidential election plagued the country. Arnold stumbled across this story after trying to sponsor a child in Kenya, and filmed it using only one camera and a low budget: a truly astonishing feat.

-Nicole Glass

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