February 25, 2019
SCA Alums Win Best Short Documentary Oscar
Period. End of Sentence. chronicles the issues women face when their periods are considered taboo
By Andrea Ngeleka
When your first project out of film school takes you straight to the Academy Awards, there’s a lot to celebrate. Production division alums Rayka Zehtabchi and Sam Davis, who both graduated from the undergrad program in 2016, and Helen Yenser, who will graduate from the Wells Writing Division in May, made it to the Oscar stage last night when their film Period. End of Sentence. took the award in the Documentary Short Subject category. Zehtabchi directed the film, Davis is cinematographer and editor, and Yenser is an executive producer. “I can’t believe a film about menstruation just won an Oscar,” a delighted Zehtabchi said to a standing ovation crowd in the Dolby theatre. She accepted the award with producer Melissa Berton, a teacher at the Oakwood School in Los Angeles, who first conceived of the documentary with her students.
The film tells the story of a small village outside Delhi, India, where women acquired a machine that allows them to make quality, affordable pads so that they didn’t have to stay home from school or work when they got their periods. The machine was paid for by The Pad Project, a program that started at Oakwood to raise money to donate pad machines in places where girls are likely to drop out of school when their periods begin. The rallying cry for the project, and the film is: “A period should end a sentence, not a girl’s education.”
On February 6th, Zehtabchi and Davis returned to the School of Cinematic Arts for a screening of the film, and a discussion, as part of the “Our Voices” series sponsored by the School of Cinematic Arts Council for Diversity & Inclusion. They were joined in the post screening discussion by Yenser, who was one of the originators of The Pad Project when she was an Oakwood student, and SCA professor, award-winning documentarian Douglas Blush, who also executive produced. The discussion was moderated by SCA Professor Mark Jonathan Harris.
Zehtabchi and Davis talked about being recruited for the film by producer Garrett Schiff, an Oakwood alum, whose daughter was also on The Pad Project team. They traveled to India twice to shoot footage, working with an organization called Action India to follow women in Kathikheda, a small village in Hapur, outside Delhi, as they received the pad machine, learned how to use it, and set up a business manufacturing and selling the pads. Fielding questions from Harris and the audience they discussed the difficulties of making a film in a language you don’t speak, in an international location, with a small budget. Revealing that they didn’t really take a salary to make the project, Zehtabchi said she worked as an Uber driver to make ends meet as she and Davis were assembling and editing the film. “Two days ago we went to the Oscars Nominees Luncheon and it was like us and every famous actor,” Davis told the audience. “Rayka said when we pulled up to where the event was that she used to drop people off there when she was working for Uber while we were still cutting the film. And that was a year ago.”
When the film got the Oscar nomination, it was quickly acquired by Netflix, which began a publicity campaign focused on its social impact mission. “They’ve been taking such good care of the whole team and really helping push the awards campaign,” said Zehtabchi. “We’re so grateful because Netflix has such a huge presence worldwide. I mean we originally made this film so that we could spread awareness about this issue and now it’s gonna be playing in over 300 countries forever.”
Blush, who was brought in as a consultant to work on tightening up the film’s narrative, told the audience he knew from the start that it had a shot at an Oscar. “There’s a charmed life to this film that when I first saw it I was just amazed at the story. All the elements were there, all the great beats, all the material was in the cut. But it was long. And I remember saying to them that if we really workshop this and we get this into true fighting shape, we Rocky this thing out, we have a real shot at the Oscars. And everybody looked at me like I was insane but I know the DNA when I see it, ” said Blush.
He was right. And Period. End of Sentence. is now an Academy Award-winning film.
See Rayka Zehtabchi and producer Melissa Berton’s acceptance speech HERE.
Period. End of Sentence. is now streaming on Netflix.
Top Photo: From Left: Director Rayka Zehtabchi, Mandakini Kakar of Action India, Sneha who is featured in the film, and producer Melissa Berton, pose on the Oscar red carpet. | Credit: Liv Moore, Netflix
Middle Photo: From Left: Professor Mark Jonathan Harris, Director Rayka Zehtabchi, Cinemtographer Sam Davis, and Exec. Producers Helen Yenser and Douglas Blush at SCA for a post-screening discussion of Period. End of Sentence. | Credit: Carrell Augustus
Bottom Photo: Melissa Berton (left) and Rayka Zehtabchi (right) and their Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject | Credit: AP