By Patricia Reaney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A new feature film that debuted in U.S. theaters this week explores the link between improving education for girls in poor countries around the globe and the battle against poverty.
"Girl Rising" blends documentary and narrative filmmaking to focus on the impact of education on the lives of nine girls from Cambodia, India, Afghanistan, Egypt, Ethiopia, Peru, Sierra Leone, Nepal and Haiti.
"In the film you have real girls essentially playing themselves in some fictionalized stories from their own lives," Richard E. Robbins, the film's American director, told Reuters in an interview. "These are true stories re-imagined to focus on the essential humanity of the girls."
Each girl's story was written by an author from her own country and is narrated by actresses including Cate Blanchett, Selena Gomez, Anne Hathaway, Salma Hayek, Meryl Streep and others.
The stories include a young Nepali girl forced to work as a bonded laborer, a child bride wed to a much older man and a Haitian girl made homeless by the 2010 earthquake who is determined to return to school.
"They are all in varying, different circumstances," said Robbins. "Some of them are in school. Some of them are out of school. They are all struggling with the obstacles that tens of millions of girls in the world are struggling with - to get to school, to stay in school, to learn."
The 43-year-old former journalist said until he started to do research into poverty he had no idea about its link to girls' education, or how little that link was understood outside the development community.
"What kept coming back to me in my research about useful ways to end global poverty was girl's education," said Robbins, whose 2007 documentary, "Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience," was nominated for an Academy Award.
Studies have shown that efforts to educate girls in poor nations generally lead to improved health, delayed marriage and childbirth and increased earning potential, all of which help to boost an economy.
"Investing in girls' education is one of the most effective ways to reduce poverty. Investments in secondary school education for girls yields especially high dividends," according to the United Nations Population Fund.
"Girl Rising" will be released on demand across the United States through the web-based distribution service Gathr, which allows people to request their own screenings of films.
Tickets can be bought for an existing screening or people can organize their own screening by ensuring that a certain number of tickets will be sold.
"This is what the future of independent film distribution looks like, certainly for people who are working on cause-based films," said Robbins, adding he hopes to distribute the film in each of the nine countries where it was filmed.
(Editing by Piya Sinha-Roy and Paul Simao)