Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Women Involved: Sarah Menzies

Photo Credit: Claudia Lopez
Claudia Lopez Photography
Bicycles are something that can give us a sense of freedom and liberation. It's easy to forget that we are fortunate to experience this on a regular basis, without repercussion. Not all women are so lucky.

Meet Sarah Menzies, a woman who is shedding light on the women in Afghan through her documentary: Afghan Cycles 



"I founded my production company Let Media in 2012 and am currently directing Afghan Cycles, a film about the brave women riding bikes in Afghanistan."

Connect with Sarah!

Afghan Cycles

You founded Let Media-it seems filmmaking is a passion of yours. How did you get started?
I studied Broadcasting and Political Science in college because I knew at a young age that I wanted to tell stories. By my mid-twenties, my passion for storytelling resurfaced, so I quit my job and took the leap into filmmaking. So far, a lot of my work has been in the outdoor industry, but Afghan Cycles has been a project that’s crossing into many different industries. I founded my production company, Let Media, in 2012. We are focused on authentic, character driven stories. We produce films as well as freelance commercial video projects.

What do you love about using media to get a message out to the general public?
Film is a powerful way to convey a message to the general public. If it’s done well, an audience will connect with the characters on a personal level which will hopefully lead to them caring about the bigger story or issue. Film is a multi-dimensional format that allows me to share experiences from far off places with people who may never go. Audiences get to experience the sights, sounds, and culture in an intimate way that’s unique to film and video.

Afghan Cycles is the current film you’re working on. Tell us about the project and why it’s important to you.
I’m currently directing Afghan Cycles, which is a feature length documentary about the brave women riding bicycles in Afghanistan. In Western cultures, we take the simple act of riding a bike for granted, but in Afghanistan, it is still considered taboo for women to do. These brave women are up against a lot every time they get on a bike, but you ask them if they want to go on a ride and the answer is always yes. The bicycles offer these women independence which is why I feel it is so important that more women start riding in Afghanistan. It is a vehicle that can get them to school safely and run errands more efficiently. I want this film to be an example for women everywhere - Afghanistan is one of the worst places in the world to be a woman, but if girls are starting to ride there, they can ride everywhere.

What inspires you about the women’s Afghan cycling team?
We are profiling multiple teams throughout the country, and the common thread between all of these brave cyclists is their passion. They are passionate about cycling because of the freedom and joy it gives them, and in an oppressive culture, it’s their passion that inspires me. They’re not riding as intentional change makers or revolutionaries. They are riding because the bicycles gives them independence and freedom, and that is what’s inspired me to make this film.
Photo Credit: Jenny Nichols
Pongo Media
Since you started you film, what’s been the most inspirational or eye-opening experience you’ve had?
We started working on the film 2 years ago. On our first production, we formed such strong relationships with the girls. Getting someone to open up on camera requires a lot of trust, especially when we’re talking about something as taboo as cycling in Afghanistan. It was so difficult to leave and feel unsure about when we would see these women again. But returning this Fall, it felt so good to see them again and pick up where we left off. In the last two year, this story has evolved so quickly with many more women getting on bikes throughout the country. The trust we had created with the original team allowed us to further develop their portion of the film while opening up connections to the other cyclists. Afghans are such a welcoming community of people, and the relationships we’ve built over there is what makes this such a powerful story. I hope we’re able to convey that with the final product.

Who are the women who are helping you with this project, what are their roles, and why is their help and work so important?
No film is ever a one-person job, so it was important to me from the start that I surround myself with the right people to tell this story. Jenny Nichols has joined us as a Producer and Director of Photography. She is the brave soul who is climbing into the edit cave with me this winter to start piecing the film together. Shannon Galpin is a Producer on the film as well as the founder of our partnering nonprofit. She has been working in Afghanistan for the last 8 years and her knowledge and insight into the culture has been imperative. Through her nonprofit, Mountain2Mountain, she is working directly with the cycling teams in Afghanistan to support them in getting the best training and gear possible. Anna Brones is another Producer on the project. Her writing skills and social media savviness has been an instrumental tool in building out audience and partnerships.

That is the core team, but there are countless others who have played big roles in moving the project forward.

Do you cycle? If so, what do you love about it and why is it important to you?
If you do not, what is your impression of cycling since filming and why do you feel it’s an important asset for women? (or people in general)
I wish I could say that the brave Afghan cyclists have inspired me to ride my bike every day, but that’s still something I’m working on. I do not consider myself a cyclist, but I do like running errands on my bike when I can. I’m also getting into mountain biking, but I have a long ways to go before I call myself a “mountain biker.” The bicycle is an incredible tool because it is the most efficient vehicle out there. These cyclists are normalizing the bike culture in Afghanistan, and as more women begin to ride, it will make commuting faster and safer for them.

What is so important about women being involved with cycling?   
Women participating in sport is important for so many reasons - exercise, recreation, healthy competition. Cycling is unique because it’s public and visible, unlike most other sports. These women are breaking gender barriers every time they get on a bike. They’re not the first women to ride bikes, but they are the ones who are igniting a cultural shift in their country.

What do you hope to accomplish with this film? What would you like the take-away to be?
My primary goal with this film is to bring in more support for the brave cyclists in Afghanistan. By supporting them, they will have the proper resources to get more women on bikes throughout their country which will contribute to normalizing their sport. My second goal with the film is to show the world that if women can be getting on bikes in Afghanistan, they can be getting on bikes everywhere, encouraging more women to experience the independence and freedom that the bicycle offers. We are building out a distribution strategy for the film that will include a campaign around getting more women on bikes and we’re really excited about the partnerships we’re making to achieve that.

Photo Credit: Jenny Nichols
Pongo Media
Where do you hope the future of women’s cycling goes?
There’s a really exciting shift happening right now as we see more women getting on bikes throughout the world. There are so many nonprofits and companies who are actively working to encourage more women to start cycling, and I hope this continues.

Tell us something random about yourself that people may or may not know about you!
I just rescued a dog named Hatchi, and I have a feeling she will do wonders to our edit cave this winter.

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