Documentaries

PERIOD. END OF SENTENCE.

The Netflix film that started a movement

When Period. End of Sentence. won the Academy Award for best documentary short in 2019, the film’s producer, Melissa Berton took her place on the Dolby Stage, Oscar in hand, and boldly stated, “A period should end a sentence, not a girl’s education.” That declaration sparked a worldwide conversation about menstrual justice.

Period. End of Sentence., the Oscar winning, visually rich, 26-minute film, tells the story of the women of Katikhera, a remote village in the Hapur district outside of New Delhi, India. It chronicles how attitudes toward menstruation change and the stigma surrounding it shifts when the women set up a pad-manufacturing enterprise in their village and establish economic autonomy for themselves. In the first few minutes of Period. End of Sentence, two pre-teen girls melt into giggles of embarrassment when asked to discuss their period. One woman, a village elder, calls menstruation “dirty blood” and a mysterious illness. The film’s protagonist, Sneha, an aspiring police officer, resents the rule that women are not allowed to enter the temple when they are menstruating.

When the pad machine first arrives, the women are eager and committed.  The film documents the beginnings of the microeconomy they create with the installation of the pad-making machine and the opportunity to sell their pads throughout their district. The project quickly evolves into a small business, and they start to sell the eco-friendly pads to other women at affordable prices. Six months later, we learn that the women made about 18,000 pads that they then packaged and marketed under their brand name “FLY,” because they want women “to soar.” The presence of the pad machine not only launched an enterprise, but in doing so, the women of Kathikhera also began to break societal stigmas surrounding menstruation and become respected entrepreneurs in the eyes of their village. By the film’s end, even the men are engaged in making pads!

First screened at film festivals across the U.S. in 2018, Period. End of Sentence. won numerous awards. It then premiered on Netflix in February 2019 and that same year, went on to take home an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject. The documentary raises awareness about the importance of menstrual health education and social entrepreneurship for women.

How did a group of students at Oakwood School in North Hollywood, CA, their teacher Melissa Berton, and director Rayka Zehtabchi find themselves winning an Academy Award? 

In 2013, Melissa took her students to New York City to serve as delegates to the Annual Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations. There they learned about period poverty and the impact of taboos around menstruation. They discovered that girls their own age were dropping out of school and denied an education because of the lack of access to period care products> They also learned about a practical solution.  Arunachalam Muruganantham, an inventor and entrepreneur from South India, had created a low-cost sanitary pad making machine. Determined to shine a spotlight on period poverty, Melissa and her students returned to Los Angeles, decided to raise money to fund the placement of a pad machine in a partner community, and film the installation of the machine. The Oakwood students raised over $55,000 through fundraisers, bake sales, and two Kickstarter campaigns to purchase a sanitary pad machine. They hired director Rayka Zehtabchi and partnered with Action India, a grassroots women’s empowerment organization working in Katikhera, to document the process in what would become Period. End of Sentence. In that memorable Oscar moment, Melissa and Rayka caught the attention of 29.6 million home viewers, 3,400 A-listers in the Hollywood audience, blew-up Twitter, and Melissa came home to an email box flooded with queries and requests for interviews. A movement to educate the public and raise awareness about period poverty and menstrual inequality was launched, transforming the lives of thousands of women along the way.

The Pad Project team maintains a strong partnership with Action India and continues to work with them to install pad machines and spread menstrual health education in India. The Pad Project has now placed pad machines in Afghanistan, Kenya, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. They have also implemented washable pad programs in The Bahamas, Ghana, Guatemala, Kenya, Sierra Leone, and Uganda. 

Melissa remains proud that the film sparked a worldwide conversation about the taboo topic of menstruation. The freedom women achieve through pad use and the economic opportunity that the sales of period products provide, encourages women to get educated, raise their standard of living, and train for careers. As Executive Director of The Pad Project, Melissa is steadfast in her work to continue this conversation since, “Too many people believe that period poverty is something that only happens ’out there’ in low-income countries. When in fact, the U.S. lags behind many low-income countries when it comes to addressing period poverty.” Melissa is proud that in the U.S., The Pad Project provides monetary grants to nonprofits, grassroots organizations, schools, and school districts to help them purchase and distribute menstrual products to the people they serve. So far, The Pad Project has partnered with 15+ NGOs in 9 states and 7 schools/school districts in 5 states. Grants from The Pad Project have allowed U.S. partners to distribute 180,000+ menstrual products to 10,500+ individuals in need in the last 2 years.

LONG LINE OF LADIES

Celebrating a girl’s transition into womanhood

After the success of Period. End of Sentence., executive producer Melissa Berton, directors Rayka Zehtabchi, Shaandiin Tome, and The Pad Project team began their search for a story that portrayed menstruation in a more positive, and celebratory light. They partnered with the Allen family, members of the Karuk tribe in Northern California, which celebrates a young girl’s first menstrual cycle and transition into womanhood with a sacred Ihuk ceremony also known as the Karuk Flower Dance. Long Line of Ladies, made in association with The Pad Project, follows Ahtyirahm “Ahty” Allen (13 years-old), as she, her family, and her community prepare for her Ihuk ceremony, an intimate, centuries-old tradition in which everyone, women and men, participate with song, dance, and pride. 

The documentary short illuminates the inherent beauty and power of this once-dormant coming of age ceremony and honors this tribal celebration of menstruation by following the Allen family as they prepare for Ahty’s Ilhuk. The family and their larger spiritual community work together, as everyone plays a part in the ceremony to help Ahty’s transition into womanhood.

While filming, Rayka and Shaandiin noticed that as you walk through the Allen’s home, the walls are filled with photographs of all the different generations of women who have gone through the Ihuk ceremony. They found inspiration for the film’s title when they read the poem, “Long Line of Ladies,” by Brian Tripp, Ahty’s great uncle.

She’s from a long line of ladies
one part river one part land
weaving the world strand by strand.

Long Line of Ladies is currently on the 2022 film festival circuit. Since its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2022, it has won the South by Southwest (SXSW) Jury Award in March, the Seattle International Film Festival Jury Award in April, and the Golden Gate Award at the San Francisco Film Festival in May.

To support the Karuk community, The Pad Project partnered with the Native Cultures Fund at the Humboldt Area Foundation to establish a fund to support the cultural revitalization of coming of age ceremonies in indigenous communities.