“I’ve been filming in Afghanistan since 2005. I always wanted to make a movie about Afghan girls but I couldn’t figure out how to get them on film.” This is how Carol Dysinger describes her launching point for her short documentary, “Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl),” in our recent webchat (watch the video above). It was only after she heard about the institution of Skateistan, the subject of another short in 2010, that the picture of how to achieve this became much clearer. When A&E approached her about making a piece about Skateistan from a young woman’s perspective, Dysinger knew that it was not something she could turn down. “I had been going there for so long, I knew there was a way with skateboarding that I could really get you to see these girls for who they really are.”
Dysinger received her first Oscar nomination earlier this month when the short made it into the race for Best Documentary Short Subject. It focuses on the girls who attend the Skateistan program which not only provides these young women with a basic education but also gives them a chance to build their confidence through learning how to skateboard. Along with meeting and getting to know the hopes and dreams of the girls who attend the school, we also get to know the instructors and leaders of the institute along with the obstacles and threats they have to overcome in order to keep the program up and running.
Having filmed in Afghanistan for so long, Dysinger has a huge affinity for the country singling out the rich history of poetry in the country that not many Westerners realize. She recalled one instance in which she traveled to a remote area with the military to dig a well, saying, “I would have my translator turn to the older men and say, ‘What would Hafez say upon this occasion?’ And this old guy would stick his hand behind his back and start declaiming Hafez. I just loved it.'” The experience reminded her of her grandfather, an Italian immigrant who couldn’t read or write but was able to quote Dante at length. Dysinger also expresses her hope that things in that country will calm down so others can see it the way she does. “I just they could get five minutes of peace so I could take all my friends over there, feed them and show them this beautiful place,” she elaborates.
In receiving this Oscar nomination, Dysinger has seen her career come around full circle. She was the recipient of a Student Academy Award in 1977, presented to her by Frank Capra, no less. “I was young enough to think that meant that the hard part was over… because I had absolutely no idea about the lack of women in the director’s chair.” She added, “Whoever said it was a glass ceiling is wrong. It’s see-through but it’s not glass.” By the time she reached her 40s, she began teaching thinking she was done with filmmaking. However, her teaching job afforded her the opportunity to go to Afghanistan, make films about the country and now be nominated for an Oscar for it. She summarizes the whole thing by saying, “It was wonderful news but it had a lot of poetic ramifications, if you know what I mean.”
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