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Film’s power to provoke social change

Sab­rina Chammas

Sab­rina ChammasAS’10, believes in using the power of doc­u­men­tary film­making as a tool to pro­voke pos­i­tive social change. “The most inter­esting sto­ries,” she explains, “are those that encourage the viewer to get off the couch and act.”

Her pas­sion for pro­ducing socially con­scious films dates back to her under­grad­uate career in Northeastern’s com­mu­ni­ca­tion studies pro­gram, which offers a variety of courses in media and film pro­duc­tion. There, Chammas honed her sto­ry­telling skills by training her lens on topics ranging from the dan­gers of stalking to the lives of the street chil­dren in Lebanon, where she grew up.

As a grad­uate stu­dent in film pro­duc­tion at the Uni­ver­sity of Southern Cal­i­fornia, she pro­duced sev­eral thesis doc­u­men­taries, including a lyrical take on a Mariachi family living in Los Angeles. For doc­u­men­tar­ians, she says, “The eas­iest way to effect change is to look around your com­mu­nity and find sto­ries that need to be told.”

Over the past two years, Chammas has worked on projects with mass appeal and wide­spread social impli­ca­tions. In 2013, she served as the exec­u­tive assis­tant on an Oscar-​​nominated doc­u­men­tary called The Square, which tells the story of a group of young Egyptian rev­o­lu­tion­aries who put their lives on the line to battle the Middle East’s largest standing army. Today, she is pro­ducing a character-​​based doc­u­men­tary called Looking at the Stars, which focuses on the lives of three blind bal­lerinas in Brazil who prac­tice at the world’s only ballet com­pany for the visu­ally impaired. Her job includes man­aging the film’s budget, hiring the crew, applying for grants, and dis­trib­uting the fin­ished product.

In March, Stars received a $10,000 cash award from HBO and the National Asso­ci­a­tion of Latino Inde­pen­dent Pro­ducers, which aims to sup­port the growth of social com­men­tary by Latino doc­u­men­tar­ians. Chammas, who con­nected with the film’s Brazilian director in grad­uate school, says the crew is hoping to raise an addi­tional $260,000 to help pay for ser­vices like film scoring and subtitling.

She firmly believes in the film’s social value, noting that its goal is to shed light on an oft-​​overlooked seg­ment of society. “The blind com­mu­nity has been very mar­gin­al­ized and por­trayed as inca­pable or even stupid,” Chammas explains. “We want to show what blind people can do despite the chal­lenges they face.”

Once com­plete, the crew’s plan is to submit the film to promi­nent fes­ti­vals like Sun­dance and Cannes. “We have high hopes that it will get a lot of world­wide atten­tion,” Chammas says.

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