Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker Carol Dysinger talks women-supported communities and the making of her career

Since filmmaker Carol Dysinger found out that her documentary short was nominated for an Oscar last week, she’s been flown all over the country for press and screenings.

For her short, “Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl),” Dysinger spent time with Skateistan School House and Skate Park. Here, in Kabul, Afghanistan, children of all genders can learn to skateboard, as well as to read and write. The young girls’ self-awareness reveals the unbelievable resilience it takes for them to come to these classes each day. In one of their Skateistan classes, a teacher asks the girls to define “courage.” A girl says, “Courage is when someone goes to school and studies.” Another explains that leaving the house to go to skateboarding class is scary, but it’s her only choice. She wouldn’t consider any other option.

The charm of the students’ skateboarding stumbles and victories is tinged bittersweet: their mothers and grandmothers had nothing close to these opportunities, and it will likely be hard for the girls to maintain these freedoms as they become women. In their hours at Skateistan, they get the rare opportunity to focus on their own growth, not on chores or brothers or strict family expectations. “I don’t want to grow up so I can skateboard forever,” says one girl.

I spoke with Dysinger to ask her about her experience as a documentary filmmaker and, newly, as an Oscar campaigner. Dysinger won a Student Academy Award for a short she made in college. That award is prestigious, and usually people who win it will later get the opportunity to make features, but this isn’t how it played out for Dysinger. After two decades of working as a screenwriter and editor, Dysinger was sick of Hollywood. “Whoever said that ceiling is made out of glass, it is not,” she says dryly, implying it’s made of something much tougher.

When Dysinger moved on to teaching film at NYU Tisch, she decided she would be the mentor she didn’t have. She found she really loved this role, and it gave her the financial freedom to start making documentaries in Afghanistan. While on an early visit, she spoke to a young boy in a military hospital who had been badly hurt by a warning shot from an unknown Western convoy that had been running through his neighborhood on the last night of Ramadan. Years later when she returned to try to find the boy, Dysinger discovered that he had died, and she spoke to his family instead. Dysinger found herself drawn to the boys’ mother, who was the same age as she was. Likewise, the boy’s mother was curious about Dysinger, about what in their experiences may have been the same, if so much of it was so different. Dysinger remarks now on the welcoming quality she found in the secluded women’s world in this family. “Someone hands you a baby, and you get pulled into the women’s life when you’re in the women’s room no matter who you are as long as you’re a woman,” says Dysinger. She made the boy’s family’s story into a feature, One Bullet Afghanistan, which is seeking funding for post-production.

With “Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl),” Dysinger zoomed in on another women-supporting community, and watched how girls can grow and thrive within it. Now, “Learning to Skateboard” is network A&E’s first Oscar nomination, and Dysinger is doing everything she can to carry this momentum, to spread Skateistan’s story and to keep telling stories like it.

You can watch “Learning to Skate in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)” on A&E. If you’d like to donate to support Dysinger’s feature documentary One Bullet Afghanistan, find that information here.

Featured image courtesy of A+E Networks

© Amelie Lasker (1/21/2020) FF2 Media

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Amelie Lasker
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Contributing Editor Amelie Lasker joined FF2 Media in early 2016 after graduating from Columbia University where she studied English and history. She has written plays and had readings for Columbia’s student-written theatre company Nomads, edited the blog for Columbia’s film journal Double Exposure, and worked on film crews and participated in workshops at Columbia University Film Productions. She spent junior year abroad at Cambridge University, where she had many opportunities for student playwrights to see their work produced. 
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