Friday, December 18, 2009

Happy Holidays!


As 2009 comes to a close, I want to take this time to thank those of you who have supported me and my work on behalf of women and young people. Whether as a colleague, a friend, an audience member, or a supporter, I couldn't have asked for a better year in being able to do the work I care so deeply about. As a colleague of mine said last night, "2009 was your year" and it was! It would not have been possible without the support I receive from so many of you.

As Maya Angleou wrote, "If one is lucky, a solitary fantasy can totally transform one million realities."

Thank you for helping me realize the power of a dream.

Many thanks and happy holidays!



Highlights of 2009
- April 2009: Premiered "Not Yet Rain", a short film on unsafe abortion, produced in association with Ipas
- May 2009: Traveled to the Cannes Film Festival with the pitch reel for my new film, "The Parliament of One" on US-UN relations.
- May 2009: Received the Emmy® Award in the "Outstanding Advanced Media Interactivity" category for "Bi-Racial Hair" starring Zora Howard and produced as part of the WGBH Lab with the National Black Programming Consortium.
- June/July 2009: Keynote at nine National Youth Leadership Forum conferences in Boston, Philadelphia, DC, Atlanta with "Love, Labor, Loss", on obstetric fistula in Niger.
- August 2009: Filmmed in Northern Uganda for "YOUTH ZONES", a film and poetry initiative with UNFPA and Women's Refugee Commission.
- September 2009: Filmmed exclusive interview footage with Pete O'Neal in Tanzania in preparation for a book/script on his life story.
- September/October 2009: Filmmed at the UN General Assembly and completed second round of interviews for "The Parliament of One."
- November 2009: Invited to join the Editorial Committee for the Maternal Health Task Force.

2010 Projections
- Develop and launch - a film and new media initiative to increase civic engagement to meet MDG Five on maternal health.
- Premiere "YOUTH ZONES", a film and poetry initiative with UNFPA and Women's Refugee Commission profiling young people in conflict and natural disasters in Liberia, Lebanon, Colombia, New Orleans and Northern Uganda.
- Research and development with award-winning choreographer, Tamilla Woodard and activist Joao Brando, on a live theater piece focused on sexual violence in the DR Congo and the Conflict Mineral Trade Act introduced by Representative Jim McDermott.
- Continue fundraising for production funds for "The Parliament of One" and "Myth of the Motherland."

Show your support of independent artists: Make a tax-free donation.
As independent filmmakers, we spend more of time raising funds than actually working on the projects we care about. Governess Films can definitely use your support to keep our projects moving.

If you are interested in making a tax-free donation to Lisa Russell's independent documentary projects, please visit the following sites:

And choose either,

"The Parliament of One"
"Myth of the Motherland"

Thank you!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Lisa Russell's Film Blog: Conversations for a Better World BLOG POSTING

I posted a blog entry on Conversations for a Better World about the making of LOVE, LABOR, LOSS, my documentary on obstetric fistula.

"Laboring in Poverty: A Global Problem Caught on Film"

Please click here to read and join the conversation!

Conversations for a Better World BLOG POSTING

Please read this blog entry I posted on Conversations for a Better World and share your thoughts.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009 and "The Parliament of One"

This week is "UN Week" and so it feels timely to share two new film projects in the works related to the United Nations.

In my years of working as a humanitarian aid worker and as a consultant/filmmaker to many UN/NGO agencies, I have found that the general public knows very little about the inner-workings of the United Nations. My two new projects intend to combine my global health background with my work in documentary film and new media to spark dialogue and increase civic engagement with the world body.

"The Parliament of One", which received development funds from the Paul Robeson Fund for Independent Media and the Community Foundation of Georgia is a new feature-length documentary currently in production that explores the complex but important issue of US-UN relations. We've been interviewing some of the UN's most well-known voices who have very different perspectives on how America should interact with the United Nations. is a film and new media site that is in development and is intended to address the UN Millennium Development Goal Number 5 which focuses on improving maternal health. will provide online resources and tools to increase civic engagement in meeting the goals of MDG Five - reducing maternal mortality and improving women's accesss to reproductive health services. Although an estimated 500,000 women die in pregnancy related complications per year, MDG Five is the only Millennium Development Goal that has not made progress since 2000. A talented team of creative and technical experts are dedicated to changing this.

Both projects moved forward last month when we had the opportunity to attend and film at the United Nations General Assembly.

We are always looking for partners, co-sponsors, investors, etc for the many projects we have in the works. If you're interested in discussing how you can get involved, please feel free to contact me at

Thanks again for your support.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Filming in Northern Uganda

Hello from East Africa!

I've just wrapped the fifth and final shoot for "Youth Zones", a project I'm doing in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Women's Refugee Commission (formerly the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children.)

The film profiles several young people who are doing extraordinary things in their communities after conflict and/or natural disaster. We've filmmed in Liberia, Lebanon, Colombia, New Orleans and just completed the shoot in Northern Uganda, where young people, many of whom were abducted by rebels, have taken charge of combating the AIDS epidemic in their communities.

What has been so amazing about this project is its focus on allowing young people to speak for themselves. The film only showcases youth voices and has no experts or adults talking on behalf of youth.

As educators, health care workers, artists, peace activists and others, ranging from ages 15-25, the young people in the film speak of the challenges they face - in terms of accessing services and overcoming the burdens that fall on the shoulders of youth in crises - and they illustrate how, when given the support and resources they need, can rise above such challenges to build healthier lives and societies.

The film will be accompanied by a new media website as well as advocacy packets and will be largely distributed to donors, policy makers, student activists and others. We anticipate launching the project towards the end of the year.

As always, thanks for your support and interest.


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Nicholas Kristoff's "Half the Sky" Contest

Nicholas Kristoff - known for bringing attention to the plight of women worldwide through his column in the NY Times - has posted a contest to highlight the work of individuals and agencies committed to empowering women.

I uploaded a few photos and posted the following comment. Please login and share your views. And if you buy the hard copy of the NY Times that comes out TODAY (August 23rd), check out the fancy ad that was posted by Ipas on the film I just completed with them ("Not Yet Rain" which can be viewed at

As a documentary filmmaker with a Masters in Public Health who shoots and distributes films on global women’s health issues, it would be impossible for me to identify one or two organizations or individuals who are doing amazing work. This is simply because I have come across countless in my travels that range from youth activists, local NGOs, artists and others.

Instead what I’d like to offer is my perspective on the role that each of us have and that each of us can contribute in the movement to empower women and save their lives. Because while not everyone can pick up and travel to volunteer in resource-poor countries, we can collectively create a global shift in consciousness and therefore action to protect women.

I believe that in this great, beautiful world, we are all interconnected and if we find some synchronicity with our own interests, lifestyles, priorities, we could actually make the world a better place.

To give an example, what I do is work with UN and NGO agencies to document, via video and photographs, the work and issues that are happening on the ground in very remote places around the world. I travel alone to capture the life of women who are facing insurmountable challenges including accessing safe motherhood programs (that will prevent obstetric fistulas, stillbirths, and deaths and disabilities from unsafe abortions) and create a better life for their children (ensuring they have access to education, and are free from the risks of sexual violence.)

I bring these stories back and collaborate with musicians - both local and international - to help relay an authentic emotional experience. I also try to engage them in the issue so that their audiences become an audience for the causes in the film.

Once the film is done, I work with student activist groups and youth leadership programs like Americans for Informed Democracy, Planned Parenthood, Population Connection, National Youth Leadership Forums and and others to screen the film and also distribute the film so that others can take ownership of the films in their own communities.

The agencies I have worked with have also used the film to educate and influence policymakers to support legislation that supports programs and services to help women live healthy and productive lives.

What has evolved in a rather small, but important community working together to promote women’s health and wellbeing. Funds have been raised to support programs that give free medication to people living with AIDS, eyes have been opened to the tragedies of obstetric and traumatic fistulas, a condition that will receive no support if no one knows about them, and innovative uses of the web (like Ipas’ new site, have helped to connect people around a cause.

What I would encourage your readers to do is find the area of their lifes and personalities that can contribute to this growing movement, whether its screening a film, talking with friends, giving a donation or supporting socially-conscious artists and community organizers who are sacrificing their time to do good work.

And together we will create a more equitable world for women that we can all take ownership of.

Thank you,
Lisa Russell

Northern Uganda shoot completed for YOUTH ZONES

Marino conducts AIDS education workshop in small IDP camp.

I am very happy to report that I have completed the last of five shoots for YOUTH ZONES, a project I'm working on with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Women's Refugee Commission.

The project is an advocacy video and new media website that captures the amazing work that young people are doing to rehabilitate their communities after conflict and/or natural disaster. I have filmmed in Liberia, Colombia, Lebanon and New Orleans and as of yesterday, completed the segment in Northern Uganda.

What I have witnessed her is that although 20-years of war have kept young people from completing their education, getting health care services and threatened their safety (many have been abducted by rebels and held in captivity), there are many who are addressing the growing problem of the HIV/AIDS problem by becoming peer counselors, working in youth centers and helping those in camps get access to education, testing and condoms. The work they are doing in spite of the challenges they are facing post-conflict and amidst great poverty is inspiring and hopeful.

I'll be returning to NYC soon to start final editing of the project. The film is expected to be completed in late October and will be screened at conferences, festivals and gatherings as well as distributed to donors and policymakers to encourage more support for youth-driven programs. I'll post when the film is ready for distribution.

Denis is a former abductee whose mother died of AIDS and now helps his grandmothers take care of the family while he tries to complete his education.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The best thank you speech I have ever received EVER!!

Every summer, I have the opportunity to be a keynote speaker at national youth conferences which attract thousands of young leaders and high schoolers who are interested in medicine and/or public health as a career. I really value these opportunities, because it allows me to have conversations with some of the brightest, most dedicated young people from all over America and around the world who are committed to service to others. As a bonus, many of them take my films back to their communities and do screenings/fundraisers which helps get the messages out there...using their own words. I've keynoted for almost six years now and still hear from many students who are now in college or medical school.

After each keynote and a Q&A, a young person is selected to say a thank you speech and present me with a small gift. During my last keynote this summer in DC, my voice was gone, the A/V stopped working but I continued on with an enlightening conversation with young people from India, Lebanon, Puerto Rico, etc. I was floored by the poetic thank you speech I received. I thought I would share it because inspiring young people is one of the most beautiful rewards I get from my work.

Washington, DC
July 20, 2009

On behalf of the Global Youth Leadership Council, I, "N.S." from New Delhi, India, would like to thank Ms. Lisa Russell for sharing her insight with us and for showing us that wonderful documentary, LOVE, LABOR, LOSS. Her comments on and movie about obstetric fistula completely mesmerized not only me, but all the other people around me in this audience and I'm so happy to be here.

It helped me to consider the fact that all of us, we are the select few, the lucky few, who get a chance to go to schools and colleges, and get a good education, while millions are below the poverty line and can't even afford to go and get educated. And I feel it is our responsibility to help these people. I always felt that the quotation, "WITH GREAT POWER COMES GREAT RESPONSIBILITY" was really corny. But tonight, when I saw it in action, through the life and work of this talented and passionate young director, I felt immensely inspired. Her speech showed me the strength of human spirit because even though the women in her documentary were segregated due to their condition, they came together to help each other.

Ma'am, you may not have a husband, you may have a golden Emmy, you have more passport stamps that anyone else in this room, but the "Golden Heart" that you have is brighter than any Emmy or any Oscar. You don't know how much you have inspired us today with your speech, in which you told us about sacrifices that you have made, and I can say on behalf of all the 198 scholars present here tonight, that YOU ARE OUR HERO.

(And if I was old enough, I swear I would have definitely proposed to you right now!)

In India, we touch the feet of our elders to show our respect, so now I'd like to touch her feet and ask for her blessings, and then present her with a small token of our love and appreciation.

Thank you,

Monday, July 6, 2009

Winning the Emmy Award for "Bi-Racial Hair"

Interview on WUNC (North Carolina Public Radio)

As described on their site:

"Not Yet Rain: Abortion politics in the United States often obscure the more unsettling truths about women’s reproductive health care in developing countries. For example, unsafe abortion is still a leading cause of maternal death in Africa. Filmmaker Lisa Russell hopes to shed some light on the issue with her new film, “Not Yet Rain,” which is screening at the Durham Arts Center tonight. She joins host Frank Stasio by phone to share stories from her time filming in Ethiopia."

Here's the link:

and the trailer:

Friday, June 19, 2009

ITVS Blog: Filmmaker Lisa Russell Wins Boston/New England Emmy Award for BI-RACIAL HAIR

Check out the article posted on the ITVS blog by visiting

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

And the winner is...

I guess it's true that hard work does pay off.

Two nights ago, I had the honor of walking across the stage of the 32nd Annual Boston/New England Emmy® Awards to accept my first Emmy® Awards in the "Outstanding Advanced Media Interactivity" category for a short film I did called "Bi-Racial Hair".

"Bi-Racial Hair" was one of five films produced for the WGBH Lab and National Black Programming Consortium's "Eviction Notice" Open Call. The five films were to address how slavery and racism still reverberates in the 20th century and asks how do we resolve past wrongs, especially around matters of race?

My film was a satirical look at the racial tensions young people of mixed raced backgrounds face. It took the live spoken word performance of then 13-year old Zora Howard who performed her poem at the 2006 Urban Word NYC Teen Poetry Slam and used it as the thread for the film that included re-enactments with Zora, her parents, and other young poets and then was mixed with archival footage of the civil rights movement.

The interactive element included an online pitch and review process whereby filmmakers posted pitches, then rough cuts for an online audience to review, vote, etc. To check out this Open Call and others, visit

If you would like to view "Bi-Racial Hair", it will be re-broadcasted following "The Order of Myths" on Independent Lens on June 9th. Check your local PBS schedule for details.

Finally, a special thanks to the organization that is close to my heart - Urban Word NYC - who has introduced me to these amazing young people who continue to inspire and impress me with the way they use their words and voice to challenge the social obstacles placed before them. You will be meeting some of them in my independent project, "MYTH OF THE MOTHERLAND" that will be coming out next year. Thanks to Zora for being just an incredible, talented young woman, to Zora's parents as well as Marne, Tahani, Ujjijji and Raquel for their roles in the film. Thanks to Chris Hastings and Brian Retchless from WGBH Lab and Christian Ugbode from NBPC for their help during production. And to all the Open Callers who produced other great shorts. You all deserved to be recognized on the stage that night.

Many thanks,


Tuesday, April 28, 2009


"Bi-Racial Hair" gets an Emmy nod for the Boston/New England area in the category of Advanced Media Interactivity (in other words, new media.) Thanks to WGBH and NBPC.

RHRealityCheck Article on Not Yet Rain

RHRealityCheck does a feature article on "Not Yet Rain".

Visit this link to read it:

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Monday, March 9, 2009

New Film Site and Trailer Launched!!!

It is difficult to convey the real-life impact of unsafe abortion in a way that does justice to women facing impossible reproductive choices in places where abortion is restricted and poverty determines health care options. How much more powerful and informative if these women were given a forum to speak for themselves?

Not Yet Rain, a short film by Lisa Russell in association with Ipas, addresses the issue of unsafe abortion through the voices of women who have faced these difficult choices. Not Yet Rain tells the story of Ethiopian women who are confronted with decisions about unwanted pregnancies. We selected Ethiopia because of the country’s great need and promise. Women in Ethiopia face a one-in-seven chance of dying from pregnancy-related causes. Unsafe abortion is a major contributor to maternal death and disability. However, hope for a brighter future is closer than ever for Ethiopian women. In 2006 a new law was enacted expanding legal indications for abortion, along with significant efforts to increase the availability of high-quality abortion care. Like the promise of rain when the thunder rolls, laws that ease restrictions on women’s access to abortion are a harbinger of change. Help us ensure that the promise is realized.

March 8th, was International Women’s Day, and a trailer of the film was posted on the website, The film will premiere in Washington, DC, on April 7, World Health Day, after which it will be available online for free. We are encouraging anybody who has an interest in women’s reproductive health and rights to organize showings in their communities to raise consciousness about the global problem of unsafe abortion. We are also preparing a toolkit that can be used to develop community events around the film, which will be available on the website.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Feb 4th Diallo Anniversary Film Shoot

Did you know least 163 people have been killed by NYPD since Amadou Diallo?

In commemoration of the 10-year anniversary of the Diallo shooting and in light of the recent Oscar Grant shooting in Oakland, CA, documentary filmmaker, Lisa Russell is producing two spoken word films on police brutality based on award winning poet, Carlos Andrés Gómez's compelling "41" poem and 2008 Urban Word NYC Team (Alexis Marie, Jasmine Nicole Man, Kayan Jewl James and B Yung)''s chilling group piece, "Go Green."

In addition, families and individuals who have personally affected by police brutality will be sharing their stories for the film. The evening will close with advocacy and legal experts explaining young people's rights when confronted by police officers.

We are looking for folks who are interested in sitting in as audience members. This is open to people of all ages but young people are particularly welcome. There will be no compensation as we intend to use the videos for viral grassroots organizing around police brutality.

If you or anyone you know would like to be involved in this event, please email Lisa Russell at

Details below:

DATE: Wednesday, February 4th, 2009
TIME: 6:30pm - 8:30pm (SHARP!)
WHERE: The Point in the Bronx, 940 Garrison Avenue, (718) 542-4139
COST: FREE! But please support The Point by purchasing food and/or beverage at the event

You can view amateur recordings of both poem by visiting and

In solidarity with:

Justice for Jake
October 22 Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation
The Point in the Bronx
Urban Word NYC
Governess Films

Tuesday, January 6, 2009