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Graceland Girls Downloadable Press Kit

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Jordan Salvatoriello, MFA
(e)  ReelChangeGal@Gmail.com
(w) www.GracelandGirlsDocumentary.com
(f)  www.Facebook.com/GracelandGirls
(t)  @jordansal

Original Format: HD Video, DVD
Screening Format: DVD, BluRay, .mov, HDCam
Run Time: 28 mins, 20 secs

Produced, Directed, Edited by Jordan Salvatoriello
Cinematography by Jordan Salvatoriello
Photographs by the students at the Graceland Girls School and by Jordan Salvatoriello
Music by Caleb Gowett
Color Correction by William Rogan and Tim Raycroft
Sound Mix by Vitor Hirtsch
Advisement by Jan Roberts-Breslin, Kathryn Ramey, C.E. Courtney and Marc Fields, Emerson College, Boston, MA

Major Awards

  • Directors Guild of America Jury Prize, November 2012
  • Caucus Producers, Writers and Directors Foundation, Gold Circle Award 2012
  • Diamond Award Winner, California Film Awards, January 2013

Short Synopsis
Educating its adolescent girls has proven to be the cornerstone of Kenyan development, yet so many are denied equal access to education, social and economic equality and respect.  The half-hour documentary Graceland Girls provides an intimate look at how the high school students at Graceland Girls School in central Kenya have, so far, defied the odds.  Using a combination of video and digital photographs – taken by both the subjects and the filmmaker – the girls express the beauty and pressures of empowered Kenyan girlhood and share their personal struggles to find hope for a better future.

Long Synopsis
Educating its adolescent girls has proven to be the cornerstone of Kenyan development, yet so many are still denied equal access to education, social and economic equality and respect.  They are pulled from school to care for the home, labor in the fields or to be married off for a dowry, only to perpetuate the cycle of poverty into which they were born.  The half-hour documentary, Graceland Girls, provides an intimate look at how the secondary (high) school students at Graceland Girls School in central Kenya have, so far, defied the odds.

Using a combination of video and digital photographs – taken by both the subjects and the filmmaker – the girls express the beauty and pressures of empowered Kenyan girlhood.  They diligently struggle to achieve academically, including waking at 4 a.m. each morning to study, and to stay motivated amid burdensome cultural and societal constraints, to give back to their kin and country.

Seen as their last chance for a better fate than that of their parents, their collective stories are both inspiring and heartbreaking.  “I have two more years in school where I could make my life or destroy it,” says Bethany, a Graceland student, as she describes the struggles of her childhood and those of her single mother.  “You know the world will never change, you are the one who is going to change.”

As part of an early crop of Kenyan girls fortunate and bright enough to receive sponsorship to continue on at this uniquely feminist secondary school, some now have unrealistic expectations for their future.  Although they are more likely than their predecessors, it may be that only a handful will ultimately overcome the grinding poverty, and escape their predestined role as laborer and dutiful mother.

In the midst of a Kenyan winter, Zipporah is in her final year of secondary school at Graceland and preparing to take the KCSE exam.  The KCSE exam is a national examination that will determine whether she can continue on to college and whether she qualifies for the government funding she desperately needs.  As the pressure builds, she decides to visit her home in rural Nyeri, a threadbare wood and newspaper structure, commonplace to such agrarian regions, and still occupied by her parents and four of her seven siblings.  Her mother and father express their fears in going against cultural norms, and granting Zipporah’s request to attend secondary school.  “We were scared and had no money,” says Zipporah’s father across the wood dining table laden with metal teacups and chapattis.  The expectation that Zipporah will graduate from secondary school and later financially care for her parents and siblings is palpable, and a common philosophy among those permitted to receive secondary education.  Yet despite these pressures, it is her desired alternative to early marriage and the dangers of adolescent childbearing, which would otherwise be her fate.

Back in the classroom, as the exams draw closer, the girls learn of the rights afforded them as females in Kenya’s hard-fought constitutional amendments and change is in the air.  If the girls are indeed successful, they could join the ranks of the next generation of female leadership in Kenya and provide equal opportunities for both men and women that could create a ripple effect so powerful, it could end the cycle of poverty there.  They express hope for a better future and, with cameras in hand, explore the wonders of nature, importance of friendship and the uniqueness of the human spirit that allows them to carry on.

In developing countries, educating girls and giving them greater say in their own lives and futures, is still considered a revolutionary concept, going against hundreds of years of tradition-fed repression in male centric societies.  At a time when girl education and women’s rights has proven more powerful and effective a global development tool than ever before – and with the desire for change evident among girls – the fate of these Graceland girls is more vital and relevant now than ever.

“Let them get into a position of power, a position of decision-making,” says Graceland Principal, Michael Mutie.  “Let them decide how they would like their country to be ruled…a revolution starts from the ground.”

Production Still Photos

A crowd of young primary school kids, most of whom have never seen a camera before, push their way in front of the lens, undulating in a wave of smiling faces.

Photo by Jordan Salvatoriello

A Graceland student listens intently at a Fellowship gathering, where many thank God for this chance at an education and a better life.

Photo by Jordan Salvatoriello

A student at Graceland Girls School leaves the classroom to head back to the dormitories after an evening study session.

Photo by Jordan Salvatoriello

The Graceland girls take turns interviewing each other in their classroom using HD video FlipCams during a journalism club exercise.

Photo by Jordan Salvatoriello

Zipporah, a Graceland student, wears her school uniform on a rare visit home to her family’s rented farmland in Maragima, Kenya.  She will be the first girl in her family to finish high school.  One of her many sisters leans against the house in the background.

Photo by Jordan Salvatoriello

Zipporah, a Graceland School student finishes a prayer before eating at her parents’ home in Nyeri, Kenya.

Photo by Jordan Salvatoriello

Three of Zipporah’s seven siblings stand outside their home in Nyeri, Kenya as their older sister prepares to return to the Graceland School to finish her final year of high school.

Photo by Jordan Salvatoriello

Two girls at the Graceland School in Nyeri, Kenya share a desk and learn how to use a digital camera during a photography class provided to the school’s journalism club.

Photo by Jordan Salvatoriello

A photo taken by a Graceland Girls School student during an early morning class in the Nyeri District, central Kenya.

Photo by Graceland Girls School student

Director Statement

A little over a year ago, a dear friend told me about the girls at the Graceland School in Central Kenya.  At this unique private boarding school for underprivileged teen girls, students are not only given the rare chance to receive a high school education, but the hope of joining the ranks of the next generation of female leadership in East Africa.  As a woman, a documentary filmmaker and an activist with a keen interest in socially conscious storytelling, I was captivated by the idea of working with these girls and learning of their individual struggles and triumphs.

As I began to more deeply research the situation in Kenya, I found undeniable evidence that educating girls is the most direct and powerful way to impact economic development.  In fact, it creates a ripple effect that can help break the cycle of poverty there.  Yet despite this, many Kenyan girls continue to be denied an education, as well as rights, equality and respect due to deeply rooted cultural and political obstacles.  They are often pulled from school due to poverty, the need for laborers at home or to be married for a dowry.  Even if girls are lucky enough to stay in school, there is often no time to study at home, no food for their stomachs or no source of light to study by.  The girls represented in my film Graceland Girls have, so far, defied these odds.  This is a powerful story, and one I feel can have a powerful impact.

Although I was certain I was taking on a very ambitious project when I first proposed the idea for this film, the blood, sweat and tears that went into its creation, makes it all the more meaningful.  When I began this journey, I was a fledgling filmmaker still fumbling with my video camera.  It seemed appropriate that I was learning a craft alongside the girls.  As they experimented with photography, I experimented with video.  As they learned and worked toward their lofty academic goals, I too worked toward earning my degree.  We were connected on many levels, and that was something I found to be important to the process.

This film is important not only to remind us of what we may take for granted in our own lives, but also where we could invest our resources to make the greatest impact on global development. In addition, I think it will be important for Kenya, as well as other cultures that still deny women and girls equal rights and access to education, to experience stories such as this, and perhaps help create more understanding, support and ultimately educational opportunities and help the ripple effect work its way outward.

Production Notes

“Raising Funds for Maragima Girls to Go to High School”

We were invited out to the Maragima Primary School less than a kilometer from Graceland, where some of Graceland’s finest students once studied, including Zipporah and Catherine whom we had been following during our stay. The school itself was in disrepair and desperately in need of basic renovations, such as cement on the floor in the classrooms and a fix to their leaking water tank where students gleefully filled their drinking containers throughout the morning. Three students shared one book. Some were wearing torn or threadbare uniforms and some were without shoes.

As I threw myself into post-production for Graceland Girls, we decided we wanted to help the girls we had met at the impoverished Maragima School. When we learned that two girls scored the necessary marks on their national exams, we knew finances were the only obstacles keeping them from entering high school. The new Kenyan constitution requires the government to fund education through grade 8, however they do not pay high school tuition. Convinced that a good education could change their lives and perhaps those of future generations, we decided to raise the funds.

In the coming months, through various concerts, screenings and events, we raised the money needed for both girls to complete their four years of high school at Graceland, a total of $12,000, in return for letters and photos indicating their progress.

We’re thrilled and hope we can continue to create awareness around the need for educational opportunities for girls throughout Kenya.

“Noteworthy Preproduction and Production Commentary”

In the spring of 2011, as a struggling MFA student at Emerson College in Boston with no pre-production funds, I decided to host fundraisers for donations of digital cameras, memory cards and batteries, which I could then donate to the school upon my arrival in Kenya. Over a period of two months, I collected over 20 digital still photography cameras and additional supplies, as well as three HD Video FlipCams. I had spent over $800 on vaccinations and malaria pills, none of which were covered by my insurance. I poured over my production notebook, full of my research on the Kikuyu tribe, notes on common Swahili terms and phrases, maps, rental agreements, insurance forms, permission slips, releases and equipment manuals.

With only weeks to teach the (nearly 50) girls a series of photo assignments, we were anxious to get started, but quickly learned the expression: “There is no hurry in Africa.”  We did our best to let go of what we realized was our Western sense of absolute self-focused urgency. Tough, but a great lesson to learn.


Jordan Salvatoriello is a media artist specializing in social issue documentary video and photography.  Her work is often drawn out of personal passions as an activist, feminist and journalist, and seeks to illuminate the human condition and ultimately evoke social change through education and entertainment.

Jordan earned a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from Boston University in 1999, and her writing and photography has since appeared in various regional publications including the Boston Globe, Playbill Magazine and Examiner.com.  In 2006, she joined Cone Communications where she supervised accounts for both for- and non-profit organizations.

After earning her M.F.A. in Media Art, a three-year terminal degree, from Emerson College in May 2012, Jordan received Emerson’s Graduate Program Award for Creative and Academic Excellence.  Her documentary work includes a variety of projects, from the courageous spirit of those devastated by the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the connection between artistic expression and the healing process, and most notably, the societal impacts of girl education and better healthcare in Central and Western Kenya.

Jordan is an avid traveler and adventurer, is one of eleven children and resides in Boston, MA. Her acclaimed documentary short, Graceland Girls, was an Official Selection at the Chicago International Social Change Film Festival and Women’s Independent Film Festival in West Hollywood, where she won the “Best of Feminism on Film” award, as well as “Best Cinematography,” “Best Directing,” and “Best Editing” in that category.  It’s a compelling story about Kenyan girls who struggle against familial, economic and societal pressures to escape early marriage through education, with the hope of helping themselves and their families escape the cycle of poverty.  Currently, she is producing a documentary feature, entitled Three Days to See, about a legally blind teenager who has been diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome as she struggles with the beauties and hardships of what it truly means to “see.”

Artwork / Postcard

DOWNLOAD HIGH-RES: GracelandGirlsPoster