"The Rights of Butterflies" Takes Flight with Youth Media Organizers


Highlights from the 2011 Benevolent Media Festival: On Sunday, November 6, Benevolent Media organized a screening and panel discussion with youth media organizers from Gandhi Brigade, a nonprofit organization established in 2005 that trains young people on media production and leadership skills.

Last Sunday afternoon, at Gold Leaf Studio in Chinatown, Gandhi Brigade screened two trailers and one short documentary film produced by teenagers and young adults. After the screenings, the youth facilitated small group discussions about the role of media in creating social change.

I spoke with 20-year-old Gandhi Brigade youth activist Laura Moya to learn more about the organization's latest film.


Laura made her directorial debut at the Benevolent Media Festival with a screening of The Rights of Butterflies, an 18-minute documentary that follows the life of Katya, an undocumented student from Blair High School in Montgomery County who struggles to find a way to continue her education at the University of Maryland because of her legal status.

“It’s hard to deal with the moment of feeling worthless,” Laura said of the immigrant experience.

Laura has always been interested in media. When Laura was 13, her mother signed her up to take a computer programming course. Amazed by the technology she saw on a field trip to the Discovery Channel headquarters, Laura was determined to attend Montgomery Blair High School, known for its media program. At Blair, she took an international human rights class, where she learned that activists used media as a security tool. She worked for Blair Network Communications (BNC), a student news channel.

Laura heard about the Gandhi Brigade at Silverdocs, where youth were moderating a panel. She borrowed a Brigade member’s all-access badge. She used it to watch a variety of documentaries and to meet filmmakers. She said that’s when she realized “there’s no rule of what documentaries are made. To have that in mind was an encouragement."

Laura volunteered with the Gandhi Brigade, teaching the basics of storytelling and editing. She also won its photography contest before pitching and directing The Rights of Butterflies film as part of the Brigade’s Social Justice Summer in 2011. The program included cohorts for filmmaking and social art, as well as workshops on gender roles and other issues.

Laura’s vision for a high-quality, social impact film was unique, according to professional filmmaker Laurel Gwizdak, who worked with Laura to complete the film.

When Laurel heard the Gandhi Brigade wanted to sign a contract with her as a media trainer and editor, she did not hesitate. “They were trying something new, through the impetus of Laura,” she said. “It’s never been my vision; it’s been me finding a way, through my experience in the filmmaking world, to make sure her film was created the way she wanted it to be.”

Laura credits the Gandhi Brigade for assembling a “amazing” crew, which included six Gandhi Brigade members. She hopes to continue working with them. Laura wrote to me:

Aside from the risk factor that everybody was cautious of, Gandhi Brigade was very encouraging and let me and the film crew fly. It's also something that wouldn't have been possible without Laurel. She's a very caring, encouraging and loving individual.

From the beginning, especially during the pitch, she saw the potential the film had and was my support when I doubted myself. The team, too, but that's something that developed a little bit later. That encouragement, passion, and patience to teach is what makes her an awesome storyteller and educator. Something that's hard to find in the filmmaking industry.


Attend Gandhi Brigade’s The Rights of Butterflies Premiere on  Monday, December 5 at 6:30 p.m. in the Civic Building (One Veterans Plaza, Silver Spring, Md. 20910).