The documentary Little Stones, directed by LSA alumna Sophia Kruz (A.B. 2011), has already lived a full life—and it’s only a few years old.

After a soft opening at the Michigan Theater in 2016, the film premiered at the Vail Film Festival in 2017. The documentary, which follows activists fighting for women’s rights around the world, has been screened throughout the United States and Canada. A three-day arts and activism workshop was held in Bend, Oregon, in conjunction with a screening of the film, and more recent showings have included Bismarck, Kalamazoo, and Washington, D.C. A screening for members of congress and their staff was held in the nation’s capital as part of International Women’s Day celebrations and featured all four documentary subjects—women from Senegal, Brazil, India, and the United States—together for the first time.

“Art is a great way to engage new stakeholders in a dialogue and to get people excited,” says Kruz. “I believe in not just shining a light on issues, but also offering up solutions to the world’s most terrible problems.”

The documentary carries a lot of the University of Michigan in its DNA. Kruz graduated with a screen arts and culture major and received support from U-M’s Center for the Education of Women to complete post-production on the film.

Kruz also ended up working with another LSA alumnus, Darin Stockdill (A.B. 1991), the design coordinator with the Center for Education Design, Evaluation, and Research (CEDER) at U-M’s School of Education, on educational materials to use with the documentary. Together, they developed a program that would help teachers and students from around Michigan and across the country process difficult topics—genital mutilation, domestic violence, human trafficking, and economic precarity—by using Little Stones as a jumping-off point for difficult but important conversations.

Stockdill, who majored in history, says he brings a “very LSA approach” to his work with CEDER and to the work he did on Little Stones.

The documentary Little Stones explores the stories of four women in India, Kenya, Germany, and Brazil who are using art to forward feminist causes and create progress. 

“I really enjoy interdisciplinary work,” Stockdill says, “and there was the opportunity here to tie the arts to history and geography and economics, and I jumped all over it. It was very exciting to think about designing lessons that were dynamic and interactive, things that teachers could really take and use right away to tackle these tough topics.”

Get Moving, Keep Going

The project, which was grant funded, began very quickly.

The day after the premiere in October 2016, Stockdill and Kruz brought 100 high school students to Ann Arbor for a pilot workshop and screening. Students from Community High School in Ann Arbor, Detroit School of the Arts, and Washtenaw International High School in Ypsilanti attended. The response, Stockdill says, was moving.

“It was really powerful being in the room while students watched the film and then seeing the question and answer session afterward,” Stockdill says. “We did prep work with the teachers ahead of time because it’s a pretty emotional film, but the students responded really well and had great things to say. From there, we got to work.”

Working with the Driftseed team, a non-profit that works to empower women and girls through documentary film and storytelling that Kruz co-founded in 2015, Stockdill developed an outline for a Little Stones educational toolkit for teachers. Then he brought on a group of co-writers, two LSA students with the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program and a local high school student, to help write and revise the materials. From there, they hoped to spread word of the toolkit through the School of Education’s network of teachers in Michigan and around the country, and by using social media and professional development workshops.

“Teachers are pressed for time, and a curriculum like this doesn’t fit neatly into what some teachers are expected to do,” Stockdill says. “A school needs to have a women’s studies class or an interdisciplinary humanities class or a contemporary issues class or something like that. Part of the challenge is really targeting schools with more flexible offerings where something like our lessons could fit in.”

Now that the curriculum is available for download anywhere in the world and screenings of the film continue to increase—the film will be available for download on iTunes starting in July, which could also mean increased attention for the documentary—Stockdill is hopeful that the work of the student co-writers and the film’s storytellers will get people talking about issues that matter in their own communities.

“Education for social justice is my area of research,” Stockdill says. “My work is geared towards taking on challenging issues and respecting kids and honoring them as agents of change by giving them the tools to transform their environment. Little Stones was a really exciting opportunity to work on a project that really met that problem head on.”

Images courtesy of Sophia Kruz