Jehane Noujaim, the mind behind Pangea Day, is hoping to bring the world closer together through the power of film.
For Jehane Noujaim, there are few things more emotionally stirring than a movie. So when the 34-year-old filmmaker was offered the chance to change the world by having one wish become a reality, she didn't ask for money to build water wells or ship medical supplies. She asked for a four-hour film festival played simultaneously around the globe. With Pangea Day-named for Pangea, Earth's ancient, unified landmass-Noujaim aims to build compassion among people around the world by sharing their life stories and experiences on film. Noujaim's plans have come to fruition thanks to the TED Prize-a $100,000 award given to help people fulfill one world-changing wish-which she won in 2006.On May 10, audiences will gather at screenings, online, and around cell phones and televisions in far-flung locales from Cairo to Rio de Janeiro. They'll be there to watch four hours of documentaries and short features made by people around the world, on pressing issues ranging from climate change to political repression (Pangea Day received more than 1,500 film submissions from 43 countries). The films will stream live on Pangea Day's website, but Noujaim and her colleagues urge people to watch in groups, and have arranged for screenings in places that rarely feature films, including a Bedouin camp outside Jordan and a town square in Beirut. "My hope was to build a platform for that one boy in Africa or Pakistan or Myanmar to share his story and have the world listen. Because the minute people feel that their truth is relevant to the world, they begin to feel differently about themselves and their place in the world."Noujaim's experiences as an Egyptian-American who grew up in the religiously and socially volatile Middle East have given her an understanding of how images can affect perspectives. "I believe that the images we see of ourselves-in the news, on the internet, or in film-help shape what we believe about ourselves and what others believe about us," she says. "And if those images are for the most part violent, humiliating, and degrading, what does that say about how young people will continue to see themselves and their relationship with the people who actually believe those images?"
When a classmate in her freshman math class at UCLA tapped Danica McKellar on the shoulder and asked, "Aren't you the girl who …" she expected him to quiz her about her role as Winnie Cooper on the iconic television show The Wonder Years. Instead he continued, "… got the best score on the exam?" For the first time, McKellar felt recognized as something other than a child actress.Even though the show's producers needed to hire an advanced calculus tutor to keep up with the child star's aptitude, she had never considered becoming a mathematician. Social conditioning, says 32-year-old McKellar, made her believe girls didn't have a place in the math world. "Who did I think math was for, if it wasn't for me?"McKellar headed to college intending to study writing and directing, but ended up putting her numerical skills to use instead, earning a math degree summa cum laude and co-authoring a research paper that solved a statistical mechanics problem involving magnetism in two dimensions-a solution now known as the Chayes-McKellar-Winn theorem.
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