Outtakes: Alo a role model in ‘Winning Girl’

May. 11, 2015 | 1 Comment

outtakes mug aug 2014

COURTESY KIMBERLEE BASSFORD Kimberlee Bassford, left, and Teshya Alo were all smiles last fall at the Hawaii International Film Festival premiere of Bassford’s documentary “Winning Girl,” which followed Alo for four years as she competed in judo and wrestling.

COURTESY KIMBERLEE BASSFORD

Kimberlee Bassford, left, and Teshya Alo were all smiles last fall at the Hawaii International Film Festival premiere of Bassford’s documentary “Winning Girl,” which followed Alo for four years as she competed in judo and wrestling.

BY MIKE GORDON / mgordon@staradvertiser.com

When she was growing up in Hawaii in the late 1970s and early ’80s, Kimberlee Bassford looked forward to each episode of “Sesame Street,” the PBS children’s show that’s delighted generations of viewers with quirky songs about the alphabet, gentle morality lessons and feel-good characters.

What she didn’t notice until years later, as a parent, was the gender imbalance: She counted only three female lead characters on the show. The disparity didn’t end there. Throughout the world of family TV entertainment, Bassford found shows dominated by male characters.

As a mother of two, she had the power to turn the channel, but as a documentary filmmaker, the 38-year-old Bassford hopes she has the power to change a lot more.

In her film “Winning Girl,” Bassford believes she’s found a worthy role model for girls: Teshya Alo, a 16-year-old Kamehameha Schools student from Liliha who wants to win world championship titles in judo and wrestling.

Bassford met Alo when she was 11 and followed her for four years as she competed — sometimes beating boys who begged her to forfeit, other times losing to women twice her age. Bassford tells the story of a smiling girl in braces who won’t give up and of parents sacrificing everything for their daughter’s quest.

“I think it’s an inspirational story,” said Bassford, who is best known for her documentary “Patsy Mink: Ahead of Her Time,” which won the audience award for best documentary at the Hawaii International Film Festival when it premiered in 2008.

“It’s really important and not just to young girls, but to anyone,” she said. “To me, what is most interesting about Teshya is how driven and resilient she is. She experiences losses and sees them as opportunities to learn.”

“Winning Girl” has screened at several film festivals since its premiere last fall but will find its largest audience yet when it airs Tuesday on PBS stations across the country as part of the World Channel series “America ReFramed,” which showcases independent films with diverse and personal viewpoints on social issues.

The national broadcast premiere, however, won’t include PBS Hawaii, which does not subscribe to World Channel and has decided not to air “Winning Girl” at a separate time.

Leslie Wilcox, president and chief executive officer of PBS Hawaii, said “Winning Girl” wasn’t up to the station’s standards but she respects Bassford’s creative decisions as an independent filmmaker. PBS Hawaii remains committed to sharing well-told documentaries about young women, Wilcox said, citing a long list of programs that have aired.

“Every film stands on its own merits,” she said.

Bassford said the PBS Hawaii decision was devastating. The filmmaker said the public will be able to find “Winning Girl” online when World Channel makes it available Wednesday on www.worldchannel.org. She also said that Oceanic Cable has expressed interest in airing it locally.

World Channel is carried by nearly half of all PBS stations, which leads Bassford to believe she can still make a difference.

“Every little bit helps,” she said. “Having strong, athletic girls on screen makes it more normal.”

If you don’t believe Bassford, ask her 4-year-old son, who has seen Alo compete. For starters, he’ll tell you that wrestling is a sport dominated by girls.
———
Mike Gordon covers film and television in Hawaii for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Email him at mgordon@staradvertiser.com and follow him on Twitter. Read his weekly “Outtakes” column Sundays in the Star-Advertiser.

  • Kimberlee Bassford

    You can now stream WINNING GIRL for free at PBS:

    http://video.pbs.org/video/2365480867/

    Then share your thoughts with us on Facebook @MakingWavesFilms or on Twitter @MWFdocs. Mahalo!