GAMBIER – What is it like to win an Oscar?
Ruby Schiff, a sophomore psychology major at Kenyon College, knows. She co-produced the film “Period. End of Sentence.”, which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject) last Sunday. Schiff, a Los Angeles native, returned home to walk the red carpet and accept the award before a national TV audience.
Schiff and a few of her friends created the documentary during her senior year of high school, alongside a team of talented directors and cinematographers. The 26-minute film follows a group of women in the village of Kathikera, India, as they work to manufacture affordable feminine pads and correct the negative stigma associated with menstruation, which has caused deep-seated socioeconomic disadvantages for the women of the village.
The documentary was a product of a nonprofit Schiff and her friends started four years ago called “The Pad Project,” which helps provide disadvantaged women with affordable, biodegradable pads via a sanitary pad machine.
In a column published last Wednesday in the Columbus Dispatch, Schiff wrote that winning the Oscar has already “launched the period revolution into the stratosphere.”
“The donations streaming into our nonprofit, The Pad Project, which will provide more pad machines to communities in need, will impact the lives of women and girls around the world,” Schiff said.
“Period. End of Sentence.” is now streaming on Netflix. It was nominated for the Academy Award alongside four other short documentaries – “Black Sheep,” “End Game,” “Lifeboat” and “A Night at the Garden.” Schiff was one of eight members of the cast and crew to accept the trophy last Sunday.
After flying out to Hollywood for the weekend, where she mingled with the world’s best and brightest in the film industry, Schiff quickly returned to reality. She came back to Gambier the next morning with midterms on her mind.
We had a chance to chat with Schiff about winning an Oscar at the age of 19, what the last week has been like, and what’s next.
KP: First off, Ruby, congratulations. You are a sophomore in college and you are now an Oscar winner. It’s been a couple days since the ceremony – are you able to wrap your head around that yet?
RS: It’s hard to wrap my head around my passion project that started in my English teacher’s classroom resulting into this. It feels incredibly surreal in the best way.
KP: You are a psychology major at Kenyon, and your trip to Hollywood last weekend was actually a trip home – you are originally from Los Angeles. What attracted you to Kenyon and what are your career aspirations?
RS: I was introduced to Kenyon through my sister, Maddie Schiff, who graduated in 2018. I knew Kenyon was everything I wanted in school after visiting my sister. I loved how tight-knight the community felt, the classic liberal arts campus, and the people I met there. Also, coming from a city like Los Angeles, I was excited about the prospect of living in a rural town and the inevitable change of pace.
KP: Let’s talk about your film. How did you get involved in this? And how did it tie into the non-profit you started while in high school called ‘The Pad Project’?
RS: In 9th grade, I, alongside my two best friends, Avery Siegel and Claire Sliney, decided to join a club called Girls Learn International, under the Feminist Majority Foundation. The following year, we were selected to be delegates at the United Nations on the Commision on the Status of Women where we discovered that one of the main reasons girls drop out of school worldwide was because of lack of access to sanitary products when they are menstruating.
We were incredibly moved by this issue and wanted to do something about it. We did some more research and found a man named Muruganantham, who invented the low-cost, economic pad machine using local materials. We decided to start fundraising to send a pad machine to our partner school in a village called Kathikera located in Hapur, India. Then, we launched our Kickstarter Campaign in 2016 to raise funds for the pad machine, a year’s worth of supplies, and to make an awareness documentary.
When I told my dad, Garrett Schiff, what I was up to, he put aside all of his other projects to help produce the documentary. He found our incredible director, Rayka Zehtabchi, and our cinematographer, Sam Davis, who later went to Kathikera to film the installation of the machine, the stigmas surrounding menstruation, and most shockingly the lack of education on the topic.
KP: You were an executive producer. What role did you play in making this happen? What did your duties entail?
RS: As an executive producer, I helped run the Kickstarter campaign, helped shape what story we wanted to tell, and after Rayka and Sam brought back the footage, I helped edit, give feedback, etc. After the film was completely done, I represented the project and the film at various film festivals such as the Cleveland International Film Festival and AFI.
KP: How long did it take to produce the film, and how did that time commitment affect your studies at Kenyon?
RS: Rayka and Sam took two trips to Kathikera, one in the spring of 2016 and one six months later to track the progress of how the machine has impacted their village. Being part of the project is definitely a daily commitment in that we are constantly in contact on Slack, dividing up the work and figuring out our next steps together. This commitment is one that I cherish and one that I always happily make time for.
KP: What impact do you hope your film has?
RS: The goal of the film from the beginning was for it to be used as an educational tool and a token of our non-profit. I hope that with the success that we’ve had, we will be able to spread awareness on this issue worldwide, which will in turn provide pad machines to every place that needs them. I also hope that, with this movement, people will start having more conversations about women’s health and that talking about periods won’t be seen as taboo.
KP: How has being involved in this film impacted your life? How has it changed you?
RS: Being involved in this film has taught me not only how to acknowledge my privilege as a white woman from Los Angeles and but learn how to effectively empower the voices of those who don’t have the same privileges as me. I’ve also learned the power of storytelling through film as a way of highlighting an issue that might not otherwise be known to the world.
KP: What was your biggest takeaway from your red-carpet experience last weekend? Was it everything you imagined it to be?
RS: Being on the red-carpet at the Oscars last weekend felt like a crazy dream. The whole time I was trying to imagine how it must feel for women from India who joined us on the red carpet, some of whom had never even been to New Delhi and came straight to Hollywood from Kathikera. If it felt crazy to me, I could not even imagine how shocking it was for them.
KP: What kind of feedback have you received from the Kenyon community since winning the Oscar?
RS: Coming back to Kenyon the morning after the Oscars was also a little shocking. Walking into our dining hall, Peirce, I received a standing ovation! I have really felt the support of the Kenyon community. Everywhere I walked I had students and faculty coming up to me and congratulating me. I definitely felt a little famous.
KP: What’s next for Ruby Schiff? Are you able to talk about any projects that might be coming down the pike?
RS: With the Pad Project, this is really just the beginning. Now that we have the platform to spread our message and provide the funds for pad machines, we are going to need all hands on deck to figure out the logistics of everything.
As for myself, I am of course going to continue working on the Pad Project, but I’m also interested in studying film in addition to my studies in Psychology and Women and Gender Studies. I’m not exactly sure what I want to do yet, but I know that in whatever I end up doing, whether that be clinical psychology and running a non-profit, I want to continue to help empower women and girls around the world.