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The Saratoga Falcon

Documentary to cover aftermath of Pott case, issues facing teen girls

Actual Films, a San Francisco-based film company, will be on campus throughout the year to work on a documentary on ways that communities can move on from cases of sexual assault.

A main focus of the filmmakers will be Girls with Courage, a group started by ceramics teacher Leah Aguayo two years ago to provide female students with a safe place to express themselves and help each other navigate the pressures of high school.

According to principal Paul Robinson, Actual Films approached him last spring about documenting the “impact [Girls with Courage is] having on our campus,” and he agreed to allow filmmakers on campus to obtain footage.

Robinson said, “[Girls with Courage] has been positive, in how community members and our students and our staff member have come together to [create a] positive role modeling and support system for young ladies.”

Actual Films will also be covering Audrie Pott’s story, which Girls With Courage was reformed in response to, in the context of sexual violence prevention. Pott was a Saratoga student who was sexually assaulted as a sophomore in fall 2012. She then died by suicide.

The film company found Saratoga through online research and chose the campus because they found it a “vibrant community.”

“It seems high-achieving, and it seems like a very interesting place to talk about the pressures of teen life,” filmmaker Sara Dosa said. “We’re interested in social media, and how challenging it is for teens to navigate, and [Saratoga] is in the heart of the Silicon Valley.”

Actual Films co-founder Bonni Cohen said they were also interested in Saratoga because they admired the work of the Audrie Pott Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to Audrie’s memory that works to provide counseling and sexual assault education, in addition to artistic scholarships, for students.

“We thought what Audrie’s parents [did] with Audrie’s Law was really interesting and impressive, and possibly transformative,” Cohen said.

Audrie’s Law, if passed, would make juvenile judicial proceedings in cases like Audrie’s public, prevent perpetrators from clearing their records after one year of probation and requires sex offender treatment for youths in counties that have such programs.

According to Lisa Pott, the foundation’s vice president and Audrie’s stepmother, the group endorses the project and hopes that, like many of the team’s other documentaries, it will have “tremendous global reach.”

“We hope that this can be part of important learning experiences for young people,” Pott said. “Rather than focusing on our tragedy, this film intends to tell a story of hope, healing and meaningful solutions that individuals and communities can devise to deal with this serious problem.”

Pott added that the Foundation hopes that this film will be “the type of film that can be shown in schools to educate on the topic.” Pott said that the Foundation has additional confidence in the film because of the involvement of Futures Without Violence, a nonprofit dedicated to eradicating violence against women, and Cindy Waitt of the Waitt Foundation, who led the highly successful “The Bully Project” documentary.  

Outside of  Saratoga, Actual Films will cover the sexual assault of Daisy Coleman, a then-14 year-old high school student in Maryville, Mo. Coleman, like Pott, was at a house party at the time of the assault. Now 17, Coleman is an example of how “[girls are] victimized, and it’s hard to move on from that,” Actual Films co-founder Bonni Cohen said.

The focus of the documentary is on how communities can heal from sexual violence, and what teens can learn from them about healthy relationships, but the group recognizes that with a lot of research yet to be done, the documentary continues to evolve.

“I think the narrative we described will change in the coming year and people will emerge as characters and the emphasis of the story will change inevitably,” Cohen says. “We’re ready for the challenge, and the great thrill is navigating that.”

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