The film will be available to stream for free on YouTube from Nov. 1 to Nov. 5. It will hit on-demand platforms such as Amazon Instant Video, Google Play and iTunes on Nov. 6.
In her new documentary “CODEGIRL”, producer Lesley Chilcott @LesleyChilcott profiles Technovation, a tournament in which high school girls from around the world have three months to design an app that solves a problem in their community. She offers these insights to the Washington DC area Girls in Technology on how the idea for film started, her expectations and what she learned from following the teams.
Why did you get involved in the film?
In 2013, I stumbled upon a contest that was rather unusual. It was called the Technovation Challenge and it’s just for girls. Teams from around the world enter the contest and have three months to design a mobile app. The only parameter was that it must address a problem in their community. I thought this was one of the coolest ideas I’d ever heard. And I knew I had to make a film about it.
What is the film about?
It’s a high school competition story where girls discover skills and talents they did not know they necessarily had. CODEGIRL is about many things, empowering girls through technology is one of them. Capturing the moment when girls realize their potential to make their mark on the world is another. It’s also a story that dispels myths. Learning code or creating new technology is not sitting alone in a darkened basement typing. It’s also not the hardest thing in the world. It’s not only for geniuses. And it’s not just for boys.
What were your expectations for the film?
I had so many! With over 5000 girls entering from 60 countries I knew I didn’t stand a chance at finding a team that I could follow all the way through to the end, as it’s not like in sports, where maybe the fastest runner from last year also had a great shot at winning this year. So I concentrated on finding great stories, not just good ideas for apps, but stories where the girls really discovered something new and exciting. Originally I expected to tell the story of that lightbulb moment that occurs when your first line of code works and you realize all the things you might be capable of. But I saw what the girls got my the contest was larger than learning to code. It was learning how to communicate, problem-solve, function in a business setting, set meetings with your team at 7am before school started each day because you love working with your team so much. And to look around you and say, hey, that’s a problem, how would I solve that?
What was it like to follow the teams?
Enlightening. These girls are so sophisticated at how they identify and approach a problem. They come up with the idea, write a business plan, analyze their competition and market size and learn to code, all while going to high school. Also, they learn how to really work on a team and they are supportive of one another, rather than competitive. I really felt like I was witnessing them experience lessons that will stay with them throughout their lives. I also wanted all the teams we filmed to advance to finals so that stressed me out since I knew with only 6 finalists, that wasn’t going to be possible. It was actually the girls that made me feel better. They were mature enough to say, of course, we want to win, but the fact that we already designed a prototype for an app and we’re only in high school, that already feels like a win to us.
What’s your favorite part of the film?
Like team X Women from India says in the film, “All of it!”. For me personally, filming in Moldova was an eye-opening experience. The team that won the contest last year, Apa Pura, made a mobile app that tested for contaminates in the local well water supply. We went to their small town of 2000 people and filmed them at school and visited their wells. They are still working on their app, they found a developer nearby to help them, and they are still in high school. I got to see how this team in the middle of nowhere heard about Technovation, entered, and won. And then I traveled to four other towns in Moldova and met new teams that were inspired by last year’s team and they were making their own apps this year, all really great ideas. It was remarkable. One of these teams, Team United Smart Girls, we show in the film. I like this part of the film because you see one team can create a little revolution. And it can be in the most unlikely of places.