The Young Filmmaker Who is Empowering Youth to Take Action 

The Young Filmmaker Who is Empowering Youth to Take Action 

Kasha Sequoia Slavner

At 14 Kasha Sequoia Slavner was inspired to share other’s stories. Stories of people making differences in their communities. Stories that would empower others to make change too.

At 16 Slavner took a year off of school to travel and collect these stories from people all over the world. During this time she became the director, screenwriter, cinematographer, and editor for her feature-length documentary.

Kasha Slavner

Inspiration Behind The Global Sunrise Project 

As a 14-year-old freshman in high school, Slavner was developing a passion for photography and visual arts. She describes herself as a “monkey-see-monkey-do type of person” with any project or skill that she’s been passionate about, fully diving in and taking it upon herself to learn.

Exploring these budding passions coincided with Slavner attending a UN conference on gender equality. During the conference she got to meet people from all around the world and hear their stories.

“Hearing the stories from people on the ground making their communities–a better place to live, a more equitable place to live–I was very inspired by their determination, resilience and creativity,” said Slavner.

So Slavner decided to put her new photography skills to work and came up with the idea to take a year off of school to document stories like she heard at the UN conference.

“I don’t know where I got the courage to say this is something I could do,” said Slavner. “It would be so cool to take a year out of school to travel and document people’s stories to share with other people around the world who maybe care about their communities but aren’t really sure how they can contribute.”

“I thought that stories that are more hopeful and solution-oriented and could be a really great way to empower people to take it upon themselves to make a difference,” continues Slavner. “So that’s where The Global Sunrise Project was born. It started as a photography project and by the nature of visual storytelling it evolved into a feature-length documentary about global citizenship and what it means to be a global citizen in the world.”

Slavner did have to convince her mom, Marla, of her plan. She put together a powerpoint presentation to prove the project wasn’t just a fleeting passion, outlining how she would raise the money, continue school work, and manage the project.

The convincing worked and Marla was on board with the plan. She decided to travel with her teen daughter on the journey. Slavner describes the trip as a “really special bonding experience” and the two still work together to this day.

“I was 14 at the time, I didn’t know how much work it would be and how it would evolve into almost my life’s purpose,” says Slavner.

Kasha and Marla

On the Road

At 16 Slavner took a year off of school and set out on her journey to document stories from around the world, interviewing people in South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Thailand. The film, titled The Sunrise Storyteller, highlights individuals finding sustainable and creative solutions to some of our world’s most critical issues.

On the journey Slavner developed her skills as an interviewer, feeling more and more confident with every conversation. She’s learned to go with the flow of the conversation, listen actively and ask questions when a meaningful moment arises.

She ended up interviewing thirty people for the film, and seven main stories can be seen in the documentary. “I didn’t have a plan going out. I didn’t know who I was going to meet. I was lucky to meet all the right people along the way.”

Filming The Sunrise Storyteller

Empowering Changemakers 

The Sunrise Storyteller has been shown at 60 film festivals and has won 30 awards to-date.

Slavner describes this as an achievement in itself but what matters to her is the impact the film is making on youth. The goal is to educate young people, inspire them and equip them with the tools to take action in their own communities.

“It has been really special to hear some of the ways young people are starting to think about what they can do to take action,” said Slavner. “And hear them go from feeling passive about these issues to being active and ready to take an active role in their communities.”

Slavner has done The Sunrise Storyteller screenings with high school, university and elementary schools all over the United States. The screening is paired with workshops on civic engagement and discussions of how youth can use their skills to contribute to issues they care about. Working with young children has been particularly enjoyable.

“Really young kids care so much and they don’t seem to be inhibited by the worries of what other people may think about them,” said Slavner. “They speak out on what they care about.  They are so passionate and energized.”

She’s now in the process of building educational partnerships with schools in Canada to start screenings close to home too.

Kasha Leading a Student Workshop

Educational Tools for Youth

Slavner has also created over ten photography exhibits with extra materials from The Global Sunrise Project. She took so many photos while traveling that they were able to be repurposed into exhibits centered around topics such as global citizenship and the UN sustainable development goal, peace.

The exhibits are used as an education tool for youth. They allow viewers to discuss the topic and understand how they intersect with important issues her generation faces.

“With every piece of media we create whether it’s in a photography exhibit, a documentary film or social media campaign, it is ultimately to highlight solution-oriented stories of leaders on the ground in their own communities and also present opportunities for people to take action in their own community,” says Slavner. “So hopefully turning inspiration to action.”

One of Kasha’s Photo Exhibits

Next Documentary in the Works 

Now Slavner is working on her second documentary, “1.5 Degrees of Peace”, and launching a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to get the full film made.

“The film is about the existential anxiety my generation faces from issues like climate change, the impending threat of nuclear weapons and conflict, and how those issues intersect with one another,” says Slavner.

“In order to create the sustainable world we want to achieve, a future that is free of climate disasters, we have to address important threats together. We can’t keep the issues silent, so it’s ultimately about peace and climate justice and how young people can unite to make a positive impact on both those issues simultaneously.”

The global issues Slavner’s generation faces may seem insurmountable, but she wants to show youth they can use their voices and unique skills to make changes. That now is the time to influence the trajectory of the future because the world has reached a tipping point.

Founder Responsibilities

The responsibilities Slavner takes on vary from month to month depending on what The Global Sunrise Project is accomplishing.

Currently, with the new feature-length documentary in the works, Slavner and her small team has been focusing on the creative filmmaking process, strategizing the launch of the campaign and determining the logistics of actually producing the film.

“It’s the first time I’ve revisited the filmmaking process since I [first] went out,” says Slavner. “A lot has been focusing on creative treatments, applying for grants, putting together scripts, visual research, and editing.”

All of this is done while Slavner continues educational outreach to build partnerships so her previous film, The Sunrise Storyteller, “has a life beyond the festival run” and can continue to make a positive impact in communities.

But no matter what phase The Global Sunrise Project is in, Slavner stays busy with speaking events, workshops and staying engaged with activism on a personal level.

Kasha at the SOMA Film Festival

Overcoming Challenges and Feeling Rewards

Within the organization, finding resources has been the most challenging obstacle. The Global Sunrise team works incredibly hard but with a small team they do not have the ability to manage everything at once. Things like accumulating funding is done over a lengthy period of time.

Slavner has personally grappled with continuing to believe in herself and her work over the years. She does see the impact her work is making but takes time to reflect on what she puts out into the world. Above all, she wants people to feel connected to her work and have it resonate on an emotional level.

“My vision is important, but it’s also how it affects people that’s most important to me,” says Slavner.

On the flipside, Slavner feels the most rewarding aspect is mentoring and working with young people, and also finding peer support. She strives to help teens feel equipped with the skills to take on some of the world’s critical issues.

“I believe that if we can really mobilize as many people as possible, we have a great power in our hands and potential to make the world kind of a better place at the end of the day,” says Slavner.

Advice to Teens Who Want to Make Change

“Believe in yourself.” Slavner says her advice sounds cliché, but believing in yourself is the first step no matter what you do. You can be your own cheerleader.

“I think often it does help to have the support of one person around you, but I’ve started to realize that if you can be that one person for yourself then you’ll never be alone,” says Slavner.

She also stresses finding the joy or emotional reward in what you are doing. For your work to be sustainable, you need to have fun.

“If you care about something out in the world, there are always going to be people who also care about it,” says Slavner. “So finding your community is very important. Foster those partnerships and friendships because that’s what makes activism and taking on social causes fun.”

The Future of The Global Sunrise Project

Slavner will be continuing on the path of using filmmaking as a tool to make social change. She sees The Global Sunrise Project continuing to evolve and is open to exploring other kinds of media such as a podcast, written works or more photography exhibits.

We know the future shines bright for Kasha Slavner!


All photos and video provided by Kasha.

Learn more about The Global Sunrise Project. Read more Rustic Spirit stories.