Say hello to to Rebecca Byerly: Producer, Director and Maker of ‘Women of the Mountain’
Tell us about you and your business!
The last seven years I have lived and worked as a journalist in India for the New York Times, National Geographic, TIME, CNN, Discover Magazine and other media publications. One of the most important things I’ve learned from living and reporting in the subcontinent as well as in Egypt, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Sudan and Nepal is that if we can empower women, we can change the world. This belief combined with my background growing up in a family where domestic abuse was prevalent and my love for ultra-marathon running led me to produce and direct Women of the Mountain.
The 60-minute documentary is about three women who run the longest ultra marathons (120+Miles) in the highest mountain ranges and three female entrepreneurs who carve out a livelihood in those mountains. Born out of the belief that we can always Rise Above, the women we profile refuse to be defined by gender, culture, age, or the parameters their society sets for them.
Two of the women we profile in the film are from India. Aparna is the first Indian woman to ever complete in a 135-mile race that reaches 18,000 feet in the Himalayas. Of course, her greatest challenge is putting her tennis shoes on every day and enduring the ridicule of a society that is hostile towards women. We also tell the story of Thinlas. She grew up without a mother in the Himalayas and was determined to be a mountain guide. Society told her she couldn’t because she’s a woman. She answered by starting her own trekking company and now employs 26 women. Aparna and Thenlis’ stories are inspiring and serve as role models for women everywhere.
In the Swiss Alps we profile a 125-mile race and tell the story of a local woman who is a former Olympic cross-country skier and a runner who overcome the challenges of age. This September I will run and film a 200-mile ultra-marathon in California’s Sierra Nevada. There we will profile an American mother of five young children who is competing in the race. We will also tell the story of a local Native American who has strived to preserve her tribe’s ancient culture in the mountains they’ve called home for thousands of years.
Are you boot-strapped, side-hustling or funded? Are you currently or planning to raise funding?
Hustling? I have not stopped hustling the last ten years and can definitely say that producing and directing this film is the greatest hustle of my life. Some days it feels like I’m being chased by a herd of grizzly bears. I initially invested my own money in this film and also had a corporate sponsor. After building a community of supporters the last year a half we launched a Kickstarter campaign on July 17th. We have raised over $22,000. To meet our goal of $45,000 we have to raise $23,000 by August 17.
Being an entrepreneur isn’t always easy. What is one hurdle that you had to overcome or are still battling?
Time management and funding is a constant struggle. I have not had the resources to pay people for their time or to really reach out and assemble interns. These challenges combined with not having the time to take on more stories for the publications I write for makes finances very tight. Also, unexpected set backs happen all the time especially when you live in India and are training for 125+ mile races. I’ve battled Typhoid, Dysentery and MERSA.
What are you looking to accomplish in the next few months and how can we help you get there?
Our immediate goal is to raise the remaining $23,000 through our Kickstarter by August 17th. That money will go towards the filming of the 200-mile race we are profiling in Tahoe, CA Sept 5-9, returning to the Himalayas to tell Thinla’s story and capturing the story of the Native American woman who is preserving her tribe’s culture and language in the Sierra Nevada.
What keeps you motivated?
When I think about the women we profile in our film and see how much they have over come to get where they are it inspires me to keep moving. We’ve also had the support of an incredible community of people who really keep us going.
We believe in honoring our mentors, role models and those who have supported us along our way to success.Tell us about someone special to you and how they positively influenced you.
After a long battle with cancer my Aunt passed away in the spring of 2012. She battled addiction her whole life and was horribly beaten by her ex-husband. I think she reached a point in her life where she no longer thought she could Rise Above. I see her story as a metaphor for so many women in the world and it really motivates me to spread this global message of empowerment. My girlfriends have really stepped up to make this film possible. Most of them have young children and also work full time. Yet, they’ve made the time to help me with everything from design, to marketing to fundraising.
We’re an ambitious group. Share with us one of your biggest bucket list items.
The women we profile remind us that life is not about finishing first; life is about going beyond your perceived limits. We want people (especially girls and women) everywhere to know they are capable of far more than they can ever imagine. When the film is finished we will make sure it’s distributed to schools across the globe. Young people need positive role models. The women we profile in this film are those role models.
What one bit of advice do you have for the women of Ms. Tech and our entrepreneurial communities?
You really are capable of much more than you can ever imagine. Keep pushing, take care of your health, sleep when you can, stay positive and know that you will rise above.
Keep up with Rebecca and ‘Women of the Mountain’!