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Intellect

Documentary "Sisterz in Zion" chronicles converts' struggles to fit in

Will premiere Oct. 1 at noon on BYU Television

Daisy Deleenys Andino takes a seat on the city bus in the darkness of morning in Manhattan. Clutching her schoolbooks close, she sits alone on the near-empty bus, huddled close to the window as she watches the cityscape fly by.

Though it’s early — not quite 6:30 a.m. — one might think Andino, a 16-year-old originally from Honduras, is going to school or work, or even to a friend’s house. But as the scene changes, the camera follows Andino as she steps off the bus to stand in front of an unusual building in lower Manhattan: a seminary building of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The music changes from a hip-hop mix to a quieter, reverent piano melody as Andino opens her scriptures to take part in the class.

“I decided to join the LDS religion because it will kind of protect me from this world,” she says in a voiceover. “It will give me a way to change my life for better.”

The hip-hop beat fades back in as the movie’s title is scrawled across the screen: “Sisterz in Zion.” Though Andino is only one of the young female converts featured in the film, she has already illustrated a major theme of the movie: finding faith in unusual places.

“Sisterz in Zion,” a documentary directed by Brigham Young University graduate Melissa D. Puente, follows a group of urban teenage girls in their journey of faith as they attend BYU’s Especially for Youth program for the first time.

“Sisterz” is scheduled to premiered during General Conference Weekend, with several other screenings set in October. It will air on KBYU-TV (Channel 11) on Nov. 5 at 7 p.m. A complete broadcast schedule will be available at byubroadcasting.org.

Puente met the girls during her service as a Young Women leader in New York City and decided they had something special worth sharing on camera.

“This group of girls was different than what I was used to,” said Puente, who recently won an Emmy for her work on the NBC show “Starting Over.” “They were very much on their own and were faced with extraordinary challenges. Many came from low-income housing projects and their housemates made bad choices. They were hungry for more than what was available to them.”

The film backgrounds the girls’ lives in the city and then captures them heading to Provo in 2003, where, for the first time, they were surrounded by people their age who embraced their values.

“We wanted them to realize they were part of something bigger,” Puente said.

However, the girls quickly discover they aren’t in New York City anymore. Their skin color and cultural backgrounds make them a minority on campus, and they struggle to fit in with the majority.

“They hadn’t had to ‘listen’ beyond their cultural limitations,” Puente said. “That’s one of the big points: to show awareness that it may not be easy to listen, but they had special, unique identities worth sharing.”

Through a difficult week of soul-searching and spiritual classes, the girls reevaluate their faith and learn what it really means to be sisters in Zion.

Tom Lefler of the Theatre and Media Arts Department served as executive producer for the production and said the film and really captures the girls’ world and falls in with his department’s idea of “giving a voice to the voiceless.”

“This is what we ought to be doing,” he said. “Hollywood tries to create a world. Documentary captures what is already there.”

Associate producer Kathy Johnson, a junior studying humanities, agreed, saying documentary can touch the heart in a way fictionalized movies cannot.

“There’s power in documentary,” she said. “These are real stories, real people.”

Lefler said one benefit of this type of filmmaking is its ability to leave the works open to broader interpretation, allowing impact in various ways.

“This is really showing something about who we are,” he said. “It’s a more open form as to what people will gather from it. Someone in a third-world country viewing it will have a different experience than someone on the Wasatch Front.”

Though the film is rife with the girls’ struggles, one participant, Wendy Cacho, summed up the sentiment of the girls as they prepared to go home.

“I just feel like anywhere in the world, in New York, in Idaho, in Utah, I always will be loved,” she said.

The movie is available from BYU Creative Works by calling 422-5297 or by visiting creativeworks.byu.edu.

For more information, contact Carolyn Hanson at (801) 422-4576 or visit sisterzinzion.com.

Writer: Elizabeth Kasper

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