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MoveShake: Shannon Galpin documentary premieres online tonight

Tonight at 7 p.m., filmmakers Allie Bombach and Sarah Menzies will show the first two films in their MoveShake series online at www.MoveShake.org. The MoveShake films profile people pushing for environmental and social change; Breckenridge-based Shannon Galpin, who founded Mountain2Mountain, an organization aimed at "creating education and opportunity for women and girls in conflict regions," is the focus of the second. (See Q&A after the jump.)

Galpin, formerly a competitive mountain bike racer, became the first woman to mountain bike in Afghanistan in 2009, returned in 2010 to ride across the Panjshir Valley, and has launched several projects in that country, including a school for the deaf in Kabul, a partnership with the Afghanistan Women's Educational Center to work with women in prison, and Combat Apathy, an effort to give voice to women, youth and victims of rape, human trafficking and slavery in combat zones. For Galpin, the projects are personal: As the mother of a seven-year-old daughter, she has a strong conviction that women and girls everywhere deserve the same rights and opportunities as her own daughter. And, as a rape survivor herself, Galpin is committed to opposing any culture that tolerates or encourages rape and sexual abuse. In the coming year Mountain2Mountain will expand with projects in Mexico City and Phnom Penh, Cambodia, as well as Denver.

Westword recently caught up with Galpin to discuss the new film and the future of Mountain2Mountain.

Westword:Can you start by telling us a little about the MoveShakeseries and how you came to be involved?

What I love about this film and this film series is that it's really showing real individuals who are trying to affect change by working in areas that they're passionate about. Allie and Sarah have done a beautiful job of storytelling and really humanizing some major issues.

My story is about women's rights and human rights in conflict zones, and really looking at what's going on there and what it takes to do that work, but also what inspires me to do that work. I think a lot of people, if they think about human rights work in a place like Afghanistan -- or any of the big issues of our day, really -- consider it to be the work of big corporations and government organizations and NGOs to affect change, but the fact of the matter is it really does come down to citizen diplomacy and individuals standing up for what they believe.

I think it's great that MoveShake's been able to illustrate that aspect of any kind of activism, because the medium of film is so powerful. Meaningful change so rarely comes in big tidal waves, but there can be a ripple effect from getting these stories out there: If more people realize the humanity behind the bigger issues, hopefully more people will get engaged and realize that real change really is about one person at a time, everyone adding their drop to the bucket and filling it up drop by drop.

Another film in the MoveShake series, a portrait of Mexican sea turtle conservationist Julio Solis and his organization, Vigilantes Bahia Magdalena, premiered last month at Mountainfilm in Telluride and won an Honorable Mention for the Moving Mountains Award.

That was the first peek anyone had of the MoveShake series, and the response at Mountainfilm was phenomenal. I think that sets it up for having a lot more eyes on the whole series.

What are the next drops in the bucket for you and for Mountain2Mountain?

All of our work right now in Afghanistan is with the idea of women's rights being human rights and really fighting for those rights, particularly in conflict zones. We're continuing with our projects in Afghanistan with the school for the deaf in Kabul, which will serve 800 students -- there are thousands and thousands of deaf children in Afghanistan, for a number of reasons -- and our education projects working with young women and women in prison. We're also working on two women's Internet cafes in Zambia and Jalalabad, which are both outside of the Kabul "bubble" if you will, where there's a lot of aid and a lot of support. Both of those projects are connected to the work that we want to be doing in other conflict zones as we expand in the next year, dealing with human trafficking and slavery, sex trafficking, and women's rights.

What impact do Internet cafes in Afghanistan have in the scope of what you're trying to achieve? It's about connection and getting these voices heard, these stories told. We realized we couldn't include the Afghan women in the expansion of our Combat Apathy program if they didn't have a way to get their voices heard, if we don't have access to them as security deteriorates for them, and if they're not able to get access to information. Without creating opportunities for connection, a lot of the work that we've done in Afghanistan would have been cut off from the future work that we do, and we want to jeep the women we work with really connected, so it's really about getting that infrastructure in place. This year and next we're also moving out to Mexico City, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and starting a new project in Denver, all dealing with women's rights and human trafficking. How do you balance life in Breckenridge and being a mom with all your trips to Afghanistan and all the work you do, here and abroad, with Mountain2Mountain, particularly as the organization is expanding?

It's definitely a balancing act! I'm in Breckenridge and that's where I raise my daughter. My board of directors is in Denver and Boulder, so we have a presence there as the hub of Mountain2Mountain. And when I travel I'll go over for three weeks at a time. The plan as we expand is to have other people stepping into that role that I've held in Afghanistan of building the trust, building the networks, working with the women in the local villages and having somebody else be working in Mexico City and Phnom Penh so that it starts to share the workload and bring in multiple voices, multiple perspectives, so it's not just my voice and my interpretation of what's happening.

Some of the personal aspects of your own story -- as a mother, as a survivor of a rape at knife-point when you were 17 -- help shape the narrative of this film and the work you do with Mountain2Mountain. Tell me about the decision to be so open about those personal elements of your own story.

When Allie and Sarah came to me and said, 'We want to tell your story,' my first instinct was to be unsure of how much I want to have my story on film. In an ideal world, in some respects, I think that no one should even know who I am. I'd very much prefer to be behind the scenes, and ultimately my goal is to help tell other women's stories, not my own. But there's a need for fundraising and awareness-raising so that people are aware of the work and of what needs to be done, and you want to be able to have audiences hear about what's going on, and learn and become aware, and hopefully become involved.

Ultimately it came down to realizing the power of that potential ripple that could happen, and not just for Mountain2Mountain but in general. If it helps other people become engaged and become inspired to help, whether it's in their own community in their own backyard or globally, halfway around the world, then it's worth putting my story out there.

Allie did most of the filming in Breckenridge with me and my daughter, and it was very strange to have her there filming the mundane, you know, making pancakes with my daughter Devon and getting ready for the school bus. But that backstory does help illustrate what life is like when I'm a mother as well as a human rights activist, and how I make that balance, both for myself and for my daughter... hopefully a big part of it for me was being able to illustrate that role as a mother. For me the work I do is part of being a good mother: This is who I am.

For people who see this film and want to learn more or want to get involved, what are some good entry points?

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I'd be grateful if you'd point people to Mountain2Mountain.org, where we have newsletters and blogs, as well as information about volunteer opportunities, ways to make donations to our projects, and upcoming events.

Galpin and Bombach will be online at www.MoveShake.org for a live Q&A tonight from 7 to 9 p.m., following the online premiere.

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