Review: I Am a Girl

Breani Photo: Nicola Daley

This is a film about the things that unite us.  It reminds us that under our skins, cultures and the ways we choose to adorn ourselves, we’re not so very different.  It’s fly on the wall cinema, a masterpiece of open and honest engagement.

Six girls from around the world—Cameroon, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Papua New Guinea, USA and Australia—tell their stories and share their hopes with such innocence and candour that they can’t help touching our hearts. I walked out of the cinema feeling strangely uplifted.  Yet some of the stories, in different hands, may have felt too heavy for engaging cinema.  The director, Rebecca Barry, not only avoided that trap but danced lightly over it.

The editing to make up the ‘pastiche’, as she called it, was lightly and cleverly done, never lingering overlong on a particular narrative before darting away to the next.  The outcome was a feeling of movement. Stories were being told with grace and fluidity, with optimism, hope and fortitude, by the girls themselves. It is a testament to the skill of the director that she managed to sublimate her presence and that of the crew so completely that the girls seemed to be engaging directly with us, the audience.

As to the girls, we meet Breani, from the Bronx Projects, whose dream is to lift herself above the mire or “black hole” of the ‘hood by becoming a “Rop” artist (her own word, I believe, for the musical genre of Pop-Rap). And Aziza, from Afghanistan, who is so determined to get to university that she is willing not only to battle harsh odds but to risk the possibility of death or imprisonment for being female and daring to want an education.

There is Habiba, from Cameroon, who feels fortunate to be marrying for love, yet torn by social strictures that force her to leave her family and sacrifice her freedom for her husband. There is also Manu, from PNG, who falls pregnant and has a baby under testing conditions. And closer to home, there is Katie, from Australia, who battles severe depression. Finally, there is Kimsey from Cambodia, a child prostitute and mother whose story I found the saddest.

In the remarkably short time of 88 minutes, the audience was treated to so many different emotions that it was near impossible to see it as just a movie. I think you can tell when someone does something from the heart. I didn’t get the impression that the film was made to garner money or fame (although I’m sure these would be nice).  My sense was that this film was made because the stories needed to be told and people needed to hear them.

And these are stories for everyone, men and boys included.  I would challenge anyone to see the film and not come away enriched.

When the credits came up, everyone in the theatre applauded: we applauded the beauty of the camera work, the sensitivity of the telling, the generosity of the girls in sharing their stories – even how the movie was funded on a wing and a prayer by the generosity of private donors and sponsors.

This is a film that needs to be seen.  It has just finished showing in Melbourne in a frustratingly short season but is due to return soon by popular demand.  It is also about to start screening for a short time in Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane through Palace Cinemas. If you can, try to catch a ‘Meet the Filmmaker’ session.  It’s well worth it.

And for those who are looking for something a bit different, there is a feature on the movie website for private screenings:  The film, rated M, would be suitable for screening at schools to children at the senior and secondary school level.

Sydney, Chauvel Cinema:  Thurs 12- Sun 29 Sept (7 screenings only)

Brisbane, Palace Centro:  Fri 13 – Sun 29 Sept (6 screenings only)

Adelaide, Palace Nova Eastend:  Thurs 19 Sept – Sat 5 Oct (6 screenings only)

Canberra, Palace Electric:  Fri 20 Sept – Sun 6 Oct (6 screenings only)

Melbourne, Cinema Nova:  In general release from Thurs 26 September 

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