Documentary as activism isn't new to the festival (representatives from Amnesty International were in attendance of the Give Up Tomorrow screening earlier in the week, for example). Films traveling a festival circuit is certainly a way to create awareness. This, perhaps serendipitously, is the case with Girl Model. The film fundamentally follows the stories of two people: Nadya, a 14-year-old, Siberian girl who is plucked from a gaggle of other young Russian girls that are on display on stage to be hired as Japanese ad models; and Ashley, herself a former model a decade or so ago, who now is well-employed as a scout choosing girls like Nadya.
Nadya, along with several other very young Russian teens, are signed to very tenuous contracts by a Japanese modeling agency called Switch. According to Japanese immigration law, these models must be promised two jobs, plus $8000. But when this is not what the girls actually receive. The contracts have provisions written into them stating that the agency can send these girls home if their waistline gains literally as little as one centimeter, which indeed happens to one of Nadya's friends. So instead of money earned, the vast majority of these girls are sent back to their (mostly poor) hometowns actually in debt. And there is very little these young models or their families can do about this.
Ashley herself has complaints about the industry from her own experience as a model. But the industry has given her a large home in Connecticut and the ability to travel around the world. By the end of the movie, she's seen giving an interview praising her agency, acclaiming Switch for their handling of the models.
A model, Rachel Blais, who was only incidentally in the movie but very vocal, was in attendance and is speaking on behalf of the movie to create awareness for the plight of these very vulnerable, underage models. Though there are a couple of organizations who are fighting for models' labor rights (one in the US and one in the UK), Blais is still one of a very few arguing to have age restrictions, not allowing underage models to work as adults.
The weekend began with the two very crowded animated shorts screenings. First was the International Animated Shorts program, a mixed bag of some very good and some very bad shorts. Highlights for me were the beautiful Luminaris from Argentina and the moving The Maker from Australia.
The evening's Animated Shorts program had a lot of familiar faces and those didn't disappoint. Bill Plympton was in attendance for two shorts: an original, Summer Bummer, and a restoration of an old 1921 short from animation legend Winsor McCay. Lev Yilmaz had two more installments of his ever-popular "Tales of Mere Existence" series. And Don Hertzfeldt concluded his moving trilogy with It's Such a Beautiful Day. But there were also great new shorts from new faces at FFF, including (notes on) biology, Flowers for Jupiter, and a hilarious Dr. Breakfast.
And so it is with the festival. It's hard to let go, but at least I'll always have the luxury of looking forward to next year. Hope to see you there!