Thursday, September 15, 2011

TIFF 2011: "Girl Model" Doc Uncovers Not-So Model Behaviour

Girl Model opens with a group of bikini-clad Siberian girls herded onto a stage, waiting anxiously to be judged on the merits of their beauty.  Many of the girls are pre-pubescent and barely have a shape to hold up their 2-piece uniform, but to them and their impoverished families, it's an opportunity of a lifetime: to win a lucrative contract to model in Japan.

[Pictured: Left to Right: Co-director David Redmon, Model Rachel Blais & Co-director Ashley Sabin]

One of the judges is former American model Ashley Arbaugh (the first subject of the film).  She travels Eastern Europe scouting for young girls who possess the ideal traits of a successful Japanese model (young, slender with big eyes) and on this cold evening in Siberia, she and her panel have selected Nadya (the second film subject) as the successful candidate.  Nadya, like so many Russian girls, sees modelling as the answer to all her dreams.  But, as Girl Model uncovers, for both Ashley and Nadya, the modelling industry's promise of glamour and wealth is not picture perfect.

To their credit, directors Redmon and Sabin bring no particular agenda to their film other than to put their camera in front of the action and allow us to make our own judgement.  The film includes intimate conversations with models and agents -- each with conflicting viewpoints about the benefits of the industry.  The most intriguing conversation is with Nadya's agent, Tigran, who sees himself as a saviour by offering young girls a life of fame and fortune, but his philanthropic intentions come into question when he inexplicably adds that his 13 year-old models will not prostitute themselves because they're happy with what little money they earn.

Although Ashley never realized her own modelling dreams, it doesn't stop her from selling the dream to hopeful models as a scout.  More tragic is her blind eye to the life of prostitution that some of these girls lead and even worse, her rationalizing it: "prostitution is legal in some places."

Redmon and Sabin have crafted a revealing and engrossing film.  Everyone -- particularly young people (both female and male) who aspire to be a model should see it.

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