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@ The South by Southwest Festival :: Girl Model

by Anthony Paull
Sunday Mar 11, 2012
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(Editor’s note: Move over Toronto and Sundance. What has emerged in the past few years as a major destination arts festival is The South By Southwest Music/Film/Interactive Conferences and Festivals in Austin, Texas.

Held in March, this annual event has become the launching pad for new films. Last year the R-rated "Bridesmaids" made a splash here; this year sees "21 Jump Street" and the long-delayed "The Cabin in the Woods" having their premieres, amongst the 132 films to be shown through March 18, 2012.

EDGE’s Anthony Paul is on hand and will offer reports of films, along with music groups, of interest. Here’s our first report, on the film "Girl Model," seen this weekend.


Girl Model

Do you like documentaries where small town, starry-eyed girls wander blindly into the lights of the treacherous big city? If so, check out "Girl Model," a thrilling new documentary depicting the gloomy underbelly of the modeling world.

Following the tale of financial gain in a fickle industry built on fleeting beauty and fat loss, documentarians David Redmon and Ashley Sabin (2009’s "Invisible Girlfriend") return with a cryptic depiction of the realities surrounding young Siberian models sent to the Japanese market in search of fame and fortune.

Beginning with the casting call, the SXSW doc opens with model scout Ashley Arburgh sorting through hopefuls in search of the next fresh face, which she finds in the slender form of Nadya, a 13-year-old Siberian girl quickly sent to Tokyo.

Upon arrival, she’s distressed, stranded at the airport without knowledge of the language. She’s given housing and instructions on opportunities for work but no money for food or personal care. She has no phone to call her parents. She’s told to tell clients she’s 15. If she gains one centimeter on her waist, hips, or bust, the contract will be null and void. The contract details can be changed by the agency (Switch Models) at any time.


Model scout Ashley knows the game too well. A hard-nosed expert, she illustrates what an ex-model can do with experience gained by the cutthroat market. With wealth, she’s bought a house, where she stores plastic baby dolls, in hopes of starting a family. Still, video flashbacks indicate another side to the woman - a confused 17 year-old girl suffering from depression and wanderlust when she was a model herself. She recalls days of being frightened by lack of security. "There are a lot of things that I have done that are bad in the business but I play it off like I’m good," she says. "But maybe I’m not good at all."

Still, the darkest waters fill the screen when Switch Models owner Messiah reveals, "from new faces I think we can’t make money."

"So if they don’t make money, why do you bring them in?" Redmon asks.

For answers, "Girl Model" combines clips and dialogue about prostitution and bad business ethics to allow viewers to complete the patchwork for themselves. What lengths will a poor Russian girl go to aid her family? What happens when dreams of stardom send the dreamer into debt? The troubled eyes of Ashley seem to know. That’s what makes the film so fascinating - the question as to why she stayed.  


Anthony Paull’s debut novel Outtakes of A Walking Mistake was recently chosen as an NPR Finalist for Best Teen Novel Ever.

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