| Date Published: Tuesday, 14 August 12
| Author: Naomi Milthorpe
| 9 months, 1 week ago
Birthday Suit: The Genesis of Exhibitionist
So I just spent the last 20 minutes trying to think of a punning title for this piece. This might not sound like an explanation of the genesis of BMA’s EXHIBITIONIST section but it certainly indicates where a vast majority of the effort was expended. Pun (or ‘clever’) titles were generally my primary concern, with adequate coverage and advocacy of our town’s glorious arts activity coming in a puny second place.
Of course, I jest. Having publicly seethed about the paucity of column inches for local (and especially emerging) artists – first over pints of beer at The Phoenix and then, via the medium of my first BMA baby, the Theatre Column (2006-2009, R.I.P.), Exhibitionist was born in 2009 when Bossman Allan Sko asked me if I’d be interested in helming an eight-page lift-out arts section. I reproduce for you here my reply as an example of the self-possession and quiet joy that bubbled within me at the time:
From: Naomi Milthorpe
To: Allan Sko Date: 31 March 2009 09:20 Subject: Re: Arts editor?
Holy crap. Yes. Yes please. I have been ranting secretly about how Beems should have an arts section for about four hundred years. I would be absolutely delighted. […]This is AMAZING!!! Wow.’
In other words, if there was such a thing as verbal jizzing, this would be it. You see, it might not seem all that bad now but back in my day (and yes, I am now ancient, toothless and wrinkled – a reminder to quit smoking while you’re young) there was a serious lack of decent arts coverage, particularly if you were young or unknown. As we all know, being young and unknown doesn’t mean your work isn’t exciting, it just means you maybe don’t have the muscle to flex around editors (who, trust me, are just fanboys and girls wanting to fawn over their idols). Compounding the problem was the sad closure of some of Canberra’s old school arts mags (Vale, Muse) and the repositioning of The Canberra Times editorial focus which, at the time, was making it a little bit tricky to get the word out there about local arts.
So when our little baby was born in early 2009, Exhibitionist was truly filling a gap, covering major arts events but also allowing the light to shine upon less prominent names. The mission was always to mix quality local coverage with an awareness of what was happening nationally; particularly in the ways that national arts events impacted upon the Canberra community.
In this, Exhibitionist was a quiet achiever from the start. My Exhi all-star team continually surprised me with their wit, dedication, and (importantly for an editor) punctuality. Yolande Norris, our visual arts expert (later to take a turn as Exhi editor before her duties as You Are Here co-pro became too all-encompassing) was continually in touch with the latest, hippest, most intriguing artists; reviews came thick and fast from Jemima Fort; theatre was gallantly covered by Emma Gibson and Ben Hermann; and I knew I could always count on Katherine Quinn to muscle in if I needed a spare hand.
Since Exhi’s first days, we’ve covered major arts news in Canberra: touring performances from the likes of Bell, the TCs (both S and M… and Q), OzOpera, Theatre Simple, and Druid Ireland; arts festivals like You Are Here, TINA and TheMulticultural Festival; major exhibitions like the Vanity Fair Portraits, Masterpieces From Paris, Soft Sculpture, various Photographic Portrait Prizes and the amazing Nick Cave exhibition hosted by the NLA; plus anything out-of-the-box (poetry slam, roller derby, zine and craft fairs, cabaret, burlesque, stand-up, tableaux vivants). We covered the closure of the ANU Drama Department, the fostering of emerging and local artists through Canberra Youth Theatre’s The Seed and Open House programs and the Street Theatre’s incredible Made In Canberra and The Hive, the ongoing excellence of the local dance scene through bastions like QL2, the birth (and rebirth) of local theatre companies like Everyman, Centrepiece, and Boho Interactive (whose shows continue to surprise and exhilarate), and the coming and going of scores of talented artists, writers, actors, jazz flugelhornists and whatnot.
In this regard, one of the best ideas with which Exhi began– and continues to this day – is the Artist Profile. Here artists, both emerging and established, describe themselves in their own words and there is a space to place an image of themselves or their work. The Artist Profile is stridently democratic, profiling anyone who creates (whether it be in an emerging, professional, amateur or miscellaneous category) and in whatever weird, wonderful genre you can imagine. As the Exhi editor, I stalked artists for their profile, but artists also approached me to be featured – and this is the beauty of Exhibitionist; as a section, it’s always on the lookout for something fresh and innovative, something outside the box.
In all our efforts, we were whipped along by the enthusiasm, pizzazz, and all-round Top Aussie Babe-ness of BMA’s then-Editor, Julia Winterflood. I cannot express how much Exhibitionist would have failed without her: her encouragement, support and advice to a fledgling ed. was truly saintly. Over the years, we developed a short-hand for supportive bucking-up (lobster emoticons) and spurned each other on with ever-greater pun titles, of which the better include:
A piece on the opening of the NGA’s Nolan Gallery in May 2010 by Yolande Norris: ‘Don’t Lose Your Ned,’
Emma Gibson’s story on TheatreSimple’s adaptation of The Snow Queen: ‘Snow Country For Old Men,’
‘Afternoon Delight’, a piece by Shailla van Raad about Tobias Manderson-Galvin’s Open House Residency, Afternoon of the Faun,
Ben Hermann’s cover story for The Walworth Farce, brought to the CTC in March 2010 by Druid Ireland: ‘WALWORTH A LOOK AND BETTER THAN A SLAP IN THE FARCE.’
If I’m remembered for anything in this lifetime, I want it to be that. Again, I jest. Exhibitionist was born from a furious desire to profile the distinct culture and community of artists working in Canberra. Julia Winterflood and I are Canberra arts apologists of old and our mission was to go beyond the mere assertion that there is, indeed, life in this old town yet. We wanted to show it off; dress it with some fancy-pants peacock feathers, and push it into the spotlight. The fact that the section has thrived so brilliantly is testament to just how much Canberra deserves it.
It’s a significant majority of people who haven’t seen ballet. Despite enjoying Billy Elliott and Black Swan, they have no fascination with its actual realisation. But the director of THE RUSSIAN IMPERIAL BALLET COMPANY is a fascinating person regardless.
Gediminas Taranda [Ged-im-in-us Ta-run-duh] made his name during the time of the Soviet Union and, to the detriment of his career, refused to remain silent in the face of its oppressive autocracy. At a time when the only ballet companies were government-owned, Taranda, a star in his early 20s, was repeatedly turned back from international tours at the airport in effort after effort to bully him silent and deprive him of his dream. Today, over 30 years later, Taranda runs Russia’s first independent ballet company, but being kept from leaving Russia continues to necessitate the presence of a translator.
Taranda is a stocky man, handsome in a thick, broad-jawed way, and his voice was earthy and rich. ‘Hello, yes, yes, OK, my translator speak English OK? Problem for you?’ Taranda’s translator, Nadia, began acting as intermediary.
Russian ballet prides itself on its Russian character. I asked Taranda if they risk losing their ‘Russianness’ with such lengthy tours. ‘A-ha-ha-ha!’ He’d understood. ‘There are lot of good ballet in Russia,’ Nadia said after conferring with Taranda. Her connection was so poor that she was almost unintelligible but choice phrases were discernible. I kept trying. The company is touring Sleeping Beauty, a classic and, like Swan Lake (the last piece they brought to Australia), another with music by Tchaikovsky. ‘Sleeping Beauty is the biggest ballet of classical stories in music; this is the most imperial ballet of them all,’ translated Nadia. Then she dropped out. We waited, Taranda politely afraid he would be unable to answer well enough. After a minute’s silence, Taranda spoke. ‘Ashley?’
‘Ah, OK, you stay.’
I laughed. ‘Yeah, I’m here.’
‘Ashley. I think it’s fantastic, the time. You stay in Australia, I stay in Russia, yet I speak on the telephone, yah? It’s absolutely fantastic. 50 years ago – it’s not, not possible. Now on phone – speak? Why not. It’s very nice, very nice. A long time when I travel lonely, I was in Australia – wow! – but [back then] is the Pavlov ballet – you know, pavlova? – but one month maybe, the ship from Russia to Australia, maybe more. This is very hard time for market, yes? For travelling. But many many many times go the travelling. Nowyou sit the plane, the airplane – 24 hours.’
My mother was on a boat for three months to Europe when she was a girl, I told him. ‘Aw-ho-oh-oh! Ho-oh-oh-oh-oh! Yes, this travelling very hard. OK, I don’t know where is Nadia but maybe I am understand a little.’ And he did; the rest of the interview was solely us.
When Taranda named his company, it was a controversial name. It was not only not progressive, but harked back to a time in Russia most perceived as a step down even from state socialism. ‘I like my country, Russia. Yes, very like,’ Taranda explained. ‘My name, my ballet, is Imperial Russian Ballet. When I picked this name for my ballet, many many communists and other politicians say “Why!? Why you doing Imperial Ballet? Remember!” I say, “Yes, but I like my country, Russia, many years ago.” But after perestroika, I say, my company’s name is Imperial Russian Ballet, but this a remember about old Russia. This is my political, yes?’ he laughed. ‘My small political war, with communists, with KGB, with anything.
‘Now is much better. I have many roles, many roles. If I don’t like this Russia, no problem... [But] I want to work in my country – work work work work work for my people. For Russian people, for other people. But ballet is absolutely like, like fresh water. Classical ballet, fresh water, every day; if you drink one drop fresh water, this is your life – different.’
Taranda’s belief in ballet is important. He is working to maintain a costly art form at a time when art is furthest from potential financier’s minds, especially internationally. ‘Ab-so-lute-ly. Now is very big problem with Spain, France, Greece... Every day work work work work work work, but this is very hard... This time, touring Australia, 45 dancers. Now, I work like Artistic Director; little dance, psychology with young people. Every five years, they change direction; every time – maybe in Australia, maybe like Russia – but young people is different, not like me, not like you.’
Taranda’s necessary preoccupation with youth is something he extends to the creative imagining of his ballets. The room for modern choreography in classic ballets is limited, especially in Russia, but Taranda attempts to accommodate it. ‘Young choreographer is very very hard work in Russia. Very different from French, from Greek and other company. If you have talent, if you very young choreographer, not possible to do many performances in government theatre. I invite choreographer in my company, say “Why? If you want to do choreography, join my company. OK, come on, come on! Do your choreography – try, try!” And next year, I show you,’ Taranda boasted, ‘I take in Australia many choreographer who is young people.’
Until The Russian Imperial Ballet Company returns in 2013 with an as-yet unannounced show, Sleeping Beauty, imbued with financial necessity, creative vision and almost delusional passion, may be a window to ballet for non-believers.
The Russian Imperial Ballet Company will appear performing Sleeping Beauty at Canberra Theatre Centre, Wed-Thu August 22-23, 7.30pm. $71.40-$101.40. Bookings (02) 6275 2700 or www.canberratheatrecentre.com.au
Such a wonderful variety of street art has popped up around Canberra lately. It almost seems like an act of nature; artworks appear overnight like sudden blooms of flowers amidst the concrete and steel, only to disappear the next day under a coat of grey paint. Maybe I’ve just primed my eyes to notice. But maybe you’ve also sensed the invisible bursts of individual energy behind these ephemeral creations. Eight months ago artist Dale Newbery began planning a showcase for such local talent, gathering artists via word of mouth. The hanging garden that grew out of it is HUNG: 40 pieces of street and urban artworks by ten local artists spanning the longest wall in Soju Girl.
I arrived in the stylish space on opening night and barely glanced at the walls before I was offered edamame, lotus root crisps, stunning spiced pumpkin rice paper rolls and bizarrely delicious tempura cauliflower with gobs of mayo-mustard and rice puffs. I planned a return visit for the food, grabbed a one-two-three cocktail punch named Mr Miyagi and joined those waxing lyrical over the artworks.
It was great to put names to some styles I’d seen on the streets, though most of the artists maintained a low profile. Some works blended the mystical with the bohemian, like Abyss’ varied but distinctive Seers – one of which was released into the wild via the back door and onto the Odgers Lane substation. Likewise, Walrus’s works were hypnotising. His Knowledge, Wisdom, Enlightenment is like a swirl of mercury across the surface of your third eye. Zedar’s black and white works criss-cross the boundary between mystic sigil and tattoo design, while Swerfk’s works (particularly Nonsense) were busy and fun. Dale’s works stare out at you: two bristle with beards, another features a familiar lurid sheep statue. Then there’s a painted pair from Jess Mess, a nice little set from Kook and one each from Gibbo and Byrd. Impressive diversity overall, but Houl’s selection is the standout amongst them. His Attack Sustain DecayRelease is an eye-catching array of macabre cartoonish hands. He also reimagines a variety of figures onto street signs: Edgar Allen Poe, HP Lovecraft, Ganesh and even a macroherpetophile. Don’t Google that.
Beyond the question of taste, there’s a notable lack of overt politics in the exhibition. Refreshing to some perhaps, but for art that resides in a grey zone of legality, legitimacy and acceptance, I wanted a bit more of that counterculture spirit. However, by the time Dale stood on a chair to toast the bustling crowd, it was hard to resist a silent auction bid. Head along soon and you might still be able to grab yourself a preserved piece of Canberra’s urban/street art history.
You can check out Hung at Soju Girl until Sunday September 30. Nestled in the heart of the Melbourne Building, they’re open Mon-Fri 12pm-11pm and Sat 2pm-12pm. Free.
For a writer and comedian who specialises in comic political satire, taking aim at one of Australia's most sacred and controversial national celebrations is not only a fitting task, but a task that would surely be taken to with ravenous enthusiasm. It's unsurprising, then, that after 12 years of writing for Sydney Theatre Company's infamous political comedy revue, The Wharf Revue,and a number of years spent as an Australia Day Ambassador, Jonathan Biggins has used his first independent full-length play, AUSTRALIA DAY, to lampoon that very national institution.
In the small (fictional) country town of Coriole, the members of the Australia Day committee are having difficulty exactly what it is they are celebrating. Kaeng Chan plays Chester, the Australian-born Vietnamese school teacher, representing Australia's rooted multiculturalism.
‘Jonathan's experiences were more in the country towns, so it's probably more reflective of their celebrations and what they do, says Chan. ‘But it's a social commentary on Australia in general.’
Alongside Chester on Coriole's Committee is the Liberal Mayor, the CWA rep, a Mayor hopeful, a bigoted builder and a Greens Councillor. Having had what sounds like a fairly standard upbringing in Perth, Chan related strongly to the character of Chester and his having to constantly remind others that, despite his ancestry, he is no less Australian. ‘When I first read the script, I thought “Geez, this character is very similar to me in terms of his humour, and how he handles aggressive prejudice and the innocent but completely wrong observations of people who aren't familiar with his background”,’ says Chan. ‘It's nice to be a part of a play that so accurately portrays the ethnic Australians; the “Asian Australians”. Even nowadays in the arts and especially on TV, the portrayal of other cultures can be a bit hit and miss.’
The production's set was designed by Richard Roberts and was intended to evoke many memories of Australia Day ceremonies of old. ‘It's amazing, you actually feel like you're stepping back into your old primary school's hall,’ says Chan. Rehearsals, as well, were aimed at developing the characters organically so they were believable and recognisable. ‘The main script was established but we had a lot of input into our individual characters. The ownership allowed us to make them as we knew them,’ he says.
Yet, for a production that lambasts one of the nation's most cherished national holidays, it has received very little, if no, discernible criticism. ‘I don't know of any but I can't see it happening because it's such a fun play to watch,’ says Chan. ‘Even the people who come in with a bit of skepticism will find something amusing. Whether they think it's just absurd or they see a bit of themselves in the characters they always enjoy it.’
Sydney Theatre Company and Melbourne Theatre Company present Australia Day at The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre, from Wednesday August 29 – Saturday September 1. Tickets from Canberra Ticketing on (02) 6275 2700 or www.canberratheatrecentre.com.au
The day after the Australian premiere of THE SAPPHIRES in Melbourne, I spoke to Miranda Tapsell, who plays Cynthia; the film’s ballsy, funny man-eater. Having observed photos of the event and admired the red carpet outfits of the female stars, my main interest remained in the audience’s reception to the film. ‘It was fantastic,’ Miranda gushed, ‘just really, really fantastic.’
It’s not that surprising. The film received a ten-minute standing ovation at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival and has been met with praise almost universally. It’s hard to criticise a film as joyous as this one. ‘The support from overseas – [particularly] in France – has been incredible. Everyone who has seen it has been so positive.’ From the way Miranda talked about the film it became clear that she and the rest of the cast view The Sapphires as their baby. It is, after all, a product of hard labour. ‘Everyone involved is just so proud of this project, and we’re so happy that other people are enjoying it too.’
Miranda found that, especially with such a great group of people working on the film (including Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens and Chris O’Dowd), filming was a fantastic process. It’s easy to see the chemistry between the cast onscreen. ‘The connection between myself and the other girls was pretty immediate, which was great. It was easy to show that closeness and affection.’
There were few tales of hijinks on set – ‘We were aware that we have this important story to tell and we wanted to do it justice’ – but Miranda did gleefully reveal that many laughs were shared during the dance and choreography sessions in which the girls were involved as they attempted to learn the moves for their performances: ‘That was all very funny!’
For a film that is so warm, The Sapphires also deals with some big themes, including racism, war and death. Miranda sounded particularly passionate when talking about what the story has to say about racism and the extent to which stereotyping is still prevalent today in the media industry. ‘This film is about these amazing, talented women overcoming how they have been marginalised and discriminated against. What I hope this film does is open up more roles for Aboriginal actors; just regular roles on mainstream television. It would be great if we could see an Aboriginal doctor or an Aboriginal lawyer on a law drama.’
The Sapphires is a jewel-bright film that deserves to be seen and, if the right people see it, it will go some way towards changing the status quo.
The Sapphires is now showing at Dendy Cinema. Check www.dendy.com.au for session details.
It was one of those shining Canberra days we shower in superlatives for months. The kind we cycle home from with sunburned shoulders and flushed cheeks, glowing with revitalised love for this city and in awe of its countless creatives. The first ART, NOT APART in March was one of the best days I’ve had in my beloved ’Berra. Never before had I relished such a glorious mélange of music, poetry, film, dance and visual and sartorial splendour in a place as intriguing as NewActon. As local writer Ashley Orr espoused in her RiotACT review, ‘As I turned down Kendall Lane to leave… I wished Art, Not Apart was on tomorrow.’ I wished it was on every other weekend. Thankfully, however, the second Art, Not Apart is a couple of months away, so if you’re one of our city’s said countless creatives now is the time to come and play.
Says Art, Not Apart producer David Caffery with his usual infectious vitality, ‘We’re calling for artists of any kind until [Monday] August 27, and then we’ll be outlining in instalments everything that will be happening. We’ll be doing it in instalments because there’s just so much going on.’ Naturally, Dave, naturally. ‘We’re working off the same basis as the last festival, but we’ve realised that if we offer people space – and it’s all about space – it doesn’t have to be a traditional market stall space, it could be space up a tree, it could be space on stage – but if we give artists space and time to think about how they’re going to use that space, then we have a festival already in action.’
But the space itself has not been without its detractors. Indeed, in BMA Magazine #390, Exhibitionist’s own Glen Martin surmised that NewActon has a ‘stuffy, rarefied toy-town vibe.’ The lawns are meticulously manicured, the ornate sculptures plentiful and the gleaming surfaces virginal, but insinuations of sterility I would argue are ignoble. Muses Dave, ‘Sterility comes from being new. What public space in Canberra isn't sterile? NewActon is a beautifully designed space that isn't finished yet. Great spaces come from being used, loved and lived in. The whole of Canberra has the same problem and NewActon is actively promoting artistic life and creating a unique public space. We shouldn't think of Canberra as sterile – it's fertile and provides us the chance to grow what we like.’
Art, Not Apart curator Becca Chandler’s main focus will be assisting artists to use NewActon’s diverse areas ingeniously. Says Dave excitedly, ‘She’s really trying to integrate whatever artistic form an artist may have into the laneways, the grass areas, hanging off trees, hanging off a crane – we’re now talking to an artist to make a piece that’ll be installed on a crane! There’s a guy doing a kinetic installation – a kinetic sculpture where the wind will make one bit move, which will make another bit move, which will make something beautiful move.’
And that’s it, right there: the ethos of Art, Not Apart. It’s ‘a day without divide’; a day to symphonise and celebrate our city’s often disparate arts communities in a space designed specifically for this purpose. The first instalment saw jazz fusion followed by folk, slam poetry followed by samba and the Canberra Symphony Orchestra accompanied by a painter who produced an arresting work by reacting to their stirring strains. And that was just what was happening on the main stage.
A few exciting additions to round two are Suitcase Rummage, a national collective that facilitates a ‘mini scaled market’ where you bring a suitcase or three of whatever it is you want to sell, set up on the grass and away you go; a paste-up competition judged by Canberra’s new favourite street art son, Abyss; and local, organic food stalls selling all the ingredients for a delicious picnic. The kids festival will return as will the short films in Kendall Lane Theatre, and I can only begin to imagine how many other wonders await us in October.
‘Evolved, mutated, twisted, turned and changed; from four pages to seven, from 45 to two. It even changes from evening to evening, depending on what the audience is finding funny,’ says Lucas Stibbard, star of the one-man show BOY GIRL WALL, regarding the ongoing changes to the production since it debuted in Brisbane in 2009 and subsequently toured to sell-out seasons in Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne. ‘Sure, there are still jokes that occasionally go sideways – a few risqué and salty jokes that the audience isn't always completely taken with – but we get rid of the bad vibes. With a bit of drumming, a bit of stage burning; we exorcise the demons.’
The production follows Thom and Alethea, two neighbours in an apartment block in the West End whose lives, in a state of despair, are brought together by the very wall that separates them. Stibbard plays 25 characters assisted only by a stick of chalk, a sock puppet and musician-composer Neridah Waters, who contributes sound effects from side-stage using a xylophone and soundboard.
It all sounds a little bit twee and a little bit rom-com in a very dry, Wes Anderson fashion. But Stibbard, while not displeased with the comparison, denies this is the case. ‘Well, firstly, it's like a pre-rom-com. There’s definitely a lot of 'com', but the show’s pretty much – if not completely – over by the time the 'rom' begins,’ he says. ‘I'm a big Wes Anderson fan, but he's basically Chekhov for America – a group of intellectual people complaining about their situation in a really funny way.’
The production was written by Stibbard and Matthew Ryan; two members of The Escapists, an acclaimed group of four Brisbane independent theatre makers (Waters and Jonathon Oxlade round out the group). The group is noted for its challenges to traditional approaches to theatre and storytelling. Again, an influence is suggested – this time Bertold Brecht – and again it is denied. Again, not without pleasure. ‘I'm a huge fan of Brecht. You cannot look at modern theatre without doing so in the context of how it is an influence of or reaction to what Brecht did,’ Stibbard says. ‘But he took epic theatre and politicised and turned it into didactic theatre whose purpose was education as much as it was entertainment. This show is discursive and episodic, but not epic. With Brecht's plays, you put all the parts together and you'll end up with a message like “war is bad” or something similar. This isn't like that. From this play you'll probably get the message that you should do something with your life that you enjoy.’
Boy Girl Wall is showing at the Street Theatre from Wednesday August 22-Saturday September 1. Book tickets by calling (02) 6247 1223 or visit www.thestreet.org
I AM ELEVEN is a new Australian documentary. It takes 23 11-year-old kids as its subject and explores what it's like to be a child in the 21st century. Filming was an epic expedition spanning 15 different countries with 12 different languages and it took six long, unpaid years to make. A single decision made by director Genevieve Bailey at a crucial age could have snuffed the entire idea out of existence.
‘[When I was 11] I wanted to be a forensic scientist – I look back now and I just laugh at that! I was very into maths and science, but I was also very into filmmaking. I started shooting when I was quite young... just little strange home movies and special effects videos I’d make with my brother and sister. It wasn’t until high school that I thought, “I wanna go to uni – what do I want to study?” I thought I could do many things, but I was most passionate about telling stories and making films.’
Genevieve hopped on a plane in 2005 and started collecting stories. ‘I look back now and I think it’s really funny that I never actually did any research interviews to see if 11-year-olds were as interesting as I thought; I just got on a plane to Japan and spent the next six years making it!
‘I had hoped I would find a sense of optimism and willingness to say how it is, rather than worrying about sounding cool or whether it was “right” or “wrong”, and that’s definitely what I found. And I found that even though the kids were all living in different circumstances.’ The movie features children from France, England, America, Germany, Sweden, India, Morocco, Thailand and many more countries. ‘I didn’t just want to study Australian children; I wanted it to be a global perspective. I think that the world is a different place now in terms of a global economy and mindset, where people feel far more connected now with technology than we ever have before.’
While most documentaries focus on three or four subjects at most, Genevieve included as many of the kids as possible. ‘I was really conscious of the fact that what I was doing was quite different, but I was really happy that we managed to include so many voices in the film and that the audiences are responding so well to all these different, diverse characters.’
But why 11? Genevieve refers to it affectionately as her favourite age. ‘I look back at it as being a special time when you’re full of ideas and personality and opinions. You’re not yet a teenager but you also don’t feel like a little kid anymore – it’s sort of a cusp. I think you know your interests and passions by then and I remember just feeling like the world was big – in a good way. I think I’ve always been really aware of how insightful and inspiring kids can be, but I think a lot of people overlook that age. People don’t necessarily think to put them on a platform and hear their views, but there’s a sense of clarity when they’re 11.’
The kids in this film are surprisingly eloquent. Invited to share their opinions – perhaps listened to properly for the first time – the kids expound their views on everything from love and war, to religion and the environment, to family and the future. Genevieve smiles as she recounts the answers she received to the question, ‘If you could change anything in the world, what would you change?’
‘A lot of the kids said they would want to stop war and poverty and wanted everyone to be treated equally. Remi says that he’s always dreamt that there would be no more borders, that way there’d be no more inequality. Whereas Kimberly from New Jersey found that question really hard to answer; finally, she said, “Oh, I’ve got it! I would make it so that weekends are four days, and you only have to go to school three days a week.” ’
Audience reactions to the film have so far been overwhelmingly positive, though the film brings up some old anxieties concerning how fast kids are compelled to grow up in modern times. ‘I think it’s hard to assess... but I think it’s probably less than a lot of people worry about. I think the kids I met in the 15 different countries were more mature and had to face more adult, complex issues than others, but I also think there’s this united sense of playfulness and ability to be a child.’
The project will live beyond the rolling of the end credits. Genevieve has plans for an I Am Eleven sequel exploring what’s become of the kids and intends to expand the project's web platform, www.iameleven.com. ‘At the moment you can see the trailer, character profiles, audience reactions... things like that. The next stage is expansion to include even more 11-year-olds, so children who we met who aren't in the feature can go in there. More importantly, it gives us the opportunity to invite 11-year-olds from here and around the world to submit their own stories – photos, video entry or drawings... anything that they want to have shared with the world.’
I Am Eleven is now showing at Dendy Cinema, Canberra Centre. For more information on the documentary see www.iameleven.com