Girls Rock! Movie: Banding Together Across the Country

girlsrock_banner_000.jpgThey’re baaaaack! Girls Rock! (the movie) is playing a reprise role in S.F. (this time at The Red Vic MovieHouse in the Haight, rock central in shades of Janis Joplin retro style!) Trailer here.
When? June 1 & 2. Dang, why is it that everything always happens on the same dates?

Girls Rock film producers Arne Johnson & Shane King will be on hand at the Red Vic 6/2 for Q&A following the film with ‘The As Ifs’ (a girl band from their rock camp) as a special music warm up act…Concurrently, on June 2nd, CCFC’s Susan Linn is speaking locally on The Case for Make-Believe! Also, on June 1, the Adorno Ensemble wraps their fourth season of free, live chamber dialogue (like guerilla artists, bringing culture to the world whether kids are ‘ready or not, here I come!)Girls Rock! & The Case for Make Believe are both national tours, so check their event slates.

I already brought our Shaping Youth tween team on opening weekend in the Bay Area this past spring, became a Girls Rock supporter and avid friend post-haste, and took a ‘tween exit poll’ approach for a different style of review…But since my daughter decided the camp itself ‘looked cool,’ I’d really like to be in S.F. to get a firsthand chat with the girls who have already ‘claimed their voice.’

girls-rock-logo.gifNot trying to sound like an ‘F’ word Femme fest, but for those of you who missed this indie rockumentary the first round, Girls Rock has been traveling across the country. (from Sitka, Alaska to southern Georgia, along with northern exposure in Montreal and Euro-slated for Poland, France and Germany but to name a few…)

Shaping Youth thought it would be interesting to compare and contrast this indie film with girls from different regions to see if they ‘see themselves’ in this poignant flick…

Today, Deesha Philyaw gives us her take on the PA Girls Rock showing in Pittsburgh …which is running through next week, June 5th.

I’ll chime in in with our own California girls and their personal reverb in ‘part two,’ along with a few comments from girls in Minnesota via New Moon Girl Media’s editorial board.

Figured it might be interesting to get a national ‘sampling’ of whether or not kids ‘relate’ to the Sleater-Kinney vibe, though I’ll vehemently state I’m a fan and ‘friend’ of the filmmakers for their sheer boldness of message alone.

girls-rock-producers.jpgTo me, Arne Johnson & Shane King are heroes simply for entering a girls world of thrashing, angst-driven adolescence with open hearts and minds capable of “getting it” and “living it” with courage, sensitivity, and respect for these kids at their core…

That’s saying something right there…

Hats off, gents, for an immersive ‘virtual world’ experience in real life…(not even in ‘Second Life.’) 😉

Backing up a bit, true confessions…

I have a HUGE thing for music, lyrics, and the powerful emotive poignancy as it translates to same. (particularly in adolescence; I was the one deciphering every stanza to ‘relate’ to the tune)

Plus, I love rock band names and their origins…

Rock band names are like a marina of beautiful sailboats to me, each one a customized reflection of the owner’s personality.

girls-rock-guitar.gifAfter all, as a name generation, branding queen, I know ‘what’s in a name,’ so “Girls Rock” appeals on a variety of levels, from authenticity and encouragement to their “rockumentary with attitude” style of entertainment.

Check out the creativity and allegory behind these band names gleaned from a MySpace site of Girls Rock aficionados, from one of their partner orgs, Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls…

“…Edible Red, InfernoPhonic (formerly Tang), The Catholic Girls, All Out Riot, Dormitory Effect, The Raygun Girls, The Rosies, Esmirelda & the Tidbits, Olivia & The Housemates, Milwaukee Tell, Semiblind, Soraia, Prima Donna, Odd Girl Out, The Degenerettes, Shooting Ropes, Spark is a Diamond, If Man Is Five, Beyond Blonde, Sanity Is Chaos, Covin, Pasco Roberts, The Turnaround, Silence Bleeds, Cootie Shot, Cheap Perfume, Royal Pink and Luff, Lydia Warren, Project Applesauce, Grandma’s Mini…”

Mind you, some names might be just wild card ‘caution to the wind’ creations, but others were no doubt pondered upon immensely.

They’re like poetry to me, always fascinating to decipher, loaded with enigma.

salacious.jpegWe bareboated with friends in the Caribe awhile back, (even brought our guitars) and loved reading the Moorings sterns like a personal diary filled with conjecture and our own imagination over who, what, and how these entities came to be…

As our tribe of kids boarded our own rental boat we heard the younger ones ask, “mama, what does “Salacious” mean?”

Um…yeah, well, hey. It’s the Grenadines. Go with it, gang.

Anyway, as a writer/producer myself, creating a film called “Body Blitz: Media, Shaping Youth,” I’m particularly empathetic to the plight of girls’ self esteem and body image cues as media defines kids before they can even define themselves…so Girls Rock resonates for sheer ‘pre-pubescent angst’ alone…

That said, I’ll let the tweens speak for themselves in part two for their take on it…stay tuned.

girls-rock3-small.jpgMeanwhile, looks like Girls Rock is going the ‘Two Angry Moms’ route of creating a grassroots distribution channel for public use (set up for pre-orders here) along with DVD extras like a full performance of the often-requested song “Jen (I try I try),” Kerri Koch’s documentary about the history of Riot Grrrl, and all kinds of pre-order perks prior to their Sept. 9 dvd release and interesting ‘store’ stuff like DIY tees for teens in a book Arne co-wrote with Karen Macklin called “Indie Girl.”

Anyway, I’ll hush and wait for my turn, meanwhile, here’s The Shaping Youth guest editorial by Deesha Philyaw with her perspectives from Pittsburgh…

Girls Rock! Review by Deesha Philyaw, Pittsburgh, PA

A few months ago, I viewed the trailer for Girls Rock!, a documentary which chronicles a 5-day-long Rock ‘n Roll Camp for Girls in Portland, Oregon. At the camp, the girls form bands, write music, and ultimately perform for a crowd of 750.

The clip showed pre-teen, guitar-wielding girls in all their sneering, screaming, and angsty-glory. The Seattle Times’ review of the film (“Bring your daughters”) read my mind. This film was a must-see for my girls, ages 4 ½ and 9 ½. So, when I found out that the film’s limited release included Pittsburgh, we were there.

If Rock ‘n Roll Camp for Girls had a mascot, she would be called The Anti-Britney.

The film presents scantily clad imagery of Ms. Spears circa 2000 as the antithesis to punk rockers like Bikini Kill and alt-rock musicians such as Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth who exemplified real ’90s Girl Power.

Forget what you heard about that spicy quintet from the other side of the pond. The camp was founded nearly a decade ago in the spirit of Bikini Kill, Kim Gordon, and others, as a way to empower girls and reclaim girl culture from the fluffy, sexualized, unhealthy forces which currently have a stranglehold on it.

Girls Rock! follows 100 campers as they form 24 bands and write songs in preparation for a concert.

On the first day, the girls are asked to pick a musical genre and find band mates. As the girls mill uncomfortably around a large room considering signs proclaiming “Funk”, “Punk”, “Hip Hop” and other genres, anyone who has ever wandered around the cafeteria on the first day of school clutching a plastic tray and looking for a familiar or friendly face will relate.

Fifteen-year-old vocalist Laura, one of the four girls the documentary focuses on, searches for fellow death metal enthusiasts and worries that she won’t find any (she does). A hip-hop band struggles to choose a name–especially after they discover that their sound isn’t actually hip-hop.

In addition to Laura, the film has three other primary subjects: Seventeen-year-old Misty is currently living in a group home after spending 10 months in a lockdown facility. She has never even seen her chosen instrument, the bass, before.

Amelia, an eight-year-old guitarist, has only one friend at school, is writing a 14-song cycle about her dog, Pippi, and doesn’t care too much about melody–to the chagrin of her band mates.

High-octave vocalist Palace is a seven-year-old budding fashionista whose obsession with her looks worries her mom (who admits to her own image issues). She is the camp’s resident diva and has about as many comedic moments as she does unruly ones. Palace gives us this memorable lyric: “San Francisco sucks sometimes –I don’t want to go there again with my mom on her business trip”

Over the course of five days, we witness girls literally and figurative finding their voices, practicing instruments (some playing for the very first time), and learning to get along.

In addition to group practices and one-on-one sessions with teachers (women only), the girls learn about the history of rock ‘n roll and take classes in self-defense. During one lunch break, they are treated to performance by a female metal band, complete with a head-banging, hair-swinging kick-ass lead vocalist.

The film also features interviews with campers at camp and at home, family members, and camp staff (including indie rocker Beth Ditto, whom I recognized from her frequent appearances on one of my favorite celebrity gossip blogs).
Through these interviews, the heavy load girls carry today is laid bare.
From random acts of unkindness by mean girls to drug-addicted parents to struggles with body image and the relentless quest to fit in–today’s girls have it rough.

Camp staffers can relate, because after all, such problems aren’t new. Clearly, the camp is a labor of love for the counselors, music teachers, and “camp moms”, many of whom play in bands themselves, all of whom remember the crippling self-consciousness, fear, and danger (sexual assault and harassment) that can come with growing up girl.

Interspersed throughout the film are animated segments highlighting disturbing statistics about the current state of girlhood.
For example:

  • While women represent only 22% of performers in music videos, they are 5 times more likely than men to be dressed in revealing clothing in videos.
  • In 1970, the average age for girls to start dieting was 14; in 1990, it was 8.
  • Girls are the only group to begin school with a testing advantage and leave with a disadvantage.
  • The percent of girls who say, “I’m happy”, drops from 60 to 29 percent between the ages of 9 and 15.
  • Girls are twice as likely as boys to say a body part is their best feature (boys are more likely to cite their talents).
  • The fashion and beauty industries makes $43 billion annually off teen girls alone. These stats are juxtaposed against retro footage of women and girls from the 50s, 60s, and 70s, as well as present-day imagery.
  • As the mother of girls, I enjoyed and appreciated this film. It put the issues on the table without being ham-fisted or overly sentimental. There were no “After School Special” moments.This film was real, certainly more real (and less toxic) than so-called Reality TV.

    None of the girls were edited to be caricatures, and their petty squabbles weren’t played up for entertainment. The camp was designed to foster congeniality and community-building, and the film honors that.

    The movie and the camp’s finale, the concert, did not disappoint. The girls were beautiful and wild and most of all, they had fun. The highlight of the concert for me was when one little darling sang: “Bush is an idiot…he won’t sign the Kyoto treaty…”

    By film’s end, Laura, who had declared early on that she hates herself, realizes that “I’m amazing.” And yet Girls Rock! offers up neither happily ever after nor pat answers.

    The girls’ angst is palpable and their vulnerability is heart-breaking. I realized, as I watched, that I am at the age now where I am less inclined to ache at the memory of my own teen awkwardness, and more inclined to ache for my daughters for whom adolescence is just around the corner.

    I left Girls Rock! wanting my girls to go to Rock ‘n Roll Camp (there are now ten such camps worldwide with even more in the works). My oldest, who really liked the film, said she’d think about it. The youngest pouted because I wouldn’t buy more popcorn; no word yet on her thoughts about the movie or the Camp, but she did laugh out loud at words like “suck” and “idiot.” So I think it’s safe to give this one a unanimous family thumbs up.

    Black Factor

    Five minutes into the film, I get this whisper from my oldest daughter: “Mommy, I notice there aren’t any black girls.” She’s almost right. There are only a few black girls at the camp. But, as my daughter notes, “They aren’t being interviewed like the other girls.”

    The campers include some black, Latina, Asian, and biracial girls, but of the four girls who are the primary subjects of the film, only Korean-born Laura is not white (her adoptive parents are white). At one point, she talks about being called a Twinkie (yellow on the outside, white on the inside).

    I suspect the filmmakers were purposeful about not focusing on four white girls, however the inclusion of Laura did not come across as tokenism.

    When Laura shared her personal fears and insecurities, she could have been speaking for any of her contemporaries, regardless of race. Also, she could just as easily have been chosen because of her candor, eloquence, and bubbly personality.

    File Under: The World May Never Know

    “Mom, if the camp is for girls ages 8-18, how come Palace is there? She’s only 7.” Good question, DaughterMine! My guess is that the camp organizers realized that dear Palace was 7 going on 27 and made an exception for her.Here’s what the filmmakers, Arne Johnson and Shane King, both natives of Portland, have to say about being two guys making a film about empowering girls:

    “The camp, understandably, was suspicious and wary. We had to do quite a bit of persuading that we weren’t trying to turn the camp into American Idol. And in the process of persuading, we did a lot of listening. And discovered that the camp was about so much more than just kids with guitars. We heard about transformations, girls who looked to the camp as a lifeboat in the swirling seas of conformity pressure and bands of twelve year old girls that by the mere act of playing made grown men cry. And in that process, we forgot that we were just men, and started learning how to be better human beings. And in a strange twist, we started to see the fact that we were men making the film not as a hindrance, but as a strength. The film would almost be the charting of our experience (though we never appear in the film, of course) of having our eyes opened, and we hope that perhaps that urgency, that sense of sad but also inspiring discovery, will transmit itself through the film.”

    Review by Deesha Philyaw, Pittsburgh, PA, of Literary Mama, blogging at her own Mamalicious site as well as our partner org, ‘Anti-Racist Parent’

    Special thanks to Deesha from yours truly at Shaping Youth, who will follow up with ‘part two’ of our own ‘tween take’ on things…

    Meanwhile, isn’t it interesting that we all see (& don’t see) through a different lens, filtering information and reactions from our own POV? (e.g. the wee one’s comments) We’ll explore this more next time…and hear what more girls have to say…

    One thing’s for certain…Girls Rock! —AJ



    1. I added your blog to my favorites! I love what you write about!

    2. Dang
      I just spent ages typing a long comment, and when I tried to submit it my browser crashed.
      Was it somehow saved or do I need to retype the whole thing?

    3. Dang, I checked my spam filter folder and it’s not there so I think you’re hosed on this one…argh. I HATE it when that happens. (and for me it happens all too often…in fact I’m starting to compose in Word and cut-n-paste now it’s happened so often!) argh! So sorry to hear that…

      Drat…try again?

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