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Former model and now jaded scout (read: human trafficker), Ashley
Arbaugh, reveals the ugly truth that there is no glamour in modeling.
With incredibly questionable morals on display from just about everyone, from the 13 year old Siberian child's mother pushing her daughter into modelling (read: slavery), through to the curious agency owner who knows that there is no money to be made on these girls who stay in Japan for three weeks only to return home with $2k worth of debt for the family (along with a nice mentally scarred teenager).
Ashley, the soulless globetrotting star of this film, is self-indulgent beyond belief in her self- pity, which, if you try really hard to push past her shocking, confronting can-I-slap-her exterior, you might just see a a raw and damaged woman. A template that you can easily imagine these 13 year old girls are now going to grow into themselves.
Yet another awesome example of documentary kicking fiction's butt in the creation of monstrous characters, and nothing says this better than the agent (read: child catcher) that enthusiastically talks about bringing happiness and wealth to all of the girls and their families, and how this mantra of helping others must exist because he had been a bad man in a previous life. Classic.
Watch out for one of cinema's most uncomfortable scenes when Ashley drops in to say hello to the two models in their rather compact apartment (or shall we say 'cell').
[...]The film is obviously dark and upsetting, but it left me with so
many unanswered questions. Perhaps in our age of America's Next Top
Model, the directors expected a certain base understanding of the
modeling industry, but I could have used some more guidance. I would
have appreciated a narrator or on-screen captions saying things like
"This is a recruiter. It is the recruiter's job to
" or "Nadya is now
" Maybe I just have a way below average understanding
of modeling, but the whole time I kept asking myself very basic
questions that could have been easily explained, and would have made
for a much more educational film.
Additionally, the filmmakers failed to elaborate on certain themes that were mentioned in passing, often by Ashley (who was an utter enigma as a character, hovering between denial and insanity). Themes like prostitution and sex trafficking, and illegal underage models. These are issues that could use some unpacking. Ashley would say something like, "We all know that some girls turn to prostitution (though she never even says the word), but I don't have any first-hand evidence of that," and then she would move onto another topic. I think in cases like this, it is the filmmakers role to step in; if not to press Ashley further in the interview than at least to provide the audience with a statistic or something. However, the directors seemed determined to keep the narrative confined to the claustrophobic world of the characters that they were following, leaving the audience to scratch their heads and speculate. Additionally, with no additional information, the viewer is left with no idea about the scope of the problem. Are situations like this the exception or the rule? Are they limited to Japan, or to this one particular agency, or should we now assume that any photograph we see in a fashion magazine has a crying Russian child behind it? What can we do to prevent situations like this? We simply are never given any of the answers.
Girl Model was an engaging and disturbing documentary, though it left me wanting to know more. It showed us the characters and told us their story, but left out a lot of the context necessary to create a holistic understanding. I'll probably end up trying to do some more research about the topic to answer some of the questions that I had, but it would have been nice it the directors had done that work for me.
Read the full review here: http://mattreviewsstuff.com/2012/04/25/girl-model/
This is one disturbing documentary. I feel as shocked and repulsed as I
would had I just watched a documentary on child pornography, which
frankly, isn't too far removed from what I have just seen. I don't
write many reviews but sadness and anger have prompted me to start
Unlike other reviewers who feel the directors skimmed the surface and left too much out, I disagree: by remaining quiet and distant (although thankfully they apparently did step in when the child models were in obvious need of help, which was not being provided by anyone else) they perfectly capture the solitary confusion, neglect, and loneliness that the girls face. The lack of action, human interaction (other than with unfriendly agency/magazine people), and the tedium of the documentary all perfectly mirror the experience the girls themselves go through. If we (adult viewers) aren't completely clear as to who certain people are, or what exactly is going on, then we can safely assume that a 13 year old girl from Siberia, who speaks neither English nor Japanese, and has no parents to help, would not know either - and that's the point. These young, hopeful, innocent girls are plucked from their surroundings and dropped into the ruthless, heartless, abusive world of modeling with no support system in place, where (shockingly, to me) women as much as men treat them as insentient "things", products that they can push, prod and pick apart. To make it all the more morally repugnant, having endured being repeatedly reviewed/rejected/reviewed/rejected/reviewed/rejected, they are sent home, not with thousands of dollars in their bank accounts, but IN DEBT to the agencies that "represent" (pimp) them.
So who's to blame for all of this - does the fault lie with the parents for sending their children off, unescorted, into the blue? I don't think so- they have been promised a dream, a future, financial rewards, which in reality are unlikely to materialize, but should they be blamed for hoping for the best? Ashley (see below), in one of her scouting pitches, claims no model fails in Japan and they won't return in debt as they would if they are sent anywhere else, which is clearly - and she knows it! - a lie. The parents are oblivious to the truth of the situation into which their daughters are being sent, and I'd like to think the moms and dads give themselves enough of a hard time for falling for the lies, and believing in the dream that didn't (and rarely does) come true once it all does become clear upon their daughters' return.
The perpetrators of what, in my opinion, amounts to borderline child abuse are Ashley Arbaugh, the scout responsible for finding the pre-pubescent girls and Noah and "Messiah", the agency owners she passes them on to.
Ashley has obviously been psychologically damaged by her own time in the modeling industry (and possible dabble into other sideline activities - prostitution, perhaps? - which she alludes to by mentioning she had been a "bad girl"), a fact that is borne out physically in the form of a large cyst and fibroid she has to have surgically removed. She is clearly not healthy in the body, nor the head. She has a horrible lack of depth, acknowledging but then brushing aside the seedy side of the industry she feeds, even going so far as to refer to prostitution as "normal". Her morals have clearly collapsed in the face of an obvious selfish drive to make money. I found her perversely fascinating. Does she have any friends? Who would want to hang out with her? She mentions wanting a baby - but would anyone actually date her?... And cold-hearted it may sound but I truly hope she never actually has one, god forbid a daughter.
As for the men who run the agencies, I have two words: "pedophile pimps".
"Ugh" is how I feel having watched this documentary. What a sordid world and how callous human beings can be. Very sad.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Hard to try and beat the earlier review of this by Backseat Director.
Just saw this at MIFF today and found it very absorbing. Whilst it is very sad watching the young women (girls) being exploited the saddest character by far is "scout" Ashley.
From her inability to leave an industry she clearly loathes, to her massive but ultimately empty mansion (complete with two plastic babies) to her revolting cyst. The scene when she "checks up" on the two young Russian models is a real highlight. Cannot believe how ignorant and cold Ashley is in this sequence. Her inability to communicate is astounding (Hey Ash, did it ever occur to you that the girl's are Russian and didn't have English skills?) and I cannot believe she couldn't fork out some of her fat payroll to hire an interpreter.
A must see documentary.
David Redmon and Ashley Sabin's Girl Model is a lot like Lee Hirsch's
directorial debut in the documentary world, Bully, which came out
earlier this year. Both films are well done and do a mostly efficient
job at drumming up awareness to their subject, but both leave things
undeveloped and occasionally have a pending "half-baked" feeling to
them. While I thoroughly enjoyed Bully, mainly for its message, its
tone, and its deep stories told by the victims with sincerity and
bravery, such topics as the reason why kids bullied others and
interviews with the actual bullies or their parents were mysteriously
We begin by meeting our main model, a thirteen year old Russian model named Nadya Vall. She is moderately tall, with pale skin, and a feeble body thanks to little food consumption. She has thinned herself down to amazingly slender shape only so she can be trafficked all across the United States, Siberia, and Japan to help her family through financial trouble. The picture opens with a beauty judge going through a lineup of girls, announcing their flaws to another woman as if they are public information. The dehumanization he brings to these women, as the looked of unadulterated failure rests in their eyes is hurtful to watch. The same man later tells us that three things you need to be a successful model are "grace, good communication skills, and manners." You'll also need a rhino's skin and a high level of self-esteem, but those perks come omitted from the modelling handbook I presume.
One modelling agency representative named Noah states that he loves the job of a model agent for the sole purpose that he feels he's giving these women a chance at greatness and an opportunity to grow as individuals. This is only one of the most likely hundreds of contradictions in the modelling world; you're told to be an individual, but to have your flaws nit-picked in public, as if there's no element of privacy at all, and to be told what to eat, what to weigh, and how to go about being liked in an industry dominated by ego, greed, and narcissism, it sounds like the gospel that preaches against human individuality.
The film features arguably one of the strangest, yet most soothing cinematographic elements in quite sometime. The entire film seems to encapsulate or mirror a dream sequence, with very glossy atmosphere, smoothly gray and faint images, and many, many scenes with very simple yet very divine direction.
However, this soft approach not only affects the film's look but the film's approach to the subject matter. In seventy eight minutes, Girl Model is a fine documentary, but it lacks examination on the larger scale issue at hand here and takes the passive, almost constructive criticism tactic on the modelling industry. It remains too safe, and has numerous times where anger and emotional weight could be applied, but cops out in favor of a more calm, controlled direction. Perhaps viewers would rather watch a calm, controlled look on the modelling industry, but I occasionally felt restless and a little unmoved when the film clearly could've invited social criticism into play, but unfortunately, took the safer, more emotionally sustained route.
Starring: Nadya Vall. Directed by: David Redmon and Ashley Sabin.
This documentary is raw and without all the niceties of those with a
high budget, but it conveys its meaning in a direct and strong way. The
way it depicts the fragility and the weakness at the core of this
thirteen years old girl, and her friend, feels real. Their humane side
is way more beautiful then their looks and it makes you angry to see
how this world allows the practice of exploiting, not just poverty and
hopes, but also innocence.
Kids and teenagers especially, should be protected and guided toward real values until they are able to discern by themselves. We - as in, us adults - should work together toward a better awareness and see the things how they really are, rather then taking them as "someone" would lead us to believe. Let's go beyond looks and materialism to see what really matters. Only then we can help the younger generations.
Watch this documentary. Maybe it's worth it or maybe not - for me it surely was - but give it a go.
Fairly disturbing documentary about young (way young) models scouted
from their homes in Siberia and sent to Japan to model. -apparently the
Japanese market likes young girls.
Our main subject here is 13, plucked from the Siberian countryside and dropped into the centre of Tokyo. The girls are basically owned by their agency, waiting around in tiny, crappy apartments to go on shoots, completely shut off due to the language barrier and a lack of cash. Ultimately they can be sent home if they gain any weight or "inches" as outlined in their contract. This creates as a problem for some girls as puberty hits during this time.
This is very sad because the girls and their families (a least initially) think they've won the lottery but in reality I saw it as just another form of human trafficking.
The scout who finds these girls is a former model and apparently hates the business but that doesn't stop her from exploiting them and living in a fancy house in America. 03.13
For a while I've had this impression with me that youth modeling,
especially the cast of (almost always) girls who are barely out of
childhood (mentally and physically), invokes close resemblance to
pedophilia. This documentary confirms that impression, following a
young teenager girl (Nadya Vall) from a rural village in Russia to a
trial at the very bottom feeder market of Japan commercial modeling.
It is the antithesis of Top Model or other glamorous portrayal of girls striving to conquer it all. Much on the contrary, Girl Model displays, in a crude form, how young girls are de-humanized, reduced literally to pieces of meat with a very short expiration date, and shuffled across continents and housed (or should I say warehoused) in tight confines while being, all the way, to navigate the unknowns of a country whose language they don't speak, a business they clearly have no idea how it works (which leave them vulnerable), while clearly bearing the insurmountable expectations that their whole families put on them as an escape from a poor life. It is an amount of pressure no 13-year old teenager should ever have to deal it so young in life.
The documentary is interesting, as well, in the sense it shows the overall insensitive nature of all people working with these young teens. They rationalize their work in different ways, and they probably worked with hundreds of girls before, so they become just oblivious to the obvious distress, anxiety and fear they have.
Ashley Arbaugh, a former model-turned-scout, co-star the documentary. She has been clearly affected by her years on the fashion industry, and is very conflicted about it - on one's hand grateful it helped achieve some financial security, independence and stability; on the other hand very ambivalent to the shallowness of the fashion world and the utter commoditization of models as they are reduced to their bodies and how they fit the aesthetics tastes of the moment. She can relate to the difficult moments of her own career as she signs two young Russian girls for a trail on the industry in Japan.
All of that notwithstanding, there are some major flaws with the documentary. Editing is bad, really bad. Even as the stories are compelling, they were merged into a documentary in a way that gives the impression of an unfinished job. I know this is a low-budget production, but this is not about money, but a rough editing job that compromises the viewer experience greatly. P.O.V. shooting might work great, but it does require good editing afterward.
They also tried to use the progression of an Ashley's medical issue as a hang to build her own insertion in the documentary, but it clearly didn't work, at least in the form presented.
Finally, I think it was a huge mistake not to let some of the people who are featured in the documentary to speak freely a bit, even if in the form of 'confessionals'. It would have greatly expanded the viewer's insight on the brutal work of C-level youth modeling.
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