"I Am Eleven': Film Review

Henrik Nordstrom
Kids say the darndest things

Genevieve Bailey's documentary examines the lives of eleven-year-old children from around the world

Early on in her documentary, filmmaker Genevieve Bailey says she was inspired to make the film since eleven was the age she considers the happiest of her life. Leaving aside the issue of what’s gone wrong for her since then, that sort of joyousness permeates this heartfelt effort exploring the lives of eleven-year-old children around the world. Filmed in fifteen countries over the course of six years, I Am Eleven more closely resembles quickly glimpsed snapshots han incisive portraits, but it certainly demonstrates the universality of adolescent concerns.

The obvious comparison is Michael Apted’s groundbreaking Up Series, although of course what it most closely resembles is merely its first installment. Lacking the depth of the ensuing documentaries that chronicled the lives of its subjects over many years, Bailey’s film is a more superficial affair that relies on the quirky charms of its young interviewees.

They’re a diverse lot indeed, including Rika, a Japanese girl who says of boys that “sometimes I really want to tickle them”; Remi, a serious-minded, sophisticated French lad who declares himself “a citizen of the world”; Jack, who lives in Thailand and whose hobbies include riding elephants; Sree, an Indian girl seeing foreigners for the first time and who had no idea what an interview was; Obey, an English lad eager to develop his boxing skills; and the Muslim Sharif, an aspiring rapper.

As Art Linkletter famously proved, kids say the darndest things, and so it is here. The British Billy, whose comments are subtitled due to his thick accent, pretty well sums up the nature of human existence with this comment: “When you’re an adult your voice changes and then you get married to the woman you love and then you get children and grandchildren and then boom, it all ends.” Samuel Beckett couldn’t have said it better.

Addressing topics ranging from the charms or lack thereof of the opposite sex to bullying to the war between India and Pakistan to the effects of global warming, the kids are a talkative lot, although the fast-paced editing and short snippets makes it hard to keep track of them.

But the feature-length film ultimately becomes repetitive, with the lack of contextual information about the subjects’ lives rendering the proceedings shallow. The overall effect is like eating a box of chocolates rather than a nutritious meal.

Production: Proud Mother Pictures

Director/director of photography/editor: Genevieve Bailey

Producers: Genevieve Bailey, Henrik Nordstrom

Composer: Nick Huggins
 

No rating, 90 min.

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