Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Genevieve Bailey.
Melbourne-based video journalist Genevieve Bailey travelled around the world over the course of several years, talking to eleven-year olds from a number of different countries and backgrounds to discover their hopes and fears and expectations. The result was I Am Eleven, a rather fascinating documentary that premiered at the Melbourne Film Festival in 2011 and has travelled well on the festival circuit since.
Bailey chose that age because it was one of the more positive times of her life, an age full of innocence, exuberance and idealism. No longer children, but not yet adolescents, eleven is an age when anything still seems possible. The children chosen here represent the next generation who will shape the future, and what they have to say should be interesting and relevant. They talk about issues such as bullying, the future, the environment, family, and even romance, with remarkable confidence, openness and sincerity. The film is essentially a series of snapshots of the various children at a certain age, and it is obvious Bailey feels great affection for her subjects.
Unlike Michael Apted’s epic 7 Up series or Gillian Armstrong’s Smokes and Lollies, I Am Eleven is a one-off that has no real interest in following these children through later life, exploring how their youthful naivety may change. (Although in a sort of coda, Bailey does revisit a couple of the kids a year or so later).
There are so many children here that only a handful of them manage to stand out. Jack is a British born boy who now lives in Thailand and works with elephants in a zoo and enjoys the freedom of his lifestyle. Remi is a French boy who seems articulate, wise and mature beyond his years, and his observations on the world around him are worth listening to. Billy is a slightly overweight and shy British boy whose observations about girls and their girlish ways bring some touches of humour to the film. “If I was a girl my life would be horrid,” he says. “I do like girls but I don’t like the girlish stuff they do.” And despite her impoverished background in a small village in Morocco, young Siham seems filled with a sense of optimism. What we learn of their daily lives is also interesting.
Bailey, who has a background in short films with her collaborator Jarrah Gurrie, acts as narrator, cinematographer and editor of the film here. Unfortunately, the film is let down by its structure, which lacks cohesion, and some moments that seem repetitive. Bailey jumps around all over the place so that it becomes hard to keep track of who is who. Bailey clearly needed another editor on the project who would be able to bring a more objective view to the rich wealth of material. Another editor may also have been able to impose a tighter more cohesive structure on the material.
The score from Melbourne musician Nick Huggins nicely balances the material.
But it is the natural presence of the kids themselves and their often surprising and unrehearsed responses that ultimately makes I Am Eleven a fascinating and insightful documentary. One just wishes that it had been tighter and more focused.