Sam Mitchell incorporating ‘How We Survive (Girlhood)’ by Abigail Cook
Those Girls from JAM Productions has previously been staged at the Edinburgh Fringe as a play. The current version is, however, a very successful film experience.
Excerpts from Abigail Cook’s poem How We Survive (Girlhood) alternate with interviews from teenagers. The subject range is wide and disturbing: eating disorders, insecurity, guilt over a breakup with a boyfriend and how self-hatred can be prompted by casual racism in the form of jokes. The dialogue is shocking, perceptive and contradictory—a teen claims she would not know what to do if she didn’t hate herself and that she will only get better if allowed to retain her illness.
Authenticity is emphasised. The teens who are interviewed are pupils from Cook’s former secondary school. The images in the film are deliberately rough—the video counter is visible and the camera is shaky as if handheld—giving the impression the film had to be shot quickly and possibly in secret.
This rough and ready documentary approach is offset by stylish presentation of the dialogue. Words emerge on screen mysteriously or at breathless speed, the size of the typeface changing as if to demonstrate the urgency. Even though the words are spoken quietly, the presentation makes it seem as if the cast are shouting. A dramatic, desperate technique forcing the viewer to share the urgency felt by the interviewees. The excerpts from Cook’s poem have a hushed, dreamlike setting filmed in countryside as if to contrast with the distinctly urban tone of the poem.
Those Girls makes a triumphant transition from stage to film and is disquieting but completely absorbing viewing.
Reviewer: David Cunningham