When Cinereach grantee Girl Model opened Wednesday at New York City’s IFC Center, we asked directors Ashley Sabin and David Redmon to take us through the film’s evolution, from the introduction of subject Ashley Arbaugh and her world, to the early audience reactions and the birth of an unanticipated outreach campaign.
We began making Girl Model in the summer of 2007 when Ashley Arbaugh (the scout featured in the documentary) approached us with an idea to document the journey of young girls who “become prostitutes and fashion models or the foggy lines that exist between both.” Five years later Girl Model has been released during New York Fashion week (September 5 at the IFC Center).
Ashley Arbaugh brought us into a secretive world of fashion for unknown reasons — any guess on our part would be conjecture. Yet her ambivalence about participating in an industry where she was scouting girls as young as 13 was interesting to us as storytellers. Indeed, the story developed into a narrative about Ashley’s experiences. One of her young discoveries was 13 year-old Nadya Vall from Ob, Siberia, whom Ashley sent to Tokyo, Japan. Nadya became a focus of the story as well.
Spending four years exploring Ashley and Nadya’s world left us with a feeling of forlornness that we wanted to translate into the structure of our verité story. After we finished shooting, we set out to craft scenes that were engaging but at the same time, built toward a looming sense of dread, imitating the situation in which the subjects in Girl Model find themselves. We edited while shooting, and then hired two editors (Alan Canant and Darius Marder) to help shape the story out of 200 hours of footage.
We started and ended Girl Model with the intention of documenting a story, not developing a thesis statement or exposing the practices of specific individuals or companies. To us, above all, our film is a verité narrative. That said, we do recognize that Girl Model stirs up audience emotions and begs questions of conscience, perhaps even more so than it would have if we had tried to argue a point using facts and stats.
Audiences members are often outraged to witness some of the more disturbing aspects of the underbelly of the modeling and fashion industries — the illegal working conditions, the manipulation and exploitation of young, malleable girls. Some want a space to participate in discussions, events or actions around these problems, and to learn how they can hold the responsible parties accountable. This inspired us to create an outlet for these reactions as we strategized the film’s distribution.
We conducted a Kickstarter fundraising campaign to raise an outreach budget, and began fueling conversations about Girl Model’s themes in social media and beyond. Raising awareness and media literacy among young boys and girls has become a major focus of our efforts. We’re working with Rachel Blais, who is featured in the film, and Outreach Coordinator Nancy Schwartzman to get young people talking, and to help book the film in high schools. Recognizing that youth access their media online, Nancy (@fancynancynyc) and Rachel (@RachelBlais1) have developed a social media campaign to provide a platform to hear from models who have been silenced by the industry, using the Twitter hashtag #askagirlmodel.
We didn’t set out to create a tool for advocacy, but it’s been highly rewarding to see Girl Model spark complex and productive dialogues as it enters the media landscape.
David Redmon (Co-Director/Producer) began his filmmaking career with the documentary Mardi Gras: Made in China. During production, David and Ashley Sabin (Co-Director/Producer) met and continued collaborating on Kamp Katrina, Intimidad and Invisible Girlfriend. In addition to Girl Model (which has screened at IDFA, SXSW, the Toronto International Film Festival, and other festivals around the globe), Redmon and Sabin recently completed feature documentary Downeast. In recent years, with greater aspirations for the lives of their films, the team added a distribution branch to their production company, Carnivalesque Films, and now distribute all of their own productions and works by other filmmakers.