SXSW Review: Girl Model


[From Mar. 8 to 17, Flixist will bring you live coverage from deep in the heart of Texas at South by Southwest Film 2012. Keep an eye out for news, features, interviews, videos, and reviews of some of the most anticipated films to hit the festival circuit in 2012.]

Girl Model began as an expose into the world of models turned prostitutes, but the filmmakers discovered they didn’t need to go that deep to find scumbags in the modeling industry.

In an industry where 1 centimeter is the difference between success and failure, corruption is plentiful and there are enough vain subjects who are willing to talk on camera. Girl Model has a couple, but it succeeds because it portrays the young and hopeful alongside the old and wicked. It’s a brilliant glimpse into the world of overseas models and why some were doomed to fail before they even tried.

Girl Model
Directors: David Redmon, Ashley Sabin
Rating: NR
Release Date: TBA

Tokyo and Siberia couldn’t be more different but a thriving modeling industry connects the two. Tokyo’s fashion industry loves young, pale girls and Siberia is full of them. By young, I mean way really young. These aren’t only 13-year-old girls. These are 13-year-old girls that look like 10-year-old girls. Some Japanese cliches are true, after all.

Nadya is the latest in line to be plucked by Switch Models agency and sent to Japan. Far from being the cynical, arrogant girl you imagine a young model to be, Nadya is a sweet, earnest girl who states that beauty comes from having compassion. Her family lives in poverty, as do most girls in her neighborhood. She, however, is the only one who will be pulling in thousands of dollars for her family. At least, that’s what she is told.

Though Nadya’s parents are concerned about her trip — her mother makes a rather creepy comment about keeping things “nice and tidy” — the outcome is worth it: two modeling jobs and $8,000 guaranteed. Except, it’s not really guaranteed. Nadya finds herself lost in Tokyo, not knowing English or Japanese. She gets a small amount of work, but never sees the pay. Even worse, she is in debt by the end of her trip. It’s all part of Switch Model’s plan, however. They depend on having these models in debt to them, so they can continue to use them.

Switch Models model recruiter Ashley Arbaugh is our guide to the other side of the industry. She is a wonderfully manic subject that adds some much needed variety to Girl Model’s rather dour subject matter. Arbaugh is a bit of a nutcase, which may be due to her years spent as a depressed model in Japan. These days, she travels around hiring foreign models for Tokyo fashion groups.

Arbaugh’s camcorder diaries of her 1999 Japan trip give some depth to her character. These days she is numb to the exploitation she inflicts on others. She knows these girls are destined for debt and even checks up on them on their way to failure. Her quirky, humorous attitude makes her strangely endearing. Her actions are reproachable, but she’s a hard person not to love.

Girl Model barely touches upon prostitution and the lives of the truly hopeless models. Rather, it shows what the life of a Russian model in Japan is like. It’s beautifully shot and reveals a world that few know about. It’s very fair in its representation of all parties involved. It’s one of the most interesting and exciting documentaries I’ve seen this year.