Girls Rock
(Allumination, 2008)

Let me introduce you to four girls. Amelia is 8 years old and plays a daisy electric guitar. She shreds on it, not caring about subtleties of melody or form. She has written more than 100 songs, mostly about her dog, Pippi, and, when you get beneath the surface, is a little on the lonely side, having, according to her count, only one good friend.

Palace is 7 and is a rock singer in the full-throated, Janis Joplin, let-it-all-out school. She has rock attitude to burn -- her favorite thing is to scream out "Are you ready to rock and roll?" The problem? She has trouble meshing with her bandmates; they don't always share her vision and she is not what you'd call strong on compromise.

At 15, Laura is all gothed out. A Korean death metal fan with a personality that bubbles like witches' brew, she displays a confidence beyond her years and seems, on the surface, mature. What we see on the surface, though, is not the whole story.

At 17, Misty has seen more than her share of problems. Her parents are pretty much lost to drugs and she's in the process of transitioning out of 10 months in a lockdown facility, living in a group home. She has fallen in love with the electric bass and sees music as the only pure thing.

What do all of these girls have in common? They are the stars of the new documentary, Girls Rock, which is working its way around the country now and will be available on DVD in the fall. The film takes a look at a rock 'n' roll camp for girls in Portland, Oregon, where these four girls and a couple hundred other 8- to 18-year-olds come to learn to rock. They form bands, learn instruments, write songs and perform a concert -- all in the space of a week. The film focuses on the four girls described above but manages to cover most of the others there -- it's about building community, self-discovery and the growth of creativity that an immersion in the arts brings on. Mostly, it's a film about using music to learn to be yourself.

And it's a film everyone should see.

The filmmakers show us the beginnings of the bands. We see the girls fumbling toward understanding their roles and fumbling toward learning how to handle it when some kids, such as Palace, have difficulty accepting their roles. The directors use video diaries, interviews, cinema verite footage and animation to get us to know these girls.

And for sure we get to know them. By the time the film ends in a blazing rock concert in front of 700 people, you're thrilled to have been given a look into the world these girls have come to know and saddened that you have to say goodbye to them now.

Even if you're not a rock fan, if you like documentaries, you owe it to yourself to see this one. When you come out, you'll know the power the music has and the transformative power a group of girls has; you'll see how the groups form an energy that goes beyond that of the individual members and how music units them into one raging blast of sheer energy.

If you are, like me, the parents of teenage girls, especially ones who, like mine, play music, then you owe it to them to get them to the theater to check Girls Rock out.

It's a fabulous film about wonderful people doing significant stuff and making major discoveries. What could be better?

review by
Michael Scott Cain

13 September 2008

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