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Girls Rock!

(2008) *** Pg
89 min. Shadow Distribution.

In Girls Rock!, documentary filmmakers Arne Johnson and Shane King look at a week in the life of Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls, where four girls between 8-18 years of age learn how to shed their gender anxieties and band together in a common cause: creating hard-rocking music. The intense week-long camp (including band formation, crash musicianship classes, songwriting, and even self-defense instruction) culminates in a performance, which gives the documentary narrative both a ticking clock and a thrilling climax.

The filmmakers pick four interesting characters as their leads: some are tentative, some are problematically willful, most are damaged in some way by society or family, all are talented. We also meet the fully committed camp counselors, who understandably get emotional about the good works they witness and encourage (one is working rocker Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney). "Boys are not trained to apologize for the amount of space they're taking up intellectually, emotionally, physically," says one. "And the girls are just like, 'I'm really sorry...'" Self-esteem and body issues take physical tolls in nauseating daily anxiety.

Fly-on-the-wall footage allows us to watch the girls learn to scream, express themselves creatively, and fight for their artistic visions (they also learn how to favor collaboration and mediate in-fighting). On-screen statistics testify to the pernicious influence of media and peer pressure on adolescent girls, such as the 2000 assertion that the #1 wish of girls is to lose weight. Girls Rock! is a rebuke to those pressures, and an inspiring rebel yell from four girls unwilling to recede into the background as passive sacrifices to the MTV culture.

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