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Becoming 13

by Victoria King
Girl Culture Productions with National Film Board of Canada, Montréal, Canada, 2006
DVD, 47mins, colour
Sales, $19.95
Distributor’s website: http://www.nfb.ca.

Reviewed by Kathryn Adams


"To celebrate your daughter is to celebrate yourself – this is the mother-daughter mystery." Virginia Beane Rutter [1]

Having seen Catherine Hardwicke’s 2003 movie Thirteen, I faced Victoria King’s documentary "Becoming 13" with trepidation. Was I again about to cringe as young girls spiral out of control into the murky depths of self-mutilation, sex, drugs, petty crime, and vomit? Fortunately, King has opted to shelve the seedier side of teenage angst and the sensationalism that often surrounds it and feature three girls (and their Mums) who are focused on self-respect, creativity, family, and their futures while still touching on other issues relevant to their age group.

Filmed in Newfoundland, Canada, King documents one year in the lives of three very different girls–Avi, Jazmine, and Jane– who are about to turn 13. Avi, whose mother and grandparents are originally from India, has some cultural issues to work through and is expected to obtain academic perfection. Jazmine is dealing with her parents’ separation, misses her father and sees her body piercings as a sign of individuality. And Jane, whose mother is an artist, is interested in art but not so interested in schoolwork and is open to the many possibilities that await her in life.

Filmed in and around their homes and at school we see the girls doing everyday things. Comfortable with the cameras, the girls are filmed helping around the home, doing homework, attending dance class, socialising with friends at sleepovers, and in Jazmine’s case, having her tongue pierced…ew! The girls and their mothers speak freely and openly about their views on careers, boyfriends, absent fathers, family relationships, their hopes and fears for the future, and the heady transition from childhood into adolescence. As one of the girls explains,

"The worst thing about being 12 is people don’t really understand you and they think that we have bad attitudes and we don’t get the world or whatever but the thing is people don’t get us."

The film is very much focused on the mother/daughter relationship. Footage of the girls filming and interviewing their mothers about their own childhood experiences and long forgotten dreams produces some poignant moments. King, a mother herself, knows her subject well and has approached this project with warmth and sensitivity, allowing each girl’s story to gently unfold and take it’s own course without judgement.

A teaching guide based on "Becoming 13" has been written by Maureen Baron and is an indication of the film’s potential to raise issues for discussion, making this a valuable teaching aid for those involved in the area of family studies. The guide is written for schoolteachers, guidance counsellors, social workers, parents, high school administrators, and community youth workers and suggests these issues as topics for discussion: parenting, adolescence, family values and conflict, peer pressure, physical appearance, academic success, social activities, and teenagers in the media.

There are no startling revelations, confrontational scenes, or insights into the mysterious workings of the adolescent brain here. It’s a very even piece, perhaps a little too safe by some standards but certainly a balance to the usual ‘shock and awe’ depictions of rebellious teenage life. At 47 minutes running time, some creative editing at the beginning of the film and an original and evocative music score written by Lori Clarke, this film flows along nicely and by including the use of "diary-cam" in this documentary we also get a glimpse into what really goes on when our 12 year olds are "busy" in their rooms.

[1] Celebrating Girls, (p.19) Lansdowne Publishing Pty Ltd, Aust.



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