When Genevieve Bailey was 11-years old, she saw the world with the exuberance of youth, with anything seemingly possible. Thirteen years later, after experiencing loss and witnessing the misfortune of others, she was again drawn to her thoughts at her favourite age. Time spent sifting through bad news at a major Melbourne newspaper tempered her outlook, as did her father’s death and her own near-fatal car accident. Departing on an overseas jaunt as a respite from her recent hardships, she committed to rediscovering the enthusiasm of early adolescence.
Rather than spend her travels partying and acting immaturely as other twenty-somethings may have, Bailey embarked upon a worldwide quest to understand the mindset of 11-year olds. Trekking from the United Kingdom to Japan, Sweden to China and Morocco to the United States of America, with stops in France, the Czech Republic, India, Bulgaria, Thailand, Germany and the Netherlands in-between, she interviewed an array of children at that age, asking them to share their current experiences, their hopes and dreams for the future, and their inner-most thoughts on the world around them.
The end result is I Am Eleven, a striking documentary in the same vein as Michael Apted’s Up series and Gillian Armstrong’s quintet of Smokes and Lollies, Fourteen’s Good, Eighteen’s Better, Bingo, Bridesmaids and Braces, Not Fourteen Again and Love, Lust & Lies. Aside from Bailey’s bookending narration that provides her personal rationale for the project, the entire feature stems from the mouths of her youthful protagonists, as compiled over a four-year global journey.
As their tales are told–some expected, some extraordinary–a raft of commonalities become apparent. London resident Billy may ramble with nervousness, Swedish boys Osama and Sahin might rap to forget their troubles, and Thailand’s Goh may direct his attention to the elephants in his care, however their inherent sense of hope is evident. The home lives of Australian Jamira, Japanese student Rika and German Luca may vary, yet their topics of discussion (bullying, boys, patriotism, their parents and their peers among them) demonstrate their shared circumstances. Accordingly, Bailey creates a compelling portrait of the universality of youth, finding similarities in their differences.
A labour of love for the director, producer, cinematographer and editor in her first feature, I Am Eleven is illuminating on an aesthetic as well as intellectual level. Arresting images place the interviewees within their social and cultural contexts, whilst precise editing combines their segments into an amalgam of character study and travelogue. Although the underlying parallels drawn are obvious from the outset, the compassionate approach and candid content overcome any reliance upon formula. An energetic and engaging effort, I Am Eleven aptly apes the optimism and insight of its subjects.
I Am Eleven was released in Australian cinemas on July 19th, 2012, and on DVD and iTunes on May 12th, 2013.
Director: Genevieve Bailey