If there were any rules about documentary filmmaking, we probably broke them all.
One social worker, one filmmaker and one very ambitious idea: to follow girls over the course of four years as they became teenagers. Knowing that production alone would take so many years, we decided two things: one, that we would have to pace ourselves and, two, that we would be making it up as we went along. This included a shooting schedule that allowed us to keep our day jobs, becoming very close to our "subjects," and leaving the confines of a strictly observational cinema to either chat, hang out or answer the girls' own questions about growing up.
Some things never change. We all go through puberty. We all emerge transformed. These are the universals.
But we wondered what life is like, today, for girls like us. Girls from the city, from immigrant and multiethnic families; girls who grew up with step-parents and within extended families. These are girls with whom we can relate and yet their world is a much different place.
There are many films about teenage girls, but few films follow them through puberty. And biological changes are only one part of this transformation. There is a whole world of emotional, cultural and social relationships that girls experience. It's an intense period. We wanted to capture that and ask, "How do girls separate themselves from their parents and develop their own identity? How does this happen within today's complex social and cultural context?"
Each generation contains cultural references that mark that time period. In making this film we asked ourselves, what will this generation be remembered for? Thirty years after the ERA movement, what rights do girls take for granted and in which areas of their lives has there been little gain? What impact does a global and highly digitized world have on our most intimate decisions about personal development and relationships? What does it mean to be a 21st century girl?
During our research phase, we met with hundreds of students in fourth grade classrooms across the San Francisco Bay Area. We chose schools with populations diverse across race, ethnicity and class -- the faces of a new urban America. From these classrooms we found distinct archetypes: the tomboy, the girl with a perpetual crush, the student who would never dream of defying authority, and the one who was happiest being "different". We followed them from the classroom to the playground and beyond. One wedding, two Quinceñearas and 350 hours of footage later, the film is as much a document about growing up as it is about letting go.
Many adults forget to listen to young people or simply choose to ignore them. We not only assume that our way is the right way but that it is the only way. This is especially true when it comes to girls' voices. We wanted to make a space for these girls, at this time, to share their stories. We couldn't have written this story; we didn't know it. It was a story only they could tell.