'I've been waiting for so long to finally admit to myself that I'm amazing," says Laura, a Korean adoptee who loves death metal.
She's one of the success stories from the Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls in Portland, Ore., where young women are taught to stop apologizing for having opinions and taking up space. The camp is the focus of an empowering new documentary, "Girls Rock!" The film looks behind the scenes at the young women who enroll and their struggles to fit into mainstream, gendered society.
At camp, 100 girls, ranging in age from 8 to 18, form bands, write songs and perform in front of 700 people -- all within five days.
The film follows four participants who come with their own baggage: Misty is recovering from meth addiction, homelessness and gang life; Amelia, an independent experimental rocker, sings about her dog Pippi; Palace, an adorable but bossy 8-year-old, can scream like a banshee; and Laura struggles to fit in her hometown of Oklahoma City.
In between band practices, the girls attend sessions on self-defense and anger management. Camp counselors include Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney and other rockers from bands such as Gossip.
They help direct individual bands for their upcoming performances. More important, they mediate inevitable band meltdowns and lead discussions about the difficulties of being a girl.
Filmmakers Arne Johnson and Shane King make it clear who the enemies are. Not-so-subtle digs are made at Britney Spears and post-1990s MTV culture throughout the 90-minute film.
There's no unnecessary preaching. The film weaves personal interviews with harrowing facts about women, all set to an awesome femme-rock score (read: a lot of Le Tigre).
There is, however, a lot of screaming. That's the purpose of camp -- feeling empowerment through a microphone and music. Be prepared to cover your ears during many scenes; many campers do the same when a bandmate's self-esteem is especially high.
The final showcase of bands is a particularly cool way to see how each girl has transformed from outcast to rock star.
"Everybody needs to feel like somebody gets them -- even for just 15 minutes," a counselor says. Listening to the original lyrics, which range from angry songs about an older brother to angry songs about President Bush, it's clear that for many of these girls, camp allows them to have their moment.
"Girls Rock!" is an energetic film that's perfect for an evening with the girls or a night out with your daughter. Just ignore the fact that the filmmakers are men.
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