A globe-spanning portrait of humanity at a crucial age – no longer children, not quite adults, preparing to inherit a world changing as quickly and dramatically as they are. This documentary focuses on a series of eleven-year-olds from 15 countries, each speaking in their own words and revealing the private obsessions and public concerns that animate their lives. It is simultaneously an epic survey of the similarities and distinctions between cultures and an intimate account of these young personalities finding their way in the world today.
When she was 24, Melbourne journalist and film and video lecturer Genevieve Bailey was in a dark place: her father had just died and she’d been in a serious car accident. Perhaps as a form of therapy, she decided to journey overseas for the first time, shooting film in every country she visited.
The result is I Am Eleven, an illuminating, uplifting view of the world through the eyes of 11-year-old children in 15 countries, compiled over four years.
Director-cinematographer-producer Bailey, who chose that age because it was her favourite time in life, adroitly captures the innocence, exuberance and idealism of youth, as well as their aspirations, concerns and fears, across social, economic and racial boundaries.
The doco premiered at the 2011 Melbourne International Film Festival and it begins a nationwide theatrical release in Melbourne on July 5.
For a first-time filmmaker, Bailey shows an impressive dexterity as the director, cinematographer, editor, interviewer and narrator. She chose her subjects well for almost all the kids are self-confident, articulate, cheerful and candid.
Several speak about being bullied and bashed or subjected to racist taunts, a traumatic experience. It’s heartwarming to hear girls in an orphanage in Kerala, India, refer to fellow residents as their sisters.
There’s a fair degree of humour courtesy of the kids’ amusing observations. English lad Billy declares, 'If I was a girl my life would be horrid. I do like girls but I don’t like the girlish stuff they do." Remi of France says, 'I like snakes and I don’t like racist people."
Patriotism is a recurring theme, typified by Jamira, a Melbourne girl raised by her father who proclaims, 'I’m proud to be an Aboriginal because my culture is very interesting to me."
Another noticeable trait is religious tolerance, expressed by Jack, an English boy living in Thailand, who says, 'It doesn’t matter which religion you’re from because they all have the same sort of meanings in the end."
Some sound wise beyond their years, like Remi, who asserts, 'In my opinion, France is a rich and selfish country which said to people 'Come in, we open our doors, come and work,’ and now they refuse all foreigners"¦ I’m not a citizen of France, I’m a citizen of the world."
Parents and siblings are seen fleetingly as the focus is squarely on the kids as they speak to the camera, go to school, play, dance, rap in Sweden and ride elephants in Thailand.
Understandably, the world is potentially a frightening place for some. Rika of Japan says she doesn’t want to go to North Korea because she knows that country has nuclear weapons. If there is a third world war, Billy reckons he’ll hide in a cupboard.
Several voice their concern about the impact of global warning. Two boys talk knowledgeably about alternative energy sources but one girl admits she feels powerless to do anything about the problem.
Siham of Morocco probably speaks for a lot of kids when she says, 'I would prefer to be young forever."
A couple of passages are repetitive, particularly shots at an elephant sanctuary and when the youngsters pontificate about their understanding of the meaning of love and their hopes of getting married.
But, overall, Bailey achieves her objective as outlined in the narration: 'I wanted to make something energetic, optimistic, universal and real."
At the end, glimpses of some kids filmed when they were a year or two older reveal how much they had changed and matured. Perhaps I Am Fourteen would be a suitable sequel.