Do you remember being eleven? If you’re old enough to drive a car, chances are you can only decipher the foggy shapes and outlines of that time in your life. As we grow, so do the responsibilities, commitments and obligations we accumulate in our adult lives. No longer do we see a world where anything is possible through young, clear eyes - the dreams and ambitions we had then are often overshadowed by grown up practicality.
Luckily for us, filmmaker Genevieve Bailey has captured that sense of clarity and curiosity in her most recent documentary, I Am Eleven
. After spending five years travelling the globe interviewing 11-year-olds across 15 different countries, Bailey has presented us with a beautiful film that explores the transient period between childhood and the teenage years. Traversing through significant ideas from love to religion to terrorism, these 11-year-olds share with viewers their private obsessions and public concerns; their apparent naivety tempered by remarkable wisdom. There’s an incredible sense of openness about these kids, a willingness to share and desire to understand the way the world works around them, and how they fit within it.
In this interview with Genevieve, we find out more about how the film was made, the countless ways these young people inspired her and what is so special about the magic of being eleven.
The hype and publicity surrounding I Am Eleven
precedes the film itself. Why do you think people have connected so closely with it?
I think when I started making the film, I imagined how the synopsis for it would read and thought, “yep, I'd want to see that!” In addition to the film's content and engaging kids, our trailer, the word of mouth, the festival success and our very vehement grass roots marketing and outreach have all been vital to getting the word out early, plus our amazing publicists at Miranda Brown Publicity. The film is life affirming, it makes people laugh, cry and think, and I feel audiences sometimes crave something with a little more heart. I Am Eleven
has been charming audiences who then go out and share the film with their communities. We are so grateful for this! This whole project has been so DIY, we are proud that audiences are embracing this 'little doco that could.'
How did you decide that 11 was the pivotal age to focus on?
I remember it being a great age in life. I felt on top of the world when I was 11, even though I had never been outside of my state of Victoria - I was very intrigued, and the world felt big in a good way. I wanted to explore this special cusp, not quite a child and not yet a teen, on an international level. 15 countries later we've discovered that 11 is certainly as special an age as what I had hoped/recalled it to be!
How many children do you think you interviewed, including the ones that weren’t used in the final cut?
About 30 - with 23 in the final cut. A pretty high percentage made the final cut and those that didn't will eventually feature on the interactive website iameleven.com
, as they all had something to offer this project.
What was it about the children whose stories you focused on that particularly resonated with you?
Each 11-year-old charmed me in different ways. From the humour and honesty expressed through Billy's intimate interviews in the UK, to the resilience, courage and hope the children from India shared,
I was inspired to no end. I wanted to ensure the film encouraged audiences to feel the mix of emotions I experienced while making the film. As a filmmaker it's pretty wonderful to sit in sold out sessions and hear people roar with laughter. We have also had many tears, not because the film upsets anyone, but because it provokes very strong emotional reactions.
Were there any universal commonalities?
Yes there were many universal commonalities. I would say that the overall sense of self-belief, courage, openness, curiosity and optimism for the future really stood out in every child. I think audiences are reminded to connect with their inner 11-year-old when they see the film, I certainly have!
Did you find that you encountered more issues with adults or children in the development of the film?
I didn't encounter any issues with any children making the film. As an independent filmmaker you encounter lots of hurdles and challenges but all the creative and technical hurdles we embraced whole-heartedly, because we had our end goal in site at all times. We knew the struggle was worth it, because audiences really fall for the kids for the same reasons we did. They are awesome.
What were you doing when you were eleven?
I finished Grade 6 and started high school in Melbourne. I really loved going from being a big fish in a small pond to a small fish in a big pond. I got a new bed when I was 11 and life felt super awesome! I tap danced, started learning Japanese and looked forward to the future.
You made this film independently on a tiny budget. What was the most challenging aspect of this?
As mentioned above, we fully embraced the creative and technical challenges of not having funding. There were certainly times when it would have really helped (a lot!) but we didn't let a lack of money stop us from finishing the film to the highest standard we could. It's pretty amazing the support we were able to raise thanks to the actual content of the film resonating with people. From translators all over the world offering their services for free, to mentors and friends in Australia rallying their friends to get behind the film.
We've learned so much about not only filmmaking, but also film marketing, and now distribution. Growing up in a country where too often we read articles about 'the state of the industry' being in crisis etc, well we just didn't let that deter us. At no stage did we allow any negative energy to consume the film. We had to protect it much like a child, and constantly nurture it. The kids helped us keep perspective and at the end of the day I feel blessed to have been able to make this film even if it was a challenge what an amazing opportunity it has been! Life changing indeed!
What message/s do you hope audiences will take away from the film?
The audience reactions have been amazing and we post them on iameleven.com
for everyone to see, including the kids overseas. Every reaction delights us, from kids coming out of the cinema pumped and excited about who they are and the wider world, to parents who say the film has reminded them to actually listen to their kids more. We've had 20-somethings saying they wish they were still as cool as what they were when they were 11, which is pretty funny. An 80-year-old lady who came out and told me she has been trying to remind herself to slow down and stop trying to do so much. She saw I Am Eleven
and said “why on earth should I slow down just because I am 80? I am not going to slow down I am going to get off my butt and do something!" That was pretty remarkable. Energising and inspiring people has been so exciting. Re-connecting with your inner 11-year-old is fun, I highly recommend it.
Do you have any parting words of wisdom for big kids with big dreams?
Indeed! Do you think you will look back and ever regret dreaming big? Try not to let anyone else’s idea of what you are capable of define you. If I had I may have never have finished this film. There will always be people who think it's too hard or not possible. Just smile and nod and get on with it, I say!
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