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Girl Model

Distributed by Carnivalesque Films, 203.417.3136 or 347.282.6132
Produced by David Redmon and Ashley Sabin
Directed by David Redmon and Ashley Sabin
DVD , color, 76 min., In Russian and English w/ English subtitles
Jr. High - General Adult
Adolescence, Ethics, Gender Studies, Women’s Studies

Reviewed by Monique Threatt, Indiana University, Herman B Wells Library, Bloomington, IN

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended    ALA
Date Entered: 10/4/2012

Girl Model is a very real and disturbing documentary feature which takes the viewer into the world of child exploitation for Japanese markets. It shows the process in which 13 year old girls from Serbia are recruited by the Switch Agency and sent to Japan to work as models. Subsequently, it provides a glimpse into the psyche of business oriented Ashley, a 23 year old former model, and now scout for the Switch Agency. Ashley and her business partner, Tigran, work for a very wealthy 40 year old Japanese businessman. They are paid a commission based on how many “new, young, and fresh faces” they can deliver to Japan. Ashley scours the Serbian countryside in search of a particular brand of the wholesome girl. The most sought after model is one with a luminous glow, is blue-eyed with long blonde hair, extremely thin with certain proportions, and is of a particular height, and weight.

The film follows the journey of 13 year old Nadya and Madlen. Their families are primarily poor country servants and are told that modeling can result in earnings upwards of the equivalent of $8,000 U.S. dollars. They are also told that their child will be guaranteed at least two jobs upon arrival in Japan. Unfortunately, the reality is far from truth. Oftentimes, these girls are sent to a foreign country, alone, and with no knowledge of the language or culture. There are no guaranteed jobs, and the girls must go through numerous grueling casting calls. They are told to tell casting directors that they are 15 years old, and oftentimes they are photographed to look like adults. The Agency controls them with very strict contracts which the girls do not fully understand. They are subjected to unannounced height and weight measurements, and they can be fired at any time with no real explanation for the slightest infraction. The Agency provides transportation, housing and other amenities, but the girls must pay the Agency back for services provided. Because the girls are rarely, if ever, told how or where their photographs are used, or how much money the Agency receives for their services, it is easy to send girls home being indebted to the Agency for several thousand dollars.

Similarly, Ashley’s story is told in piecemeal. She too was once a model in Japan, and has grown disillusioned with the industry. She now seems disconnected about her role as a scout, and her commitment, if any, towards the welfare of the girls. She consciously sidesteps the fine line of what it means to be a model versus a prostitute. She invites the viewer into her Connecticut home and one has to wonder how a 23 year old could afford such a spacious and beautiful house. Strangely enough, Ashley is particularly attached to two undressed baby dolls in her home hoping to have children of her own one day. She also seems to be proud of a box of miniature sized photos of model’s legs sans the body. The audience can conclude that the industry has taken its toll on Ashley’s psyche, and she scouts strictly for money with no moral conscious about what happens to the clients. She makes no effort to communicate with the girls in their native language, and is distant and out of touch upon visiting them at their apartment in Japan.

During the final credits, it is revealed that both Nadya and Madlen are sent home before they make any money for their modeling services. No surprise there. Shortly after Nayda returns home, she quits school and returns to Japan. While in Japan, the Agency sends Nayda to Taiwan and China for other jobs. Child exploitation and trafficking is a very common problem and an ugly business. Governments do little to enforce and imprison guilty parties thus allowing young children to be caught up in a trap of servitude and indebtedness in which they can never repay.

I highly recommend this film for library collections in school, public and academic libraries.