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It’s not a surprise that interviewing a director whose goal was to make a film that was uplifting should provide an interview that is full of laughter. Genevieve Bailey’s film, I AM ELEVEN, played 26 weeks in her native Australia, and while this documentary about what it’s like to be 11 from 22 perspectives in 15 different countries doesn’t shy away from serious issues such as bullying, poverty, and the environment, what comes through is that these kids have an optimism that is both inspiring and infectious. I was a surprise, though, to learn that Bailey hadn’t seen Dagan, one of those 22 kids, since she had interviewed the Georgia resident on a Prague street 9 years ago. In fact, she hadn’t been in touch with him at all, and when I arrived to interview then, they had just reconnected, and she was in the process of doing an update interview with him.
I’m pleased to report that Dagan, now 20 and studying mechanical engineering, is as thoughtful and as optimistic as he was back then, though it was disconcerting to see him all grown up. I waited until the end of our chat to ask him what had been the second-most interesting thing to happen to him in Prague. Before that we covered what it had been like to be approached by a stranger with a strange accent and a camera while on a family vacation, what it was like to Bailey to go trolling for 11-year-olds around the world, and why the experience spurred her to create the Darling Heart Foundation, dedicated empowering women and children to fulfill their potential no matter what their circumstances.
Bailey credits part of her success in recruiting random 11-year-olds, and putting them immediately at ease in front of her camera, to her first job as a check-out clerk, were she honed her naturally outgoing personality into one that could related to whomever came her way. Editing all those kids, though, was another story, and it brought up something from the film that I had found fascinating. That would be how one kid who spent his free time volunteering at an elephant kraal in Thailand was convinced that putting his forehead against an elephant’s would cure a headache. Bailey, when asked about whether or not it worked, confessed that she had never had a headache in Thailand, but had tried it anyway to store up the magic. And when the headaches of editing a hundred hours or so of footage began, she invoked it.
We also discussed the incredible optimism of her randomly chosen subjects, how she didn’t edit them to seem that way, how she would like the world to get involved in her ongoing project to document what being 11 is like, and then discovered that while 11 was Bailey’s favorite age, Dagan couldn’t say the same thing.
Six years in the making, I AM ELEVEN includes that elephant kraal in India, a rapping workshop in Sweden, an environmentally conscious family in France, a Brit who doesn’t quite fit in, and an orphanage in India. It looks at the world from the perspective of orphans and ex-pats, affluence and poverty, and finds the unique as well as the universal. Bailey has been making movies since the age of 8, and I AM ELEVEN is her first feature documentary. It was named best documentary by the Inside Film Awards, and played theatrically for a record 26 weeks in her native Melbourne. Melbourne Magazine named her one of the most provocative people of 2011.
Click here to listen to the interview: (22:58)