Girls Rock! (2009) Documentary Film Review

While female musicians are represented a fair amount in Redefine’s reviews and interviews, I have noticed, over time, that the majority of bands and musicians we cover are in fact male. The number of female rock musicians has certainly increased through the years, but the industry is still largely male-dominated.

Girls Rock! takes a look at this issue by documenting an annual all-girls rock n’ roll in Portland. With over 60 volunteer counselors and staff, including well-known musicians like Carrie Brownstein from Sleater-Kinney and Beth Ditto from The Gossip, the camp helps young girls aged 8 to 18 build confidence in their songwriting skills, in their instrumental skills, and most importantly, in themselves. Girls are split up into groups according to the type of music they want to write, and then form their own bands. They work for multiple days with their bands to create songs, which they ultimately perform at a concert at the end of the camp. The skills of the girls vary from those who are very acquainted with instruments to those who have never picked up an instrument in their lives.

In the documentary, the filmmakers choose to follow five different girls closely. They vary in age, but all of them are afflicted with some sort of problem – be it related to anxiety, health, or rough pasts — that makes it difficult for them to truly pursue music or to believe in themselves. Girls Rock! shifts back and forth between clean-cut camp fun, camp drama, historical facts, and punk-inspired intermissions that deal with many of the issues which plague young women today, including, but not limited to, body image, lack of confidence, and sexism.

While the documentary holds strongly to feminist ideals, it never becomes overly preachy, simply because it relies on testimonials from real girls. The film is an honest look into the lives of young women undergoing transition, with stories which are sometimes heart-breaking and sometimes heart-warming.

The DVD itself has a lot to offer as well, including follow-ups with the girls who were featured in the movie. All of them spoke highly of their experience in camp, and all of them attested to the fact that camp helped them become more comfortable with themselves. Also included in the Special Features are interviews with members of Sleater-Kinney, Bikini Kill, and The Gossip, as well as tutorials in all things DIY, from self-defense to zines.

Written by
Vee Hua 華婷婷

Vee Hua 華婷婷 (they/them) is a writer, filmmaker, and organizer with semi-nomadic tendencies. Much of their work unifies their metaphysical interests with their belief that art can positively transform the self and society. They are the Editor-in-Chief of REDEFINE, Interim Managing Editor of South Seattle Emerald, and Co-Chair of the Seattle Arts Commission. They also previously served as the Executive Director of the interdisciplinary community hub, Northwest Film Forum, where they played a key role in making the space more welcoming and accessible for diverse audiences.

Vee has two narrative short films. Searching Skies (2017) touches on Syrian refugee resettlement in the United States; with it, they helped co-organize The Seventh Art Stand, a national film and civil rights discussion series against Islamophobia. Reckless Spirits (2022) is a metaphysical, multi-lingual POC buddy comedy for a bleak new era, in anticipation of a feature-length project.

Vee is passionate about cultural space, the environment, and finding ways to covertly and overtly disrupt oppressive structures. They also regularly share observational human stories through their storytelling newsletter, RAMBLIN’ WITH VEE!, and are pursuing a Master’s in Tribal Resource and Environmental Stewardship under the Native American Studies Department at the University of Minnesota.

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Written by Vee Hua 華婷婷
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