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Geek Girls
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by Jay Seaver

"Doing it their own way."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2017 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: A great number of documentaries might be said to have the prime of their lives on the festival circuit; that's where they're most likely to find packed houses and lively discussion, far more so than during the later years when they're getting one viewer at a time on whatever streaming services pick them up and their information ages. This is especially true for "Geek Girls", which seems especially designed to play to audiences at genre film festivals, whether as a rallying point or a useful wake-up call, depending on one's perspective.

It's the work of Gina Hara, a Canadian born in Hungary who, like many women who enjoy comics, video games, and science, has occasionally been made to feel unwelcome by male would-be gatekeepers, enough to be interested in documenting the phenomenon. And so she does, starting in Tokyo's Akihabara district ("where geek history began") and initially finding nobody who would agree to be interviewed on camera, causing her to circle back to North America with a stop in her childhood hometown, talking to an interesting group along the way: Jamie Broadway of Black Girl Nerds, competitive gamer Stephanie Harvey, Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist Anita Sengupta, and many others, before returning to Japan for an interview with a pair of tentative, anonymous young women.

One of the more interesting facets of the film is actually one of its more implicit, in that the way Hara defines the geek world is markedly different than how I would as a man a decade or two older who loves genre material but never embraced the term "geek". Calling Akihabara ground zero highlights the focus on manga, gaming, and cosplay, which from one perspective is a bit of a slight on folks like Bjo Trimble (an important figure in early Star Trek fandom) and authors like Andre Norton and C.J. Cherryh who injected a female perspective into science fiction and fantasy even if they had to do so under androgynous pen-names. It's an important choice in a couple of important ways: It focuses the film on the present rather than the past, and it serves as an important reminder that what men generally place at the center of geekdom - and the mostly-male media that treats this as the default - can be markedly different from what women do, with much of the friction where these two spheres intersect.

Given that perspective, there's often a celebratory feel to Hara's interviews - while nearly every subject has stories of harassment and resistance, there's also never a doubt that they are talking about things they love, even if they do occasionally have a sarcastic or questioning attitude toward that affection. Hara finds an interesting cross-section of interests and attitudes, and she gives the impression of being good at letting people talk until they hit upon what's important and then fitting it into the movie without a lot of the excess. She knows her audience, too - as much as there are a lot of male fans of these genres and media that could use a bit of education, documentaries are often preaching to the converted, so she and editor Mirenda Ouellet pause for a round of audience applause when a cosplayer flips off a guy who slaps her butt and don't linger on the moments that drive home how rough things can be.

The biggest weakness is one that the film takes the occasional moment to acknowledge but which still may need to be driven home, in that there a filter involved in what the film shows. This is always the case, but Hara's narration mentions people declining to be interviewed quite a bit, and she doesn't vary from on-camera interviews much, so there aren't that many options for filling in the blanks.

It works for what she wants to present, in terms of making something aspirational rather than downcast. "Geek Girls" is a generally upbeat documentary about a topic that my own perspective has generally allowed me to either take things for granted or only hear about when things turn ugly, and while it may not necessarily be the most informative possible film on the subject, it's good at making people feel included rather than excluded, which is likely what its makers set out to achieve.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=31557&reviewer=371
originally posted: 11/13/17 21:43:37
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

11/14/17 Anne I loved this film! Especially Mariko. She is amaaaazing! 5 stars
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Directed by
  Gina Hara

Written by
  Gina Hara


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