A year-long documentary featuring ten little girls as they encounter the wild woodland before it and their childhoods fade.
Commissioned by Raintree Foundation and directed by Sara Bonaventura, Forest Hymn for Little Girls invites you to follow the exploits, struggles and daring feats of five young girls under the age of six as they take to the woodland. From winter-bundled toddling hikes to free-for-all frolics up a mud-thick hill, we’ll get an intimate glimpse of where children play and what they do when given free rein in the wilds of nature. A film from St. Louis, MO (USA) aims to place young girls at the center of the children and nature movement. Forest Hymn for Little Girls, a feature-length documentary from an all-female international team, will amplify the conversation. It asks the question, who has the right to access wildlands?
This documentary will remind the world of the power of wild spaces in young girls’ lives and the role of wild spaces in guiding young girls to be proactive citizens in healthy communities.
“In the conceptual element proper to theory, experiment at the level of form can mask conservativism at the level of content (...) while conservativism at the level of form may harbour extraordinary radicality at the level of content. ”
I am a visual artist and my works are experimental and hermetic or opaque. For my first feature length film, I wanted to plumb the uncanny in a different way. This documentary is stylistically very different from my previous artworks, especially for its intentional semantic transparency. I wanted to reach a different audience and a a wider one.
I work as educator, I have been teaching visual arts for years, to different grades, also to little ones within the world-renown Reggio Approach. I believe in radical education. My job and my social commitment are for the first time powerfully intertwined in my artistic effort. I think I have an ability to empathize and sympathize with children. I feel intimately connected with the post-feminist subject of the documentary, but I also wanted to convey it through a process of community banking. It is my background with a focus on visual culture and gender studies, that lead us to a form of storytelling in which the girl-child body is the co-protagonist, along with the forest. I have tried to play with ways of connecting structure (the verbalized, the analytical) and texture (the bodily expressed).
Outdoor learning is a broad concept that has no rigid boundary. A common core of Forest Schools is that it is inquiry based and each child leads the process with no prescribed goal or hierarchy set by adults. There is a rich affinity within the idea of documentary as experimental, evolving and cross-boundary practice. and I tried to work phenomenologically, letting something coming to me, rather than directing it, trying to keep it open rather than looking for something.
Forest Hymn is not the telling of a story, but perhaps it is weaving together many tales from before to now and into the beyond. It describes girls and a forest, each inhabiting their own space and each other through their actions. It is the universal story of the double bind between the organism and the environment; but it also a very specific tale as the ecological aesthetics have been driven by a specific choice: sharing the perspective of children and the aesthetics of learning.
Taking a page from the girls, I pursued a conveyance of a sort of joie de vivre, a sense of jouissance that is lost for many nowadays. The closing scenes of the documentary emphasize enthusiasm and joy as apposed to the harsh beginning of a dead deer. It is almost a classic happy ending, not so common in today’s cinema, against the biting lyrics of the closing songs. It is not a denial of reality, but the invitation to naivite; asking us all to keep ourselves open to pursuit the most creative of solutions to our everyday, epic challenges.
As a community supported Kickstarter funded project, we could not afford to hire a DOP within our tight micro budget. But having no crew was also deliberate, trying to be as little intrusive as possible. The locations were challenging with each season presenting new struggles to consider when filming. Following the girls in the wild was a psycho-emotional and physical effort that put me in filming conditions I have never felt before: trying to keep the camera low at the height of the girls, running to keep up with the zipping and zagging of young children, jumping, squatting, and crawling up muddy slopes with ticks and poison ivy, falling against and off of slippery boulders in the rain, and navigating uneven ground with my eye at the camera. Teaching suggested me to film with a low angle, from a child perspective, observing details or watching the sky... how much sky above the forest I discovered with them! The only time lapse, when springtime is about to come, is a celebration of that sky.
At the very beginning I wanted to make something visually more experimental, i.e. using GoPros mounted on the little girls. We tried it in a few first sessions, but I realized there was no need to add a GoPro look. I thought it could convey a more neutral gaze. On the contrary, it got far from that idea of legibility and transparency I had in mind. Then we know that the camera is never innocent, nor the editing. So I became aware that my big challenge was to become invisible, a difficult aim with young children. The girls had to feel that no one was watching. It took time to build confidence and trust, and it took time to achieve a level of invisibility. Becoming part of their community, being hosted by their families, spending all my time with them, gradually made my presence more familiar and less extraordinary.
For this film, I reveal each girl as protagonist. I believe the gender question as very topical, not only within the realms of pedagogy and education, but far beyond. And I am a woman, my body is feminine, so must be my eyes. I feel committed, driven by a mix of advocacy and personal history. I am from Southern Europe where the concept of wildlands itself cannot be really translated. Our environment is connoted by layers and layers of anthropic modifications. I am fascinated by more pristine lands, by the forest, by the unknown. I think we need to cross frontiers and embrace otherness, to get to know ourselves deeply and bring new biodiversity in our own biome.
With this philosophy, our documentary deals with environmental, educational and gender issues with an intersectional approach. The subject is political, although there are no political slogans or mottos here, but imagination, which is a political choice indeed. A wild, raw, unruly, uncanny, vivid, passionate and unpredictable imagination, triggered by this emotional landscape of wildness, can still move the world.