(2009) Documentary (Strand) Sara Ziff, Karl Lagerfield, Nicole Miller, Caitriona Balfe, Missy Rayder, Cameron Russell, Gilles Bensimon, Sam Haskins, Diana Dondoe, Hussein Chalayan. Directed by Ole Schell and Sara Ziff
For most of us it’s hard to give the supermodel much sympathy. We see them as the height of glamour and fashion, wearing the latest clothes, jetting all over the world to amazing locations, partying with rock stars and generally being the envy of every little girl who just wants to be pretty. But there is a price for prettiness.
Sara Ziff is the daughter of a NYU neurobiology professor and a lawyer (her mom, who appears later in the film to fuss over her daughter’s education). However although she’s plainly an intelligent girl, he’s drawn to the world of modeling and with her fresh-faced good looks, blonde hair and sunny expression make her a natural.
Her boyfriend and her initially are taking home movies from her early days breaking into the model world. Mostly we see her reactions to things that happen in her career but as time goes by this becomes more of a true documentary about conditions in the world of modeling. We see the pressure Ziff comes under to stay thin, eventually competing with girls much younger (as in 12, 13, 14). She starts talking to her fellow models and gradually a picture of an industry in which models systematically starve themselves, are often overworked to the point of exhaustion (and the malnourishment contributes heavily to this) and on top of it are subject to being sexually abused by predatory photographers who are sadly not as rare as you might think.
Still sound glamorous? You have to understand that very few models make it to be Tyra Banks or Heidi Klum. While some can make a decent living wage or better, an awful lot of models live hand to mouth, taking dodgy assignments that often have them not getting paid or having to have sex with their photographers in order TO get paid. Keep in mind that much of the population of the modeling industry is made up of teenage girls and that is a demographic that can be – and is – easily exploited.
This is an eye-opener. The girls are undeniably beautiful and certainly as a man I’m aware of their beauty and the unconscious sexuality of the models (models are very aware of their bodies, used to having them on display so they seem almost flip about how they are occasionally viewed as sexual objects). However, those who thought that a beautiful girl can get pretty much whatever she wants out of life should watch this. These girls might well describe their beauty as a curse, something that almost invites exploitation and attracts predatory sorts into their orbits. There are no unions in this industry and quite frankly there is nobody watching over the rights of the models because there is far too much money on the table. The girls only see a fraction of that money at best.
Since making this movie Ziff has gone on to become an activist working for better working conditions for the models, and vigorously going after sexual predators in the industry. Before seeing this I wouldn’t have thought there was a need for an activist. Now I can truly say that it’s a good thing that there’s a Sara Ziff around to help these girls. For those who think of models as shallow and selfish with little going on between the ears, I give you Sara Ziff.
WHY RENT THIS: This is no America’s Next Top Model. Ziff is an articulate and intelligent woman who turns the stereotype of the profession on its ear.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Started out as a group of home movies and some of the material would seem to be less important to anyone other than Schell and Ziff.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some swearing and a few adult situations.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Ziff graduated magna cum laude from Columbia University with a degree in Political Science.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $22,369 on an unknown production budget; it probably didn’t take much to shoot this movie but I’m pretty sure it took more than that.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Girl Model
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Vanishing on 7th Street