May 4, 2009

Zombie Girl (Review)



Justin Johnson
Aaron Marshall
Erik Mauck


5 / 5 zedheads

It was a beautiful, breezy day on College Street in Toronto on Sunday. The perfect day to sit back at The Royal Theatre and fall in love with a Zombie Girl.

Zombie Girl is a documentary from co-directors Justin Johnson, Aaron Marshall, and Erik Mauck. It documents the attempt by 12-year-old Emily Hagins in 2004 to write, direct, film, and edit a feature-length zombie movie called Pathogen. The movie is not so much about zombies or the nature of making film but rather the special relationship between bright, ambitious Emily and her incredibly supportive mother. Emily was after all 12 and, although unusually dedicated and passionate about making film, still inexperienced and at times awkward as a pre-teen director. With the help of her mother (who becomes everything for the film: makeup artist, set designer, prop master, boom mic operator, etc., producer, financier), Emily takes a very rough two-year road towards finishing Pathogen, sometimes fabulous and exciting - sometimes tense and overwhelming. She finds her voice along the way and makes every mistake in the film-making book.

I fell in love with Zombie Girl because it reminded me why I love being creative. The film captures the exalting thrill of creating something out of nothing and the heart-breaking crash that comes with the understanding that your ability to realize your vision stands so far beyond your human limitations and abilities. I'm sure every person out there has at one time given up or shelved a creative project, thinking it was impossible or they weren't good enough, or that no one would like it. Then you see Emily Hagins -- a girl at the beginning of her life, forging ahead to create a movie on a home-spun budget with a boom mic made from paint roller poles and tape and a handful of Halloween makeup -- and that inspiration and love of art is rekindled.

Also, the fact that Emily and her cast are all young is a reminder that, no matter how technical, self-important, artsy, financially bloated, and overexposed movies and celebrities are these days -- at the heart of every actor, director, and special-effects supervisor is a little bit of that youthful energy cultivated from playing make-believe and dress up.

Zombie Girl is a lovely under-dog story about determination, the joys and desperation of independent film making, and family. At times quirky and heart-wrenching, Zombie Girl is a documentary that will, hopefully as it did for me, leave you leaving the theatre re-inspired to turn your visions into reality.

Especially if those dreams include zombies.

Zombie Girl: The Movie played in Toronto as part of the Hot Docs Festival and was sponsored by Toronto Zombie Walk and co-presented by Rue Morgue and the Toronto After Dark Film Festival