Review of “Girls Rock”


At the Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp
for Girls, based in Portland,
Ore., girls have one week to
learn an instrument, form a band and play a song for an audience of 700. That’s
quite a different experience from traditional summer camp, where kids convene
to play Capture the Flag and roast s’mores around a campfire.

When filmmakers Arne
Johnson and Shane King heard out rocker Carrie Brownstein (formerly of
Sleater-Kinney) speak about her experience as a counselor at the camp, they knew
it would be an inspiring story to capture on film. Girls Rock!, which opens in select cities on Friday, March 7, does
just that.

Following four campers as
they form friendships and musical groups and talk about just being a girl, the
documentary gives non-campers the chance to see what it’s like to have the opportunity
to learn from Brownstein and other veteran musicians like the Gossip‘s Beth
. And it’s certainly an inspiring atmosphere.

Carrie Brownstein (left) and Beth Ditto

Filmed in 2005, all of
the campers gather together in a circle at the beginning of their week at camp
to quiet their nerves and break the ice. Most of the girls haven’t ever played
music before, and some (like 17-year-old Misty) haven’t even seen the
instrument of their choice. Things get really tough when genres are posted on
the wall (hip-hop, punk, rock, etc.) and some girls are left standing alone.
Fifteen-year-old Laura, for instance, longs to front a death metal band.

The film focuses on four
girls in particular, highlighting their personal stories as much as their
musical progress. Laura is a Korean adoptee who has a hard time fitting in at
home in Oklahoma.
She sports Iron Maiden T-shirts and gets very physical very fast, hugging her
new bandmates and eagerly trying to form fast friendships. However, she still
feels left out, and the camp initially doesn’t seem to do much to help her find
like-minded friends.


The aforementioned Misty
is a special case in Girls Rock! She is
specially documented by a female filmmaker in order to help her feel comfortable
discussing her personal issues on camera. She comes to the camp from a lockdown
facility and is challenged by her bandmates constantly.

Having formed a band
based on hip-hop, their song ends up sounding more like soulful rock, and the
group is divided on choosing a better name and look. Misty is quick to get
argumentative, but counselors intervene to help the girls talk it out and
resolve their differences.


Girls Rock! also follows youngsters
Palace and Amelia in their
bands and homes, talking to their parents about their social anxieties. It is
clear that the parents, who speak candidly, see the camp as a positive
experience that their daughters can benefit from.

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