Little Girl Documentary

I watched Sebastien Lifshitz’s documentary Little Girl the other night – it’s a very beautiful film and interesting to watch for someone who, like me, spends their working days in the documentary world. If you haven’t seen it, it’s an incredibly intimate insight into the life of an eight year old child assigned male identity at birth but who passionately believes herself to be a girl.

So many of the scenes are filmed from distance on a long lens and from one PoV – which gives us the impression of being in the room as a sitting observer. It reduces any feeling of intrusiveness but the downside is that in face-to-face meetings – as with the gender dysphoria medic in Paris – it leaves each participant isolated in a close-up and it doesn’t relate the two people.

Its structure has a real discipline with every scene allowed long enough to make its point and immerse us in its atmosphere. It looks and feels like drama.

There’s a lot of centre framing. Our instinct tends to be to compose pictures around the thirds lines but this doesn’t and it works fine. A lot of backlighting from available light used as well – there are some particularly gorgeous shots of the girl playing in her garden and one of her siblings juggling a football in the late afternoon sun.

The cameraperson must have a special presence to them (and so often it does boil down to that rather than which settings they’ve entered into the camera menu) because the scenes alone with a shy and confused child feel completely natural. Because so much of it is in the world of a shy child and in a quiet, family setting, the sound is really, really important. Whoever recorded it has done a brilliant job in catching breaths, murmurs and sniffles – it set me wondering what they’d used and how they’d done it.

Beyond the film-making lessons learned from watching it, there’s a big elephant in the room about the ethics of the film – whether an eight year old child can make decisions about consent. With every film like this, I do worry about what happens in ten years’ time, when the child in the film is a young woman starting university. Will she want this incredibly intimate insight into her early struggles freely available to all her fellow students on the web? In the internet age – where everything is forever – this applies to any documentary made with children but particularly to this one. I don’t know the answer to this and maybe there isn’t one.

All in all, really worth watching. I learned a lot from watching it. Here’s a review: