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Viewer Q&A with Filmmaker & Model

A. Sabin and Rachel Blais

Filmmaker A. Sabin and Model Rachel Blais took your questions live on Sunday, March 24, but you can catch the recap of the chat below. Learn more about the making of Girl Model and the international modeling industry.

POV: Welcome to POV's live chat with Filmmaker A. Sabin and Model Rachel Blais from Girl Model. We'll get started in about 15 minutes.

A. Sabin: Hey looking forward to chatting.

Rachel Blais: Hello! Looking forward to chatting with everybody!

POV: Welcome, Rachel and A. Sabin, thank you for joining us.

POV: Rachel, what was your experience becoming a model?

Rachel Blais: Like many girl I was stop randomly while shopping in my hometown, I was 14 years old....

Rachel Blais: and i didn't know much about modeling. I surely didn't know all the risks involve with modeling.

POV: What were some of the financial realities you encountered?

Rachel Blais: Like we see in Girl Model with Nadya, most models struggle when they start modelling...

Rachel Blais: Models from the west are usually more lucky and can be helped by their family, but it can still be difficult financially while living in capitals.

POV: A. Sabin, Girl Model shows a side of the modeling industry that is rarely seen. How were you introduced to this story and at what point did you decide you had to make a film on the subject?

A. Sabin: In 2007 Ashley Arbaugh approached us with an idea of making a film about "Modeling and Prostitution or the foggy line that exists between the two..."

A. Sabin: We didn't jump into the project immediately it took about a year before we picked up the camera...

A. Sabin: The story progressed as any verite film would. You follow the characters and the ending is unknown.

Comment from Ron: I have a question for the director. When you started making this film did you think people might think of it as an expose? Has the reaction to the film surprised you? Thanks!

A. Sabin: We never thought of the film as an expose. It is surprising even now that it is called an expose by press...

A. Sabin: In my mind an expose you seek out a darker story with a thesis...

A. Sabin: Yes the reaction has been very surprising. We just make films. It could be on a family in Mexico or post-Katrina New Orleans...

Rachel Blais: Girl Model is not an expose on modeling, but I believe it shows very well many issues all models go through when they start they career.

Rachel Blais: All models I've talked with after screenings said the film in hit home in many ways.

Rachel Blais: Most models start working and traveling very young, going abroad for college can be hard, let alone to go work in an adult work.

POV: Now that the film has been released, are you coming up against any challenges? Has there been a reaction from the modeling industry?

A. Sabin: We've done a number of screenings with the Model Alliance. At each screening there are models, agents, fashion designers. What has surprised us is the response. ..

Rachel Blais: There's been a lot of encouraging words an messages coming our way from the public, models and even some members of the industry, but I believe it is not easy to get the industry being fully honest about what is going on.

A. Sabin: Most people in the industry have said they have either experienced similar situations or seen similar things happen...

A. Sabin: This is why we included the covered eyes as a visual metaphor.

Rachel Blais: and sometimes I've heard even worse stories than what seen in Girl Model. For some the film can unfortunately be considered only the tip of the iceberg...

POV: Rachel, so there are scouts, or scouting companies, and then there are agencies. Can you explain the function of each within the modeling world?

Rachel Blais: Scouts are people who go around different countries and towns and recruit models. They then send their pictures to agencies with who they work and arrange the models contract.

Rachel Blais: While an agency is set up in a particular city and find work mainly locally for models.

Comment From Robeledo: Can you explain why you think there is a foggy line between modeling and prostitution?

A. Sabin: Those are Ashley Arbaugh's words. She approached us with that premise...

A. Sabin: And we didn't push for answers. If she brought it up we filmed.

Rachel Blais: Many reputed agents have told me, like Ashley Arbaugh, how there is just a fine line between modeling and prostitution...

Rachel Blais: I think by that they might mean they are aware of what some girls get into...sometimes because they are struggling as models but I've also heard of stories of girls being pressured into compromising situations.

Comment From Deanne: Are there ethical modeling agencies out there if a young girl wants to become a model despite everything you're telling us about the modeling industry?

Rachel Blais: I think some are less bad than others, but I still haven't heard of an agency that is totally ethical at this point....

Rachel Blais: The Model Alliance in NYC and Equity Models Committee in the UK are doing work to protect models rights, but they are also encountering a lot of difficulties....

Rachel Blais: So I'd say, if a child models at this point I believe they should do it with agencies for children and always with a parent on set...

Rachel Blais: And children shouldn't work as a representation of adults, if they model before they are 18 they should work for kids and teens company.

Comment From Jamie, POV Engage: Hi everyone, thanks for joining the chat! Just a reminder: You can host your own Girl Model Premiere Party between March 24th and April 7th for a chance to win a Party Pack that includes a Girl Model signed DVD & poster, popcorn, chocolate and more. Just tell us your plans for watching, and enter here - Girl Model Premiere Party.

Comment From Stephanie: I saw the film online (thanks PBS!). I know some people haven't seen it yet, but can you tell us what's happened to Nadya? Is she still modeling?

A. Sabin: After Nadya returned home from Japan the second time we sent a fixer to speak with her family...

A. Sabin: We had many questions that were left unanswered after the fixer returned...

A. Sabin: The family was nervous about their involvement with the film and since then we have really lost touch with Nadya...

A. Sabin: We hope she is well, and if you Google her name on the internet you can find modeling pictures. All we can hope is she is happy, making money, and achieving the goals she has set for herself. But we'll never really know how she is.

Comment From Chloe: How many years did your film your subjects? What type of outreach do you envision, to keep this dialogue going & evolving?

A. Sabin: We were in production for about 4 years...

A. Sabin: As far as outreach we've been trying to reach a younger audience through social media, and have set up a number of screenings at Universities. We've also partnered with Rachel, Model Alliance, and Equity Models Committee to help support their efforts and create more awareness.

POV: A. Sabin, if there was one thing you would want a POV/ PBS Audience to come away thinking about after having seen Girl Model, what would that be?

Comment From Lilly: The film looks great! I'm looking forward to seeing it tonight! Thanks for taking our questions!

A. Sabin: What was most profound for both David Redmon and myself is that there is so much more going on below the surface of these images we all consume everyday...

A. Sabin: I think it's important we all seek a greater understanding of what is behind the image and ask questions like who are these young girls, what is their story, and what is the labor involved to have their image in either a magazine, billboard, etc.

Comment From Ron: A. Sabin, at any point when you were making the film did you start having strong opposition to what you were seeing in the industry? If not, how did you separate yourself from the situations you were seeing? Thanks!

A. Sabin: Yes we had many strong emotions making this film...

A. Sabin: As you can imagine filming a young 13 girl creates some ethical dilemmas...

A. Sabin: We're both filmmakers and also human beings with a moral back bone...

A. Sabin: So even though it's not in the film we stepped in a lot to help Nadya and Madlen. But we also had to be true to the story. Which is why we pulled ourselves out of the film. We wanted the audience to experience how it would have been without us there.

Comment From Stephanie: Hi Rachel, From what I've read online, you're involvement in the film has limited your career, and I'm sorry to hear that! Do you want to return to modeling? Do you have second thoughts about returning to the industry?

Rachel Blais: I'd still work if agencies wanted to represent me. As of now they all canceled my representation contracts and work visas so except for a few clients who have reached out directly to me i'm not working...

Rachel Blais: I believe if we saw more women of 25 years old (and generally more diversity) it would help the impacts fashion images have on consumers. Not only because we would see different type of women being represented but also because the models, being older, would be aware of the negative impacts fashion images can have out of context.

Rachel Blais: Therefore I'd be up to still work as a model, but that is because I now understand being in front of the camera has challenges I never realized before. I think fashion images could have very powerful positive impacts on everyone if all models were somewhat feminists!

Comment From Viewer: A. Sabin, I just wanted to let you know I saw the film last year at a screening and it had a profound effect on me and motivated my current dissertation research into transparency in the fashion supply chain. Thank you!

A. Sabin: Can you send us your abstract? Really interesting!

POV: How many young girls remain in the modeling industry after their first international trip? Do you think that is by design?

Comment From Viewer: Yes absolutely! I will do that, thank you!

Rachel Blais: I think it's very hard to know how many trips models do. There are barely any data about models since it is an unregulated business (with a major work force of unaware children)....

Rachel Blais: From my experience of over 10 years modeling I've seen a lot of models coming in and out of modeling, and I'd say most girls career probably don't last more than a couple years.

POV: Rachel, if you could change one thing about the modeling industry, what would it be?

Rachel Blais: I think a lot of positive changes will happen if we stop allowing children (under 18 years) to work as adult models...

Rachel Blais: then the major work force of models would be adults, and that could help into unionizing and protecting child models rights.

Comment From Ruth: How are the risks different for a young girl who wants to become a model in America vs. Russia?

Rachel Blais: I believe the risks are the same, but it mainly depends on the young girl's background. Often girls with marginalized backgrounds will be less protected than the others. But the risks are always there.

POV: A. Sabin, how did you first envision this film and how did it evolve?

A. Sabin: We didn't really know what to expect from the start. The whole film was an evolution of understanding...

A. Sabin: We did start with the front stage as a visual metaphor where we are queuing the audience that we'll start at the front and then take you backstage...

A. Sabin: The mirrors were also a very important part to our experience. Many times I felt like we were in a funny house and not really quite sure what we were looking at.

POV: A. Sabin, what were the biggest surprises that you encountered while shooting?

POV: Any discoveries that you had no idea about beforehand?

A. Sabin: Well the age of the girls was a surprise...

A. Sabin: Also the debt system is very complicated and took a long time to understand. This is something Rachel helped us out with gainer a deeper insight.

A. Sabin: Additionally the deception that goes on and what we caught on camera. For instance when the agent tells Nadya to say she is 15....

A. Sabin: There are child labor laws that do exist in Japan. And they have strict guidelines about when the girls model because of school, their age, and working hours....

A. Sabin: This is an example of the law being misinterpreted for the benefit of business. So yes I could go on and on about surprising things. The production was full of surprises.

POV: A. Sabin, can you talk about Girl Model from a stylistic standpoint? What was the look or feel of the film you were aiming for, and how did you try to accomplish that?

A. Sabin: It took a long time to edit Girl Model. We hired two different editors, edited ourselves, and did a lot of test screenings...

A. Sabin: We wanted to make a film that didn't provide all the answers and invited the viewer into the state of confusion that we felt as well as Nadya's experiences.

Comment From Allie: Hi POV and A. Sabin and Rachel. Rachel, what do you think might be a realistic reform that could happen in the next few months to make the situation better for young models?

Rachel Blais: Hi! I think this is a huge issue that will take time to resolve mainly because modeling is an international business, most models travel a lot. A first step in the first direction is to sign the Model Alliance & Girl Model petition for child models in NY to have the same rights & protection than other child performer: modelalliance.org/petition.

Rachel Blais: But I really believe it will be hard for anything to change unless there is a law banning children (under 18 years old) to model for adult modeling agencies. You can read my statement on this subject and how it will help on my website: rachelblais.com/issues-solutions/.

Rachel Blais: I think consumers can also play a role into models rights. Everyone can decided to not buy a magazine or from a shop if they don't like the way they are portraying women (i.e if the models are prepubescent looking, or the pictures too airbrushed)...

Rachel Blais: and writing directly to companies or commenting on their social media can make a big difference. I've talked with many magazine fashion editors and marketers at clothing companies and they all say that their consumers opinion matters!

A. Sabin: If you are interested in actions that young girls are doing to create change check out Spark Summit. They have done a lot on media and representation. Really great stuff!

POV: Thank you, Rachel and A. Sabin. Since the film was released, what has the reaction to the film been from the modeling industry?

Rachel Blais: It's been mixed. From the models it's been very supportive and even often thankful. Many clients are also very happy about the side of modeling Girl Model presents because often they are frustrated at not being able to help all these young girls they encounter...

Rachel Blais: in the industry if you speak out you really risk not getting anymore work, so that is why many people know but don't act. I think the most resistance the film's been getting is by agencies and scouts, since they are the first ones to find the young models and responsible them to start working and often traveling.

Comment From Sydney: Ms. Sabin: Were there documentary projects you watched as you were filming or editing Girl Model that you thought of as cinematic kin?

A. Sabin: Yes we watch a lot of films while shooting and editing. For Girl Model we looked at Ulrich Seidl's Import/Export (it's a fiction film), Lukas Moodysson's Lilya 4-ever, and Frederick Wiseman's Model.

A. Sabin: Looking at Import/Export and Lilya 4-ever as supply chains we knew we wanted to follow the process of what happened when Ashley Arbaugh selected one of these girls, from beginning to end...

A. Sabin: For the visuals we really took a great deal of time developing the color palette in post-production and focusing on everyday patterns that developed in the production that we could flesh out...

A. Sabin: For example the eyes being covered, each characters relationship to their body and other bodies...

A. Sabin: The cyst [scene] is a perfect example of this. We included it last minute after the urging from POV. But now I couldn't imagine the film without it. It speaks volumes about the industry and Ashley Arbaugh. The surface is beautiful and perfect but what lies beneath is quite dark.

POV: Rachel, does the issue of child pornography often come up in the modeling industry?

Rachel Blais: Unfortunately it is common, but at the moment it's being called "art"! Child models are regularly being pressure into being sexualized, in photo shoots and fashion shows, while representing adults. This would be considered a criminal violation in front of the law for any random person, but not for photographers?

POV: We have time for one more question.

POV: Rachel, what would you like viewers to do after seeing the film?

POV: A. Sabin, what project are you working on now? What stage of completion is it in?

Rachel Blais: I guess I've already sent out a lot of actions that can be taken, but in short I'd say keep being aware! We see between 1500 to 2500 advertisements a day, and studies have shown how what we see has impact on our way of thinking and perceiving ourselves. So have conversations about the media, and the unrealistic and negative representations of women.

A. Sabin: We are currently in production on a film about donkeys. It will be long takes, and even more observational. Still exploring story lines so it makes it difficult to summarize but we are noticing strong themes of donkeys relationship to humans and each other. They are really intuitive animals and I think it will be a poetic film about animals relationship to the world around them and mankind. After making Girl Model we needed a change of story.

A. Sabin: We post all of our films on our website, Carnivalesque Films.

Rachel Blais: You can follow me on facebook.com/RachelBlais1 & twitter: @RachelBlais1 and you can read more about my advocacy and work on rachelblais.com.

POV: Great, thank you so much for joining us, A. Sabin and Rachel!

A. Sabin: Thank you for making this happen!

Rachel Blais: And please consider letting your favorite fashion brands know your point of view as a consumer on their social media sites! Thank you POV & everyone!

POV: Thanks to everyone who wrote in! Fantastic questions tonight.

POV: Many PBS stations are airing Girl Model tonight. Check your local listings at pbs.org/pov/tvschedule/.

You can also follow the film on Facebook at facebook.com/girlmodelthemovie.

Check out an infographic about the international model supply chain at pbs.org/pov/girlmodel/infographic.php.

Watch extended video interviews with A. Sabin and Rachel Blais at pbs.org/pov/girlmodel/additional-video.php.

This chat will be archived at pbs.org/pov/girlmodel/chat.php.

If we didn't get a chance to ask your question or post your comment, the conversation continues on POV's Facebook page at facebook.com/povdocs and POV's companion site for Girl Model at pbs.org/pov/girlmodel, where you can watch the film again online (for a limited time).

Follow Girl Model on Twitter at @GirlModelMovie and Tumblr at askagirlmodel.tumblr.com/.





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