Girl Model is a character-driven story about Ashley Arbaugh, a model-turned-scout who recruits Nadya Vall, a 13-year-old Siberian girl, into the marketplace of modeling.
Ashley initiated the process that ultimately led to the making of Girl Model when she gave us a stack of DVDs showing hundreds of Russian teenagers at a casting call, introducing themselves and stating their ages and their body sizes. As each girl looked directly into the camera—and thus at the viewer—we were puzzled and plagued by questions: Who are these girls? Where do they come from? How did they get to this point of posing for an inquisitive camera? Who is behind the lens? Where are these girls going and what will happen to them?
Next, Ashley gave us her personal diary footage from her modeling days in the 1990s. The footage was well shot with in-camera-cuts; it was also extremely raw with digital self-portraits. Ashley invited us to follow her on scouting trips to Russia, and the concept for Girl Model — a documentary contrasting Ashley’s life as a former model with the experiences of the young girls she recruits — was born.
Ashley promised to negotiate with the gatekeepers in Russia and Japan to get us access without our needing to be involved in that process. It was an unusual situation for us, but we let her go ahead and negotiate with the Russian and Japanese agencies on our behalf and she convinced them to allow us to film.
After traveling to four countries (China, France, Russia and Japan), witnessing the recruitment of young girls into the fashion industry and trying to understand the splintered situations we encountered along the way, we eventually decided to structure Girl Model as a journey of uncertain discovery. With the film we attempt to guide the audience through the circuitous trajectory framed by Nadya’s experiences and Ashley’s contrasting points of view.
The process of discovery in our story is key to illustrating the murky territory that we documented. We prefer to create stories for audiences and let them assemble the fragments as they unfold. Our aim is to guide viewers into this world of confusion where they may feel a tinge of the emotions experienced by everyone involved—Nadya, Ashley and us. We welcome you into this world of Girl Model.
— A. Sabin and David Redmon, Co-directors/Co-producers