'Selfie' documentary a short, yet powerful look at self-image


GREAT BARRINGTON -- In the film, "Selfie," Monument Mountain Regional High School student Hannah Korte is seen frowning slightly at the camera.

"I don't like my rosy cheeks," she admitted. "I think they make me look like a tomato."

Korte wasn't alone, at least in terms of disliking a portion of her body. In fact, she was one of about 15 high school students and mothers who spoke frankly about female self-image in general and their perceived shortcomings in particular in "Selfie."

The documentary had its local premiere before a packed house at the Triplex Theater on Sunday morning.

The event was sponsored by Dove soap, the Berkshire International Film Festival, the Sundance Institute and the Triplex. Local director Cynthia Wade, of Egremont, an Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker, shot the film at Monument Mountain in about two weeks.

The film was only seven minutes long, but delivered a powerful message. Many students, like Korte, spoke of their insecurities about how they look. In addition, some of their parents echoed these insecurities.

"You have to fit a mold," concluded student Chauncia Tucker in the film. "If you don't fit it, you don't fit in."

In the film, New York City photographer Michael Crook meets the students and teaches them how to shoot selfies, or self-potraits. with their cell phones. Following the tutorial, the selfies and other photos taken of the students by Crook were recently displayed in a gallery on Railroad Street.

Students, parents and residents attending the gallery opening were encouraged to attach post-it notes to the photos.

The post-it notes were uniformly positive. The girls were praised for their hair, skin, smiles and looks. Korte, for example, found out that people thought her rosy cheeks were terrific.

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"Everybody said they loved them," she said.

Those pictures were on display in the lobby of the Triplex on Sunday.

"I think the one thing that impressed me the most was how honest these girls were," said Crook, who was the interviewer in the movie. "That kind of blew me away. They spoke very frankly about themselves and that was surprising."

"The one thing I took away from this was the courage of these young girls," said Marianne Young, principal at Monument Mountain. "These girls were very honest about their feelings about themselves."

Wade explained that the process helped the students -- and their parents -- understand that beauty is not something set in stone.

"We don't have to accept the traditional definition of beauty," said Wade.

In addition, she said, it helped parents understand that their own self-image issues are often passed on to their daughters.

The documentary was shown at the most recent Sundance Film Festival to favorable reviews. But more interestingly, the seven-minute film has gone viral. As of Sunday, it had more than 5.2 million views on YouTube.

"Cleary," said Wade, "[the film] is something that speaks to a lot of women and girls."

To reach Derek Gentile: dgentile@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6251. On Twitter: @DerekGentile


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