Berkeley Media LLC
2600 Tenth Street, Suite 626
Berkeley, CA 94710
Available as: VHS and DVD
Catalog #: 0114
|Order this title
|Sale Price: $295.00
This incisive and compelling documentary chronicles the lives of five seventh- and eighth-grade girls through their first year at the elite Fay School, the oldest junior boarding school in America. With great sensitivity to individual nuance and a sharp eye for significant moments of interaction, filmmaker Jane Gray reveals how deftly these 12- and 13-year-olds learn and practice "womanly" arts of psycho-social warfare while dealing with complex personal issues such as body image, class and sexual identity, family dysfunction, and self-worth.
The film takes place primarily in Webster House, the dormitory the girls share, where their everyday lives unfold: they make friends and enemies, discuss their first dates, compete with and bully one another, share intimacies and jokes, and sleep with stuffed animals. The dorm setting provides an unusual blend of privilege and egalitarianism to which each of the girls responds in her own way.
Through a series of keenly observed and richly detailed vignettes, the film explores how each girl negotiates brutal social interactions and copes with cultural and class differences -- all the while growing up and maturing into young women far away from home. The film begins in September, when their parents kiss and hug the girls good-bye, and concludes in June, when their good-byes to one another are surprisingly teary given the rocky year they've shared.
Amanda, an overweight girl with acne who comes from the Midwest, is an unexpected addition to this privileged setting. Orphaned and sent away to learn manners, Amanda faces many challenges fitting in with the skinny rich girls around her. As she comes into power and begins to dominate her dorm mates, she seems at times like an underdog making good and at others like an appalling bully in her disregard for others.
In particular, Amanda has it in for Joanna, a petite, blond, "goody-two-shoes" who seems to have everything. Perfectly poised and composed, Joanna is more comfortable pleasing adults and playing with dolls than worrying about cliques, clothes, or boys. Joanna's roommate Lucia, from Mexico, is caught in the middle, but learns to manipulate the situation and stay on good terms with both other girls.
"Playing House" is a revelatory window on to the world of adolescent girls, at times darkly funny, at times deeply affecting, and always astute and evocative. It will engage students and stimulate thought and discussion in a wide range of courses in psychology, sociology, women's and gender studies, cultural anthropology, American studies, and education. It was produced by Jane Gray.
"A compelling and remarkable documentary, so honestly portrayed and so amazingly revealing. The film captures the angst of middle school girls away from home. All share the pains of in-group out-group tensions, the hurt from which echoes the rejection, perceived or real, from parents and surrogate parents. What is exemplary about the film is that it depicts, in an engaging real-life documentary, all that psychologists and educators have taught us about early adolescence. And as an audience we are helpless to intervene as the year passes and tensions in the dormitory build. At the film's end, filmmaker Jane Gray generously provides us with brief summaries of each girl's after-school progress. These reassure us that each managed to survive the first year and move beyond the conflicts and tensions that characterize this painful stage of the human life cycle." -- Keith Brodie, Duke University President Emeritus and James B. Duke Prof. of Psychiatry
"Playing House reminds us just how much observational filmmaking still has to offer, and its particular affinity with the lives of its subjects. This film offers a nuanced, respectful, and insightful look at both the aspirations and the apprehensions of young teenage girls at an elite Massachusetts boarding school. Viewers are wholly caught up in the girls' struggle to realize their budding adult selves and at the same time to resolve emerging personality and behavioral differences within the confines of the school. This is a perspicacious work that exceeds in both form and content the platitudes of broadcast journalism." -- Lucien Taylor, Lecturer on Visual and Environmental Studies and Assoc. Director, Film Study Center, Harvard University; Founding Editor of Visual Anthropology Review and co-author of Cross-Cultural Filmmaking (Univ. of California Press)
"A compelling, sensitive, and sometimes very funny look at the lives of the young female residents of Webster House, a freshman dorm at the exclusive Fay School. Filmmaker Jane Gray astutely observes the complexities of privilege, expectation, and disappointment over the span of an academic year in this rarefied educational environment." -- Ross McElwee, Producer/Director, Bright Leaves, Sherman's March
"Descending into a maelstrom of cliques and cattiness, Jane Gray's camera trains itself on five teenage girls who are away from their far-flung homes for the first time. In more lighthearted moments they hex other girls by sticking pins into yearbook photos and complain about homework while singing along to Britney. Less breezy are the tearful calls home to dysfunctional families and the confrontations about cruel teasing. Such emotionally naked moments may make you feel voyeuristic, but they give the film an empathetic authenticity." -- Mike Miliard, in the Boston Phoenix
- "Audience Award," Seattle International Film Festival
- "Best Regional Film," Northampton Independent Film Festival
- Chicago International Documentary Festival honoree
- New England Film and Video Festival honoree
- Santa Fe Film Festival honoree
- Calgary International Film Festival
- St. John's International Women's Film Festival honoree
- Hamptons International Film Festival honoree
- Black Maria Film and Video Festival honoree
Producer and Director: Jane Gray
Editors: Tom Miller and Shayna Casey
For additional information, please visit http://www.purple-house.com.