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Zombie Girl Inspires

August 26, 2009

ZombieGirl3When I was 10 years old, I imagined a million stories in my head. I just never did much about it until much later in life. But for Emily Hagin, at 10 years old, she wrote a script and then set out to make her own zombie movie. At 13 years old, Emily saw the  world premiere of her own film, Pathogen at one of the coolest theaters in Austin. While a filmmaker dreaming of making a movie may not be much of a novelty, a 13-year-old that gets a little help from Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings), Harry Knowles and Chris Cargill (Aint it Cool News), Tim League (Alamo Drafthouse) and producer Rebecca Elliott, makes for quite the story.

But the true heroes of the film are the supporters of Emily’s dream, her parents, who have nurtured Emily’s creative side and worked along side her to help her make her film. Where some parents may have just said no, or likely never have let their kids see most of the movies Emily saw, Emily’s parents step up to the plate. While the documentary explores some of the tension between mother and daughter (she is 13 when they were filming this remember), it also shows the perseverance of a dream.

The documentary, Zombie Girl: The Movie, follows Emily’s adventure into her first feature length film and the struggles and new opportunities of independent filmmaking. The documentary is co-directed by Justin Johnson, Aaron Marshall and Erik Mauck who essentially follow Emily and her parents as they work on their film. While the period of time is quite lengthy (it took Emily over two years to complete the film), the doc keeps the story flowing without getting bogged down in the wait time.

The advancement of technology has led to cheap equipment. Now anyone can pick up a video camera and some minor editing equipment for their computer and make a film. While this could be positive, the result has led to just about “everyone” making their own movie. But, at the same time, gems surface from this when people like Emily have their stories told. Not only did it inspire me to want to pick up a camera, but I watched it with my 12-year-old son who has now asked me to show him how to use a camera to make his own stories. I’d love to see the movie screen not just at fests or at film schools, but reach out to middle schoolers and show them that following your dream may be hard work but the payoff can be amazing.

But as much as the film is about filmmaking, the heart of the film is independence, both in indie film and in the struggle for a child to move forward as an adult and be their own person while working through conflicts with their parents. Emily is quite the mature woman on screen for her age, but still her parents often get frustrated when things go off course. And Emily, who is trying to see her own vision as a filmmaker but communicate as a 13-year-old has to struggle to keep her cast, crew and family happy while pushing forward to get the scenes filmed. The funny thing about Emily’s parents is that it is hard to pinpoint whether Emily is so creative because they have nurtured that in a creative environment or if she was genetically programmed that way with a mother who is an artist and a dad who plays music. Was it the hours of sitting at the Alamo Drafthouse watching cinema that made Emily who she is?

But the film doesn’t show her to be a creative genius, a Mozart of film. It shows that she is a kid with an interest in something who set off to create. Nothing more. Nothing less. Whether Emily will become a filmmaker in the future is uncertain (although being that she is currently working on a film – it is probably likely) as it is uncertain when a kid in 6th grade picks up a trombone or joins theater. Maybe the creative interests they explore go nowhere, but the key is in letting them have that exploration. At the end, you may have a new filmmaker, or a musician or an actor. Or you may have a scientist, a janitor or a lawyer. But what you have is someone who has a creative outlet to help them explore their own identity, something everyone could use.

Sure, for Emily movie making is the dream. But the film could be just as inspiring if it was Emily, the charity organizer, or Emily the business woman. Watching youth challenge the notion of what they can do at what age and fight so hard to create something in the world is something no one should tire of seeing. I know I could use the reminder now and again for my own son now that he is discovering his interests.

The film screened today at the Atlanta Docufest and has several more screenings lined up through October including Indie Memphis this week. I viewed the film through a screener provided by the filmmaker.

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