The movie, which screened at Comic Con and won the spirit award at the Slamdance Film Festival, follows Emily Hagins for two years as she attempts to direct her first film, which goes about as well as you’d expect at times and better at others. (You can buy the film, Pathogen, for $8 on Emily’s web site.)
The contrast between Emily’s age and maturity is fascinating, like when she discusses her casting while Care Bears look on from above her bed. The its trailer illustrates her talent, and she’s resourceful, using a wheelchair as a dolly. While she’s very intelligent, making, at one point, a rather interesting argument about not thinking about a film while you’re viewing it, she’s also a kid, and is shy, quiet, and often stumbles through her efforts.
As a result, watching her attempt the project is both highly illuminating and extremely frustrating, and her mom, especially, shows that frustration, which itself becomes frustrating. Some adults are patient while some try to control her; her mom, Megan, does both, sometimes simultaneously, acting as her cheerleader, crew, and parent all at once.
In a comment left on Hulu, Megan writes, “we think it paints a charming picture of passion and perseverance and hope it both inspires filmmakers of all ages. We really didn’t know what we were getting into when we had filmmakers follow us around for 2 years and certainly did not have any marketing scheme in mind when we agreed to be the subject of the documentary.”
There’s an additional interesting layer since Emily is being filmed by a professional crew while she fumbles her way through filming her own movie. Directors and producers Aaron Marshall, Erik Mauck and Justin Johnson kept their distance. Marshall told Hulu’s blog, “We decided from the very beginning that since we had knowledge that Emily does not, we would stay back as far as possible. We shot like we were flies on the wall. Emily was going be making decisions and making mistakes, and if we intervened at all, we knew we would stunt her learning process. We didn’t want ourselves to be part of the story.”
While the 91-minute documentary drags in the middle, and could use about 15 fewer minutes with some repetitive material cut out, it’s worth watching for the hysterical interstitials alone. Mostly, though, it’s a great film because it’s about more than a 12-year-old filming a documentary, just as all good films explore themes beyond their surface subject. Here, it’s mostly about interaction and support between parents and kids, and the kinds of lines that get drawn, or should get drawn. At one point, Megan tells Emily, “I’m going to stop this soon and take everybody home.” How many directors have ever heard that from their moms?
Watch Zombie Girl now, before it will just be viewable at film festivals: