In 2012, director Genevieve Bailey released a documentary called I Am Eleven in which she explored the lives of 11-year-olds from all across the world. The documentary was created after a 6-year journey during which Bailey talked to kids from Japan, England, Thailand, India, Morocco, and so on.
When Bailey was conceiving the idea of a documentary, she was going through a difficult period in her life. She had just suffered through a car accident and her father had also passed away. Dejected and depressed, Bailey was seeking something that would reignite the spark of happiness in her, as well as the audiences who see her creations. When she looked back at the most memorable period in her life, Bailey imagined her experience when she was just 11 years old. That is when the idea for I Am Eleven started to germinate.
She traveled around the world and talked to 11-year-old boys and girls from different cultures about their aspirations, love, marriage, religion, the environment, and a host of other topics. While some of the responses are humorous, they are so truthful and delivered with so much honesty that one is left wondering why people lose this heart when they grow into adults. Bailey acts as the jack of all trades as far as the documentary is concerned — taking on the role of producer, cinematographer, director, and editor.
Shooting the documentary was no easy task, as Bailey received no funding. She had to invest her own money into the project, which is why it took about six long years to complete. “I’d run out of money, come back and work two or three jobs to save up the money for another ticket. I was doing that every year… It was like having an addiction,” she said to Real Time. When the documentary was nearing completion, Bailey received an offer for funding from an Australian organization. However, she rejected the offer as Bailey did not like the idea of handing over ownership of the documentary to the funders.
The documentary premiered at the 2011 Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) to great applause. It had a limited theatrical run in the U.S. and Australia. Reviewers liked how the documentary was able to capture the innocence of childhood.
“Regardless of background, sophistication, or home country, the kids all share a lovely sense of open-heartedness. They all talk about being part of a collective, and see the human race as a large extended family,” according to a review by Stephanie Merry in The Washington Post.
Gary Goldstein from the Los Angeles Times called the documentary an “enjoyable portrait.” Neil Genzlinger from The New York Times found Bailey’s decision to allow children to talk freely and then leaving it to the viewer to impose their broader meaning on the comments to be elevating.
However, not every reviewer was fully satisfied with the documentary. Some thought that it had a tad too many children. “In an effort to gather as many diverse viewpoints as possible, Bailey actually has included too many kids,” according to a review by film critic Roger Ebert.
The tiny criticisms aside, the documentary is largely seen in a positive light by most film critics and is currently certified fresh at review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes with a score of 83 percent. It won the People’s Choice Award at MIFF. You can check out more details about the documentary on their official website.