Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Girls of Summer: Camp Girls and Girls Rock!

Written by Cristina Cacioppo
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I never went to camp, which caused much anguish in my childhood (after summer break, my peers would come back and discuss the amazing times they had). Even as an adult, I wonder if my social awkwardness would be easier to overcome if I had been forced to interact with strangers in a camp setting. Maybe this is why I did not particularly enjoy the documentary, Camp Girls. It does not have a compelling story or exciting footage, so my guess is that all it does have going for it is nostalgic value (many in the audience whispered gleefully as the women onscreen reflected on their years at Pinecliffe).
I never went to camp, which caused much anguish in my childhood (after summer break, my peers would come back and discuss the amazing times they had). Even as an adult, I wonder if my social awkwardness would be easier to overcome if I had been forced to interact with strangers in a camp setting.

Maybe this is why I did not particularly enjoy the documentary, Camp Girls. It does not have a compelling story or exciting footage, so my guess is that all it does have going for it is nostalgic value (many in the audience whispered gleefully as the women onscreen reflected on their years at Pinecliffe).

Camp Girls is a film by Gay Block, a photographer who tracked down the grown women who were just young girls when she photographed them at Pinecliffe in 1981. The old black and white photographs appear onscreen and are cut with a blink of black screen before revealing the now-grown women (some of whom have children grabbing at their knees). The talking-head interview style does not match the richness of the photographs, and I found myself wanting to attend a retrospective of Block’s photos rather than see quick glimpses.

In the film, each woman gives her take on what attending an all-girls camp meant to her, and opinions vary widely. Some say they anticipated each year with overwhelming excitement, while others approached camp with absolute dread. Many former campers acknowledge that their confidence soared with the challenges they faced, each day taking on new tasks and inching outside of their comfort zones, whether jumping into cold bodies of water or holding large snakes.

These women grew up in camp—most attended between the ages of seven and fourteen—and in that time they saw changes in others and in themselves. Each year as they grew older, they wondered who else was wearing a bra that summer, or who was shaving her legs. They admit to forming cliques, and to not always treating each other fairly. One woman continues to be ashamed of how she treated a fellow camper and still avoids eye contact with her when their paths cross.

The film eventually turns away from camp life, and the women speak about what they do and value. This could be interesting, but the shift does not, in any way, parallel the information revealed in their camp days. Also, because there are so many women speaking, we do not have time to get to know any of them, so a complete picture is not possible.

A girls-at-camp documentary that I find more fascinating is Girls Rock!, a recent film about the rock and roll camp for girls in Portland, Oregon. Focusing on just a few girls as they begin a one-week program, this film gives a complete picture of the kind of transformation that can take place in a short period of time. Interspersing interviews with camp footage, this film shows why shy girls must come out of their shells, and why strong-willed ones must learn to compromise.

The young women of Girls Rock! come from different backgrounds. Laura is a Korean adoptee with a fantastic sense of humor; Misty is trying to structure her life after overcoming a drug addiction; and Amelia is a unique eight-year-old who embraces experimental rock. You get the sense that many of these girls are outcasts—the type that may not fare well at a regular camp. Some are into punk or death metal; some have been in juvenile detention centers; and some admit to having social problems at school. They find good company with each other, but plenty of drama and conflict arise, which ultimately brings them closer. At the end of their week, they perform their songs to a cheering audience. The moment is truly inspiring.

Now, if rock and roll camp had existed when I was young, I would have begged my parents to send me—and some might say that this bias might influence my review of Girls Rock! and Camp Girls. True, I appreciate the punk spirit more, but the reality is that Girls Rock! is a more interesting and well-formed film that leaves me with an invigorating pride about the strength of women.

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