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About a Girl (Brian Percival, 2003)

A teenage girl relays her likes, dislikes, aspirations and experiences of life.  This easy-going chat soon takes a disturbing turn; it becomes clear that life at home is not what it seems.  She is seriously alone and unwanted by her parents, a situation that becomes doubly tragic when her secret is revealed at the short’s conclusion.

Throughout, the girl talks directly to the camera, breaking the illusion of the ‘fourth wall’ but creating a sense of realism.  Music is used for dramatic effect.  The importance of her singing the line "not that innocent" changes drastically by the end.

You will find a complete National 4 Literacy and English unit for 'About a Girl' here.

Classroom Activities

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Questions

  1. How many different places are we shown? What does this range of places tell us about the girl’s life?

  2. The main setting is the canal: why do we spend so long with the girl there?

  3. In which space(s) is the girl most happy?

  4. What information or events are left out of the film? Why?

  5. Is the film like any TV show, film, novel or other story you have come across? Discuss similarities to things like soap operas or teen magazines.

  6. Who do you think the film was made for? Do you feel that it is aimed at teenage girls? What evidence is there for and against this idea?

  7. Does the film feature a single dominant message or theme? What do you think is the filmmaker's stance on this message/theme? How do you know? Do you agree with it?

  8. Do you agree or disagree with the film's representation of teenage girls? What might you change to make it more like your own life/experience?

Watching

CAMERA:

  • Freeze on the opening shot. Discuss why it is filmed in silhouette. What does it tell us about the girl?

  • Freeze on the following scenes: in the café; on the park bench; at the perfume counter; on the bus. How is the girl’s position moved around the frame? How much does she connect with other people in these frames?

  • The canal shots all feature the girl on the right-hand side of the shot: does this have any particular effect on the way we look at her? Freeze on the final shot of the film. How is this shot different from the rest of the film? Why is this part of the story presented in this way?

  • Using pause and the Spot the Shots worksheet, ask your pupils to note any specific types of shot that dominate the film – angles, distances or movement. Discuss why the filmmaker presents the film in this way. Do different camera shots (e.g. close-up as opposed to long shot) present the girl differently? What is the effect of having so much footage filmed by a tracking camera? How does it represent the girl?

COLOUR:

  • Ask your pupils to focus on the colours used in the film – either actual colours, or the degree of colour saturation used. Discuss how colour varies throughout the film and what story information it gives us.

SOUND:

  • Ask your pupils to focus on the sound element of the film. Why do you think the film opens with the girl singing? What range of sound effects and music is used in the film? Where is silence used, and to what effect? What is the effect of not featuring any non-diegetic sound?

EDITING:

  • Discuss how editing is used in the film. What is the effect of cutting between shots of the girl at the canal and of her singing alone or with her friends?

Analysing

CHARACTER:

  • Who are the main people represented? Does anyone we don’t see have a role in the narrative? Why is the girl the only character allowed to speak to camera? Who are the most important people to her?

  • What does the girl’s costume tell us about her – where she comes from, what type of person she is, what dreams she has?

NARRATIVE:

  • Some story events are shown, some we are told about, and some are implied. What story events are implied? How many different narratives are presented? Is there a ‘secret’ story as well as a ‘surface’ story?

  • Most of the film is narrated in what might be called ‘present tense’. What would you say is the tense of the scenes where we see the girl with her dad in the park, or in the café, or at the perfume counter? How do you know? Why has the narrative been constructed this way?

LANGUAGE:

  • Can you find any notable imagery or uses of language? Does the canal have any symbolic function?

Creative

WRITE:

  • Write the official report of a police officer who is investigating the findings at the canal.

  • Write a monologue for the mother, expressing her thoughts and feelings about her daughter.

  • Remind your pupils of the character’s penultimate line: “Gotten dead good at hiding things from her since then.” Ask them to imagine what else she might have hidden from her mother in the bedroom. A Bacardi Breezer, perhaps? A pregnancy test kit? A diary of her innermost thoughts? A notebook of lyrics that she has composed? Why would she want to hide these things?

  • Ask pupils to work individually to devise a list of things that would form the interests and preoccupations of a typical 13-year-old girl. They should then ‘pair, share and compare’: compare their lists with their partner's, devising a common list which amalgamates their ideas. Use feedback to create a class list.

MAKE:

  • Create a timeline of events in the story, illustrated by stills taken from the film.

  • Draw up a profile of the girl, working out her family circumstances, the names of her parents, brothers and sisters, and friends; her hopes, dreams and ambitions; the things she does in her spare time; her likes and dislikes.

FILMMAKING:

  • Hand out a copy of the monologue script. Divide the class into small groups, assigning each a short piece of the monologue to convert into a storyboard. Highlight the importance of thinking carefully about camera use. Join the sections of the storyboard together and discuss each group's choices and the final result.

  • Design a storyboard for a sequence to add to the monologue that might reveal more about the character. For example, the sequence might show the girl at school; or hanging out with her friends; or perhaps discovering that the dog, Lucky, has been taken by the neighbours.

DRAMA:

  • Role-play a scene between the girl and her mother: the mother has been cleaning the girl’s room and found some hidden objects. She confronts her daughter about them.

  • Announce to the class that the canal has been swept and the police have come to interview the girl and her family. Role-play the interview.

Clip Details

Record Id 007-002-000-039-C
Resource Rights Holder Janey de Nordwall, Silver Films
Project Ref MVS-03
References Interview with the filmmaker, The script (monologue), National 4 English and Literacy Unit
Year of Production 2001
Genre Drama
Curriculum Areas Literacy and English, Religious and moral education, Social studies, Health and Wellbeing, Expressive Arts, Personal and Social Education, Media
Who Brian Percival (Director), Janey de Nordwall (Producer), Julie Rutterford (Writer)
Country of Origin UK
Medium / Content Live Action, Fiction, Colour, Sound
Themes Neglect, Family, Death, Isolation, Sexual Health, Secrets
Clip Length 09:00