Growing up alone: Girls on film at Toronto festival

Thu Sep 17, 2009 5:22pm EDT
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By Frank McGurty

TORONTO (Reuters) - Three hard-edged movies about young women screening this week at the Toronto film festival depart from Hollywood formulas by avoiding sentimental or romantic cliches that often define movies about teenagers.

The films, which range from a small-budget debut from a Newfoundland director to the directorial debut of British actress Samantha Morton, tell stories of abused or abandoned girls struggling to come to terms with their traumatic pasts.

While there is some lightness and hope in them, the emotions behind these movies are raw and sometimes harrowing. They are far removed from the safety of the industry mainstream dominated by stories about young love or teen angst. As is often the case with Toronto International Film festival fare, they will likely play in art house theaters this coming year.

"Crackie" from director Sherry White, "Precious" by Lee Daniels and "The Unloved" by Morton are about breaking the silence of family secrets and bringing a voice to unlikely heroines. Ultimately they are about empowering silenced girls.

"There are those people who don't have a voice, who don't seem to have anything to say," White said in an interview, explaining why she wanted to tell her protagonist's story. "But it's just that no one is listening."

White's first feature, "Crackie," was shot in Newfoundland, the remote Canadian island where she was born and raised. But there are no quaint harbor scenes here to detract from a story about a young woman's quiet desperation.

Mitsy (Meghan Greeley) is a dowdy girl who dreams of reuniting with the mother who walked out on her long ago and headed west. To compensate for her longings, Mitsy befriends a little dog, or "crackie" in the local parlance, but the mutt won't accept her affection.

Mitsy lives with her grandmother, Bride (Mary Walsh), a tough lady who salvages items from the village dump and entertains men to make ends meet. When the prodigal mom turns up at their door one day, Bride sends her packing in an emotionally-charged scene that reveals the crux of the story.   Continued...

<p>Actress Gabourey Sidibe arrives at the "Precious" film screening during the 34th Toronto International Film Festival, September 13, 2009. REUTERS/Mark Blinch</p>