Female Eye Film Festival Review: Harvest Queens
Harvest Queens by Julie Nunes
I was completely won over by this film. This short-ish documentary follows three teen girls in a competition to be New Liskeard's (ON) Harvest Queen, and it's as much a picture of Northern Ontario as it is of girls on the end of adolescence.
This is not Drop Dead Gorgeous. The girls Nunes' chooses to profile are adorable - and defy stereotype, as real people tend to do.
You'd want to call Natasha the pretty, popular one - blond, confident, close to her mom. But soon you see how goofy she can be (she can sing through her nose. No, that's not her talent). As the competition goes on, you watch her make some mistakes born of over-confidence, and yet see how incredibly sweet and considerate she is.
Jenyfer is significantly shorter than the other girls, has a prosthetic leg from being born prematurely, and her mother died when she was young, so she's been living with various family members since. She is also optimistic, charismatic, good natured, and fun. Her presence in the film lends it a kind of seriousness.
She is the most unusual of the competitors, easily the one who's had to face the most difficulty in her life, though Nunes admirably avoids the kind of condescending pity that lesser documentarians would find almost implicit.
Brittany enters the competition in spite of herself. Though she has the insecurities familiar to most adolescent girls who aren't skinny and blond, she also has a great sense of humour and loves performing. Her delight in an audience is what brings her to compete, cracking self-deprecating comments all the while.
Nunes gives the girls cameras to record video diaries, an excellent choice which allows the girls to be more open, and bring a level of fun to the film. Brittany takes hers on the trampoline.
Nunes also interviews some of the women involved in the competition's organization, and it's here we get a hint of what the pageant is, with all feminist complaints aside. Because it is in a small town, because everyone is surprisingly sincere and wholesome (without being fake), you really start to believe that the competition is about giving the girls confidence, and allowing them to take a risk.
I don't think anyone's going to have any major epiphanies, but this portrait of Natasha, Jenyfer and Brittany is surprisingly compelling, sweet, and absolutely worth seeing.
Check it out on Saturday at the 11-1 screening at the NFB.
images by Richard Stewart, courtesy of the NFB
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