Better Than B-Roll
What better way to kick back and kiss good-bye to Fashion Week than with a bucket of popcorn and a heartfelt fashion film? This Thursday, Picture Me, an autobiographical documentary by model Sara Ziff and her ex-boyfriend, Ole Schell, will make its public debut at the Angelika Film Center. Winner of the both the “Best Picture” and “Best Fashion Film” awards at the Milan Film Festival, Picture Me is a video diary that follows Ziff’s rise from fresh-face to cover girl, but reveals some rather ugly realities about the behind-the-scenes underbelly of the modeling world along the way.
“I had no intention of making this film,” said 28-year-old Ziff during an intimate premiere party at the National Arts Club last week. Apparently, she and her ex-beau began by shooting home videos for fun. “We just kind of filmed off and on for years and then we looked back and realized that we had cool footage and decided to expand it by giving cameras to friends of mine that were models. The idea was to make it as unfiltered as possible, to have them speak for themselves.”
Ziff and Schell’s approach doesn’t shy from depicting drug use, from the pressure to stay thin, or the sexual harassment to which models—often no older than 15—are exposed.
“I was surprised about how the industry worked. And by the age of the girls. Why were they so young? And they’re dressed up to look like grown women? That was sort of shocking. And the emphasis on the final product and image, that is something I wasn’t accustomed to. In fashion, they’re fabricating a moment, creating a fantasy that doesn’t really exist and the no one can really live up to. Not even the models,” said Schell, who, previously a stranger to the fashion industry, was shocked by much of the behind-the-scenes abuse.
Including footage from photo shoots and fashion shows everywhere from Milan to London to Paris, the directors supplemented Sara’s personal story and the video diaries of her friends by interviewing such industry leaders as Nicole Miller and Giles Bensimone. And while their participation heightens the film’s impact, what is most important to Ziff is that her story, and the story of her peers so often visualized but not heard, are given their own voice. “It feels really good to put my own stamp on my experience,” declares the model.
Ziff, a bright and bubbly Columbia University graduate, makes the point that neither her film, nor the modeling industry, is all scandal all the time. “Everyone loves to focus on the sorted details, as though [Picture Me] is this salacious expose of the modeling industry and it’s frustrating to hear that because that’s not what it’s about for me. Most of the film is my friends and I hanging out backstage… And it was fun!” And perhaps that’s what has made this film such a success: instead of savagely exposing back-stage controversies, or glorifying in-front-of-the-lens glamour, Picture Me is an honest story of Ziff’s real ups and downs. And she asks that you come share them with her, jokingly adding, “Come see this film otherwise it’s just gonna be me and my mom on the 17th at the Angelika.” Somehow, we doubt they’ll have to screen it alone.