Girl Model, the haunting documentary that follows 13-year-old modeling hopeful Nadya Vall and jaded modeling veteran and scout Ashley Arbaugh, poses many questions. In taking a look at the working conditions of children and the insatiable demand for girls as young as 11 or 12, filmmakers David Redmon and Ashley Sabin distilled a true vulgarity to a business that truly makes no apologies. In an exclusive interview with Mommyish, Ashley shares why she and her partner tackled this industry in the first place and responds to allegations that the film “humiliates” young Nadya.
Why did you choose to document this industry?
We were actually approached by Ashley Arbaugh to do it. She said, “I’m a scout and I have this idea for a story.” We had talked to her a number of times initially to figure out what kind of story we would want to tell.
How did you go about selecting Ashley, the casting agent, and Nadya?
Ashley came to us, she scouted us, whereas Nadya was scouted by Ashley along with a number of other girls. For us, it was a timing thing. We wanted to follow the full process of a girl being scouted and leaving. When Nadya was leaving, we were there.
The only comfort I had during the scenes in which Nadya roams the streets of Tokyo alone was that there was a film crew with her. Did that provide some comfort to her family? There is one moment in the film in which she uses the fimmakers’ phone to call home, but were there other moments in which the crew assisted her?
The film crew film is basically myself and my partner, David. We had initially sat down with Nadya and her family and a translator so that they would have an understanding of our intentions. Once we got their approval, it was pretty clear that they were happy and wanted one of us to travel with Nadya from Russia to Japan.
We did get separated at one point. Nadya had a layover in China and my partner David got separated for her. We waited for a number of hours and were completely freaked out. She ended up arriving but no one arrived to pick her up, as you see in the film.
There was absolutely a number of times that we helped in the situation. The reason we chose to pull those scenes out is to give the audience the feeling that no one is there. The uneasiness was something we wanted the audience to experience.
Why did you choose to include the footage detailing Ashley’s surgeries? In the context of the film, what were you hoping that inclusion would say about her or her industry?
I think that the cyst is very important in conveying both the internal world of Ashley’s body and psychology because of her relationship to bodies. Going to castings, looking at girl’s bodies, cutting up pictures and keeping them in her house. Bu what is in inside of her body? A little blonde haired cyst.
The entire documentary seems to be tiptoeing around the obvious: prostitution and pedophilia in the fashion industry, until Ashley outright states them both at the end. Was that ambiguity simply your artistic narrative of the film or was that tendency true in the industry as well?
We have a lot of questions that won’t be answered. When Ashley had approached us, she pitched the foggy lines between prostitution and modeling. What became really clear to both David and I is, ethically, we would have not been comfortable filming that. That is not something we would have taken lightly. We didn’t come across any of that. Whether or not Ashley sees that thing going on, that is more so a question for her.
Why do you estimate that the fashion industry is able to evade so many child labor laws what with sexually compromising environments, poor working conditions, and long hours?
It’s really difficult for a number of reasons to regulate the industry. These girls are going across many many borders and there is no organization that is monitoring and regulating those laws. There are just now organizations coming in like the Model Alliance. But there is not an overarching organization. I think until there is, there is no punishment, and you can get away with this type of treatment. Getting away with it probably means less questions being asked, the ability to make money in ways that are easier. It’s a bottom line. It’s a business. That’s why our film is not meant to point fingers at any one individual but invites people to see the complexities of the industry. Until there is some form of regulation, the cycle will continue.
I understand that Nadya and her family have since spoken out against the film and its accuracy despite having admittedly not seen the film themselves. Why do you suppose that is and what’s your response?
As far as that [Fashionista] article goes, the fact that the journalist did not watch the film is ridiculous in my opinion. I don’t know how you write an article about the film and not watch the film. We’ve been in contact with Nadya and we are getting the film translated into Russian so that she can watch it in her native language. We want her to fully understand the film. What happened was, in the process of us doing this translation, this article came out.
I hope that she does well in her career in response to the film. We have no harsh feelings towards Nadya or her family. Additionally, we hired someone to go out after we finished production to let her know that we had questions. This person came back to us and said that she and her family wanted to stop answering questions.