Featuring a Q&A with Director Olivia Peniston-Bird (via Skype)
Winner Best Documentary
2015 Melbourne International Film Festival
People’s Choice Awards
Guts, stamina, dedication, power. You’ll need all four to be crowned ‘Most Graceful Girl’.
In the beautiful, physically demanding world of the uniquely Australian dance sport of Calisthenics, there is only one solo prize that matters: Most Graceful Girl. For 23-year-old primary school teacher Brianna Lee, three-time Graceful Girl runner-up, there’s nothing she wants more. But calisthenics is a young woman’s sport and time is running out, so with the help of uncompromising, legendary coach Diane Synnott, the grande Dame of the re-birthed Regent Calisthenics Club, Brianna struggles to perfect her routine, lay all her ghosts to rest and produce the best performance of her life.
Graceful Girls is the feature film debut from Melbourne based film director Olivia Peniston-Bird, who like many didn’t know about the sport until it threatened to take over her life. Graceful Girls is a testament to the driving power of obsession, and the way that the spirit of competition can lead us to discover the best of our nature.
Distributor: Bonsai Films
Dates & Times:
Monday 7 December 7pm
The Film That Will Make You Wish You Could Do The Splits
The Melbourne International Film Festival, Reviewed (excerpt)
“Olivia Peniston-Bird’s assured and affectionate directorial debut immerses the viewer in the arcane glamour of calisthenics. Graceful Girls is beautifully shot, structured and paced. It’s full of lipstick, chiffon, diamantes, sweaty rehearsal montages and a tense final act at the championships. It would be easy to ironise this culture, with its glitzy costumes, big, big smiles and perfectly serious statements like, “Yes, it is make or break at Ballarat”.
At times it almost plays like Strictly Ballroom. For the participants, the psychological stakes are high — yet they’re pouring their time, labour, passion and skill into a niche pursuit whose only validation comes from within. When Diane’s asked at one point why she’s still involved after more than 50 years, she’s actually lost for words.
But what I loved most about Graceful Girls was that it captures what Diane can’t: the warm, almost nostalgic appeal of this female homosocial world tucked away in Australian suburbia. A few young boys compete, but men are sidelined to the occasional bit of set building. Women make calisthenics happen, from coaching and admin to crafting the astoundingly elaborate costumes.
With this, Peniston-Bird has uncovered something pure beneath the kitsch: a sense of joy in the beauty of movement. I wasn’t expecting to be spellbound by a group routine in which the Regent Seniors perform as a herd of startled deer. And Brianna’s final performance is emotionally charged in the way of the best movie musicals. (Special mention must go to Nathan Goble, whose soundtrack deftly complements the onscreen performances.)
Most audience members at my screening were familiar with this world, and laughed throughout in good-natured recognition. But even for outsiders, there’s real grace in the feminine care and camaraderie that goes into these evanescent performances.”
Junkee website, 21/8/2015 , Reviewed by: Mel Campbell
“A delight. It’s a small film. Focused on a tiny community and done so well it’s a kind of metaphor for what totally ordinary people can achieve when they’ve got a bee in their collective and individual bonnets. Classically shot (no wobbles) it’s respectful of its characters and observes them with a kind of deadpan kindness that it just lovely. It has a through-line and I really wanted the girl to succeed. When she showed the video of her winning dance to her (almost entirely Asian) sixth grade students, I cried, because they watched it with such wonder. Diane, the other main character is a classically Australian character with an unexpected turn of artistry and a very dry wit. I don’t know a damn thing about calisthenics … but the film made me buy into their love of it and I wanted the best for them. That’s what Olivia achieved with her gentle, but insightful approach.
Nigel Karikari did a great job of cutting it – and it looks like a million dollars on a budget of nothing. It’s not a ‘cool’ film like some that are getting a lot of attention in this festival, but it’s much better story-telling and much more moving and effective as a film than they are.”
Karin Altmann – Head of Development, Scriptworks