VICTORIA - When a group of pre-teen girls gathered for their weekly girl talk at school three years ago, they never dreamed that they would one day be releasing a feature-length documentary film.
Those Thursday noon-hour group gatherings at Nechako Elementary School in Kitimat, in northern B.C., turned into a full-time film-making project lasting three years and resulting in Monday's release of their documentary about young girls and eating disorders, "36-24-36."
It's been a crazy and inspiring adventure, said Andrea Sanders-Crouch, who was 11 years old and in Grade 6 in February 2007 when she signed on to start the film project with her friends, Akira Klem-Smith and Justine Shaw.
"It really blossomed into so much more," said Sanders-Crouch, who is excited to the point of giddiness about the documentary's screening next week at Mount Elizabeth Secondary School in Kitimat.
"No one would have thought going back to Grade 6 that this film is going to turn into an hour-long feature film," she said. "I wouldn't have believed it. It's crazy."
Sanders-Crouch is 14 now and in Grade 9. Klem-Smith is 15 and in Grade 10, and Shaw is 14, in Grade 9. Their film will be released Monday, and available for free on the Internet.
The girls made the documentary under the guidance of youth social worker Roderick Taylor and his wife, Suki Athwal, who live in nearby Terrace, B.C.
Athwal was providing support-work for girls at Kitimat when they hatched the idea to make a documentary, said Taylor, 38, who has produced other social documentaries as Mask Removal Productions.
In 2004, Taylor helped a group of young people in Victoria struggling with employment issues and no previous film experience make a well received documentary - Hide and Go Homeless - about poverty and homelessness.
Taylor said the Kitimat girls came up with the idea about doing a project about eating disorders.
"That project turned into a three-year project," he said.
The film gives a first-hand perspective of battles with anorexia young girls face , said Taylor.
It also explores the reality and insights of pre-adolescent girls who, prior to making the film, thought very little about the perception of female body image within our society, Taylor said.
The Kitimat Child Development Centre will receive all proceeds from the documentary, including donations it receives from people and organizations who download it for free.
"This film is completely grassroots," Taylor said. "It grew out of a bunch of kids and then we got a bunch of young women from all over the world submitting photos to be part of the film."
Taylor said when the filmmakers ran into potential copyright issues by originally focusing on magazine models and popular female icons, they reached out via Youtube for girls struggling with eating issues.
They received dozens of replies from young women battling eating disorders, and the Kitimat girls contacted them personally to get their consent to include them in their film.
Taylor said he also enlisted friend and professional musician Ken Tizzard, the former bass player with the Winnipeg-based rock band, The Watchmen, to provide music for the soundtrack.
Tizzard, reached in northern Alberta where he was touring with Toronto band Thornley, said he was happy to provide some of his work for free for the film.
"I'm constantly fascinated by kids," he said. "They have an unbelievable ability, drive and focus that I think adults often overlook. Give them a little bit of encouragement, a little bit of guidance and it's amazing what they can come up with."
Sanders-Crouch said making the film allowed her to express her point of view about how she feels everyday without anybody judging her, and she hopes "36-24-36" will do the same thing for other girls.
"It provides healthy ways of thinking that you are beautiful," she said. "It gives tips about everyday life about how to get through the tough times and it's really just a point of view of the average girl about what they're feeling."