Last night I saw a movie. I wasn’t expecting a ton from it. It was a documentary about the life of gingers. You know, the red haired and freckled folks (full disclosure I have a bright red beard and some freckles). Going in I thought that this movie was going to be too specific to be great. I mean, I’m sure that there are great stories to be told there, but how many people can connect to the struggles of such a narrow population? I was totally wrong. It turns out that the story of gingers told right can reach just about everyone. Scott Harris’s Being Ginger is the sort of movie that uses a huge amount of emotional honesty and well-constructed film making to take a specific story and tell it in a way that can resonate for anybody.
The film begins as an experiment. Can Scott (the all around mastermind of the film) find a woman in Edinburgh who is attracted to gingers? As he states throughout the film, everyone seems to have a friend who likes red-haired dudes, but the women making that claim aren’t themselves interested. After explaining this premise, using some exquisite low-fi animation, we watch as Scott stands in a park trying to muster up the courage to ask passersby for their thoughts on gingers. The very first lady he asks turns out to be one of those mythical friends, and she becomes the focal point of the story for a brief period. After that, Scott goes through increasingly nontraditional methods of searching. His approach ranges from the contemporary (a dating website that caters to redheads and those that appreciate them) to the outlandishly old school (a sandwich board sign advertising his search, which he wears over his torso). Through all of these methods Scott is exposed to people who like gingers, people with friends that like gingers, many gingers themselves, and of course the people who really don’t like gingers.
One of the most fascinating aspects of watching Being Ginger is seeing the concept grow from the lighthearted investigation of Scott’s search for romance into a much deeper inquiry into what it’s like to be singled out for any aspect of your character. At the prodding of his camerawoman and friend Lou, Scott relates several stories of the bullying he received throughout his life because of his hair, and how those experiences influence his understanding of himself and the world around him in innumerable subtle ways.
The first part of the film was Scott’s graduation project at Edinburgh College of Art. What follows tracks much of his experience of showing that original work and the response it receives. After the movie starts to get heavy into the emotional elements of the project, Scott takes a trip to the Netherlands to visit the largest redhead festival in the world. While there, he screens his movie to a hugely positive result, but more than that he starts to understand himself and his motivations far more than he had at the beginning of the film.
I don’t want to go into much more detail about the content of the film. I’m worried I’ll give away something critical, but it’s hard to tell. The whole movie fits together so seamlessly that revealing any specific element could get in the way of an ideal viewing experience. What this movie succeeds in doing is a hugely rare thing though. It takes a very specific lens coupled with an even more specific story and turns it into a universal narrative. Everyone’s been picked on for something. Everyone knows what it’s like to feel different; to feel you don’t belong. That is really what this movie is about. The best way to explain this films impact is like this: the theater I saw it in was probably a little more than half redhead, but throughout the film the entire audience could not have been more invested in this very small story. I’ve seen movies about superheroes saving the entire planet evoke far less emotion than this simple tale of self-discovery. Whether redheaded or not we all know what it’s like being ginger.
Director Scott P. Harris is currently travelling with his movie and doing screenings and question & answer sessions across the U.S. He will be in Dallas on January 16 before heading up to the Pacific Northwest and making his way down the west coast. You can also buy the movie for only $10 through his website at http://watch.beingginger.co.uk/.