I Am Eleven

For her first documentary feature, Australian filmmaker Genevieve Bailey felt like getting away from home for a while, and trying something optimistic. Having endured a massively deadly tsunami, an injurious car accident, a dispiriting newspaper job, and a parent’s death, Bailey hoped to reconnect with that special time of life when, as she says in the film, “the world feels big in a good way, and at our feet.” So she roamed the planet to hang out with a bunch of 11-year-olds. And she wondered: “Are they still happy and excited about inheriting this crazy world?” This not being a simple yes-or-no question is what makes Bailey’s movie interesting. It is indeed a transitional age, 11, perhaps the first that we’re aware of as such, and I Am Eleven brims over with insights, some of them accidental, on such diverse topics as elephant companionship in Thailand, orphanhood in India, ecological conservation in France, and the privilege of American affluence. Also, it feels lived in, from the kids’ perspectives. Save for an alert teacher here, a proud dad there, and the guy in Sweden who coaches young Muslim rappers, adults remain mostly in the periphery. With a mildly ingratiating soundtrack, and a good-hearted impulse toward all-inclusive diversity, the movie does become somewhat diffuse, but that’s also a function of having accomplished its mission of manifesting optimism: Any one of these kids might hold a movie on his or her own; all of them seem worth knowing.