CHIFF: The Island of Lost Girls (2022)

Three orphaned sisters break out of their foster home for a day at the beach, only to be swept out to sea on the back of a surfboard and marooned on a rocky island full of seals. This premise, for a 2022 children’s adventure film, may not sound particularly interesting, but it is honestly worth paying attention. The Island of Lost Girls is not a studio-backed commercial feature. It is not even fly-by-night filler for streaming services. Instead it is directed by Ann-Marie and Brian Schmidt, and stars their own children. You can likely count the film’s behind-the-scenes talent with your fingers. This is some weird cross between family project, home movie, and independent feature. I have never seen anything like it before.

Make no mistake: despite its limited cast and minimal crew, this is a legitimate feature. It is decently shot on digital, and crisply edited. It takes good advantage of its Baja location to showcase rocky shores and local seal populations. The sound quality – typically the bugbear of micro-budget films – is clear enough. It has a three-act structure, well-defined characters and goals, and even an unexpected array of digital effects. There are genuine honest-to-goodness seals in the film. There is proper action scenes in which the children do their own stunts.

Certainly there is nothing here that is ground-breaking or exceptionally done, but the key point is that other films managed the same with a lot more money and a lot more people. That this film not only exists but is decent enough to get film festival bookings is not something to be noted lightly. The Schmidts have achieved something wonderful here.

What precisely it is that they have achieved is harder to define. Who is the intended audience? A paying public, or the girls who got to make a movie? The three stars of the film – Autumn Fiore, Avila Schmidt, and Scarlet Schmidt – are not experienced actors, and it would be unfair to compare them. At the same time Scarlet – the youngest of the three – is a proper and funny delight, clearly relishing the attention and having a ball flapping and flailing in the water. Her sense of fun is infectious. Ultimately one has to ask: does it matter for whom this film was made. In its best moments I had fun. In the less interesting moments, and the film does admittedly drag on at 104 minutes, it was certainly no worse than anything else I have seen this year. The narrative even managed to surprise me at times.

It has been the case for a while that the ability to produce a feature film has been in the hands of anyone with some talent and a digital camera. Island of Lost Girls is proof that this is the case. A lot of effort and talent has gone into this work, and it is important that the Schmidt’s achievement is properly appreciated, but nonetheless it is compelling evidence of what can be done.

There is a dearth of children’s cinema these days, with most productions adding in plenty of jokes and humour for the parents and other adults. There is a place for this sort of amiable, simply-told entertainment on the big screen, and despite its flaws Island of Lost Girls is an unexpectedly pleasant diversion. More than that, it is inspiring. Explain to the kids how it was made before going in, and get them thinking about what they might be able to do with a little assistance and enthusiasm.

The Island of Lost Girls is screening at the Children’s Film Festival (CHIFF) from tomorrow in Melbourne and Sydney. Check the website for session times and more information.

One thought on “CHIFF: The Island of Lost Girls (2022)

  1. Thanks for taking the time to watch our film. I think you would be surprised at how much the girls helped to make the film, and how much of the film was made with old fashion camera tricks. I also think that kids and film students would enjoy it because it’s something that virtually anyone could go out and shoot, just utilizing the environment around them in creative ways. We’re lucky enough to live near Baja, but kids could make a movie with whatever their world happens to be.

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