An attempt to redress the mean-girl phenomenon, “Finding Kind” has worthy goals: It profiles the filmmakers’ efforts to launch a nationwide program promoting kindness among young femmes. Laudable ambitions notwithstanding, the docu’s combination of poignant testimonials and expert commentary raises more questions than it answers, and because the Kind Campaign is still in its infancy, the result feels a bit premature. Still, it’s a potentially helpful tool for educators and parents, and it could serve one day as the basis for a more probing study of the movement and others like it.
In a brisk prologue, writer-director Lauren Parsekian recalls her traumatic adolescent encounters with female schoolyard politics. Initially part of the popular crowd, young Parsekian felt shunned when her friends inexplicably turned on her, a practice she saw repeated many times. Ever since, the helmer explains, she’s been driven to understand and hopefully change this trend. With the help of a donated van and some sponsors, she and a pal (co-producer Molly Stroud) launched the Kind Campaign. Their plan: to cross the country exploring the social complexities of girlhood and encourage kindness through open dialogue and social responsibility.
Hoping to raise awareness, Stroud and Parsekian visit all-girl school assemblies from coast to coast. Repeatedly, when they ask the audience if anyone has felt mistreated by her peers, just about every girl in the room raises her hand. Later, girls are invited to share their thoughts with the camera in a kind of private confession chamber. Visually delineated with an iris effect, these often wrenching monologues include tearful tales of hazing, taunting, bullying and other forms of harassment.
Parsekian and Stroud also conduct interviews of girls and grown women as well as writers and therapists. Author Rosalind Wiseman (“Queen Bees and Wannabees”) and esteem expert Jessica Weiner confirm that new technology has made a bad situation even worse. Texting and social networking have created new means of harassment (“cyber-bullying”) and new venues for cliques. The technology allows the perpetrators to become further removed from their targets and from the consequences of their actions.
But while all the participants agree how abusive girls can be to one another, no one really wants to cop to bad behavior, except in passing. Consequently, “Finding Kind” feels at times oddly like a film about conflict prevention and resolution with an invisible antagonist.
There’s no denying that girlhood politics can be damaging to a young woman’s self-esteem. It’s also evident that the media have played a part in reinforcing these behavioral patterns, as there’s no shortage of movies — many excerpted here — about girls behaving badly. Various attempts at counterprogramming — such as the much-publicized Dove Campaign for Real Beauty — are included only briefly, and it would have been useful to observe the girls’ reactions to alternative advertising of this sort. Tighter edits and greater structural continuity would also have helped to clarify the campaign’s rather ambiguous strategy for implementation.
Based on the early, positive interest from schools, media outlets (Dr. Phil, among others) and toy manufacturers (Mattel), it’s conceivable that the Kind Campaign and others like it might eventually lead to ripples of real change. Given the docu’s capacity to do good, its flaws are relatively minor. From this vantage point, though, the social rituals of girl world are so deeply entrenched that serious change seems an ever-elusive goal.