Courting Controversy

In the wake of controversial allegations by the teenage subject of the documentary ‘Girl Model’ – which provides a disturbing glimpse into the world of young teen modelling – FilmInk canvasses both sides of the story.

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The maker of the documentary Girl Model has denied making sexual advances towards his film’s then 13-year-old subject, the gravest of a series of accusations levelled against him and his co-director in the wake of the movie’s completion.

“I’ve done nothing wrong,” David Redmon tells Filmink on the line from New York. The movie, which Redmon along with his wife and co-director Ashley Sabin, began work on in 2007, charts the journey of Nadya Vall, a teenager from rural Siberia who gets recruited by Russian modelling agency, NOAH Models, and is sent to work in Japan. What follows is a grim portrait of an industry in which young girls are exploited by unscrupulous adults, aren’t provided with consistent work, and, in Vall’s case, rack up thousands of dollars in debt which they are unable to pay off.

But in a disturbing twist on an already troubling tale, Vall has spoken out against the film, most recently in the form of a YouTube video (below) in which the now 17-year-old model, still under contract with NOAH, asserts that the film “does not reflect the truth or the reality in any manner”, and accuses its male co-director of being “a knifing manipulator and a sexual predator.”

“During his visit to Japan he made sexual advances at me,” reads the English language translation that accompanies Vall’s statement in Russian. “He flew to Japan alone several times to meet with me. Until today, David keeps calling me as he is obsessed by me.”

Vall’s video, posted on June 26, 2012 by a user named “Dmitriy NoahModels”, also claims that Redmon and Sabin “cut and pasted segments of that film so that the result purely suites [sic] their needs…they wanted to cast a dark shadow on the modeling industry so then they could create a negative sensation that usually interests the Western public more and excites the media.”

But Sabin and Redmon maintain that the accusations are part of an ongoing attempt by NOAH Models to discredit the film, with both of them likening Vall’s statement to “a hostage video.”

“It’s so clear that Nadya didn’t write that,” says Redmon.

“It’s really disturbing,” agrees Sabin. “That’s why we haven’t taken it down, because I think it says more about how the agency is than the film could.”

NOAH Models is owned by Tigran Khachatrian, himself briefly interviewed at the beginning of Girl Model. In an email correspondence with FilmInk, Khachatrian said that “the movie called "Girl Story" is a fraudulent movie that was made by cutting and pasting sentences that were not said or expressed in reality,” adding that “we are currently filing a law suite [sic] against these two filmmakers who have disgraced true journalism.”

(In both Vall’s video and Khachatrian’s statement to FilmInk, the film is referred to as “Girl Story”. Similarly, Redmon is referred to as “Raymon.”)

When asked if he ever witnessed Redmon acting inappropriately towards Vall, Khachatrian responded that he “had only met those two producers in Paris where I gave them a brief interview” and thus “never had the opportunity to observe any of the events that happened in-between Nadia Val and David Raymon [sic].”

However, Khachatrian does claim that “now we are discovering that other models were also molested by him both in Russia and in Japan and they are willing to come forward.”

Sabin contends that NOAH are simply targeting her husband because of his gender, stating that they “were both there” when the film was being shot.  

Completed in 2011, Girl Model had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, and has since made the rounds on the festival circuit, including a screening at the Melbourne International Film Festival last month. When asked how audiences have been responding to the film, Sabin replied that “shock” has been the most typical reaction.

“I think people are pretty disturbed. We certainly were. It doesn’t surprise me that people are responding to the material that way.”

The first signs of controversy came in March of this year, when Hayley Phelan of the fashion website Fashionista published an article containing an interview with Vall in which the young model said that she was “unpleasantly shocked” by descriptions of the finished film, although admitted to having not seen it. However, at no point in the Fashionista interview does Vall make mention of any alleged sexual misconduct.

Girl Model goes into limited release in the United States this Wednesday, September 5, and will screen again in Australia in October as part of Sydney’s second annual Antenna Documentary Film Festival.

Picture caption: Co-directors Ashley Sabi and David Redmon at Girl Model's UK premiere.

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