Geek Girls explores the hidden worlds of female nerds

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      A documentary by Gina Hara. Rating unavailable.

      Geek Girls, as filmmaker Gina Hara admits halfway through the piece, was a tough documentary to make. Based on her personal journey to search for like-minded nerds—those who love anime, coding, or videogames—the movie was frequently hampered by the notorious secrecy that cloaks different subdivisions of geek culture. Approved interviewees cancelled at the last moment, and many refused to appear on camera.

      Hara’s film chips away at the reasons why. Following eight self-described nerds, including a cosplay enthusiast, pro gamer, hacker, developer, and a NASA aerospace engineer, the film allows each to tell their own stories of embracing their geekhood. Hara’s choices of interview setting are intimate, often in the subject’s own house, or even their bedrooms. It’s one of many subtle indications that while most are open about their nerdiness, all have chosen to hide aspects of their identity to avoid being socially shunned. As gothic Lolita-dresser Elisabeth Fallen points out, outing themselves could spell personal and professional suicide.

      While that isolation is the case for all non-mainstream geek culture, it’s compounded for women and people of colour. Adding her own voice to that of her all-female interview subjects, Hara delves into everything from the cognitive dissonance of liking “male” culture as a child to the sexual harassment experienced by women in the tech sector, and the rape and death threats sent to those who dare to identify with white male-dominated geek subgroups. Each individual gives a powerful and raw take on the subject, offering unique insights on the difficulties of being excluded from an already opaque world. The film comes at an apt time; these are real women's stories, told at a moment when society has finally chosen to listen.

      The material gets a little muddied at times, ambitiously twisting together themes of identity, gender, and social isolation through multiple perspectives. Hara’s documentary is explorative, posing questions via voiceover as she also wrestles with the complexity of the subject matter. But through fly-on-the-wall filming at enormous conventions and the articulacy of her interviewees, Hara perfectly captures the push-and-pull of what it means to be a geek: being deeply attracted to a very niche piece of culture, while feeling compelled to reject that identity in mainstream circles.

      Geek Girls plays at the Cinematheque (1131 Howe Street) on select days from Friday (January 26) to Wednesday (January 31).

      Follow Kate Wilson on Twitter @KateWilsonSays