Forest Hymn for Little Girls

Directed by Sara Bonaventura, debut feature in collaboration with Raintree Foundation and funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign, Forest Hymn for Little Girls invites you to follow the exploits, struggles and daring feats of young girls under the age of six as they take to the woodland. From winter-bundled toddling hikes to free-for-all frolics up a mud-thick hill, we’ll get an intimate glimpse of where children play and what they do when given free rein in the wilds of nature.
This documentary will remind the world of the power of wild spaces in young girls’ lives and the role of wild spaces in guiding young girls to be proactive citizens in healthy communities.
Forest Hymn for Little Girls is the first documentary to provide an in-depth consideration of young girls’ experiences in wild spaces from their own perspective and in their own voice. On the heels of Pokemon GO, Richard Louv’s campaign for family nature clubs, and the National Park Service Centennial, all aimed to get American families off the couch and exploring the great outdoors, a film from St. Louis, MO aims to place young girls at the center of the children and nature movement. Forest Hymn for Little Girls, a feature-length documentary from an all-female international team, will amplify the conversation. It asks the question, who has the right to access wild lands?

  • Sara Bonaventura
  • Brandi Cartwright
  • Ilya Eydelman
    Executive Producer
  • Andrea Valfré
    Sound mixing and mastering
  • Francesco Marotta
    Color grading and conforming
  • Elisetta
    Fellow animator
  • Patrizia Olivia, IOIOI, Bemydelay
  • Vivienne Abate, Myra Appleton, Nora Feathers, Ellie Hong, Isabel Ingenito, Miya Kodner, Eliana Levine, Molly Merbaum, Mila Nelson, Philomena Spahr, Katherine Stanec, Emily Wilson
    Key Cast
  • Emily Gillain, Anne Martin
    Director Assistants
  • Meghan Halsey
    Production Assistant
  • GIV Groupe Intervention Vidéo
  • Pete Salsich, Scott Levine and AEGIS Law of St. Louis
    Legal services
  • Tom Herbig
    Drone Operator
  • Kickstarter
    Crowdfunding platform
  • Project Type:
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 13 minutes 7 seconds
  • Production Budget:
    21,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • SEFF Smaragdni Eco Film Festival
  • Filem'On - The International Film Festival for Young Audiences
  • Cinekid Screening Club
  • RINFF Rain International Nature Film Festival
    Kumarakam, Kerala
  • Thessaloniki Documentary Festival
    Russian Federation
  • UMFF Ulju Mountain Film Festival
    Korea, Republic of
  • Cineminha B
    Honorable Mention
  • ICFF 2021
    Best Documentary Feature
  • KLEFF Kuala Lumpur Eco Film Festival
    Kuala Lumpur
  • Ortigia Film Festival
  • SIFF
    Moldova, Republic of
  • Essex DocFest
    United Kingdom
  • Friday Harbor Film Festival
    Friday Harbor
    United States
Distribution Information
  • Groupe Intervention Vidéo (GIV)
    Country: Canada
Director Biography - Sara Bonaventura

Sara Bonaventura is the shooter director of FHLG. She is an independent videographer, visual artist and atelierista. She is inspired by radical pedagogy, constructivist and experiential education and her work as educator is informed by the Reggio Approach, inquiry and concept based curriculum. She has an MA degree in Art History and she has worked in the art world for many years, for colossus like the Venice Biennale or the PGC as Guggenheim docent. She received the Sino per Niio Illumination Art Prize and the Veneto Region Award at the 10th Lago Film Fest. She has been selected by Joan Jonas for an art residency at Fundación Botín, and her works have been screened worldwide, most recently, at the Ann Arbor Film Festival, the Miami New Media Festival, the Anthology Film Archives (NewFilmakers NY Series) and in one of the world biggest public screen in Hong Kong harbourfront. Her works have been described as “an evocative miscellany, quite hypnotic, set in indefinite times, oozing traditional mythologies, universal archetypes, aesthetic and poetic paths...” (H. Marsala, Artribune).

Producer: Brandi Cartwright has spent her professional career honing a progressive teaching style and philosophy congruent with her goal of acting as an agent of change in the struggling education system. She is a certified teacher and has attended Northwestern University, St. Thomas University, and Arizona State University. She has taught at the pre-kindergarten, middle school, and secondary education levels. The successful approach she has developed served as the seed for Raintree School’s educational philosophy. Brandi co-founded Raintree School in 2007 and she worked there till 2019. Brandi continues to advocate for students' needs and celebrate their capabilities. She co-produced our documentary and launched the successful Kickstarter Campaign.

Assistant director: Emily Gillain has been teaching young children in a variety of settings for the past 6 years. She has a passion for learning and understanding how people connect with each other through their environment and positive relationships. She has taken this interest down an avenue of research and writing. As she continues to consume information surrounding progressive education, she aims to pull it all together in a multimedia form soon to come. She currently writes for a video production company in her hometown of St. Louis. She enjoys the human aspect of helping clients tell their unique stories through an authentic video production.

Fellow animator: Elisetta (Elisa Fabris) lives and works in Treviso. After the Artistic High School she attends sporadically IUAV in Venice. After a scholarship from the Venetian Bevilacqua La Masa Foundation, she starts working as videomaker. She specializes in 2D animation, focusing mainly on video clips, advertising, tutorials, opener and b2b. Among her projects, she has animated the illustrations of two iOS applications for children, called Little Smiling Minds. From 2014 she is also active in the field of illustration, with a personal picture book publication and various collective exhibitions. She is part of the independent comics collective Super Squalo Terrore.

Sound: Andrea Valfrè is an Italian sound engineer with a degree as Associate of Science in Sound Engineering from Full Sail (Orlando, FL, US). He has been collaborating with some of the best known Italian artists and many european productions, working at the Condulmer Recording Studio as an in-house engineer. He runs also his Magister Recording Area, where he works recording and mixing records for Italian and international artists. In 2009 he received a Latin Grammy nomination as sound engineer and he has worked on many successful projects in Mexico (five platinum records) and Latin America, and on music for television in US networks (E!, NBC, etc) tv series like E! True Hollywood stories, E! Original Specials, Magic City (nominated for Emmy award 2014), Arrow, Mistresses, Revenge etc. From 2016 he has been collaborating with Doc Servizi and Freecom, and in the Synchro studio project. He also plays with the duo Hypersleep Conviction, producing synth pop electronic music for TV shows and corporate videos.

Color grading and conforming: Francesco Marotta is an Italian Producer, Editor and Colorist, based in Venice, Italy. He started working in private TV as an operator and editor; he became interested in non linear editing systems and then he switched to digital. Over the years he has specialized in fiction, documentaries, videoclips and advertising. He approached color correction in 2009, and later founded his own production company, Tunastudio, whereby he has been producing audiovisual products that have been purchased by broadcaster and production companies, such as RAI Cinema and FOX Channel. From 2015 he has been working for Doc Servizi team. To name a few documentaries in his editing experience: Richard Wagner, Diario veneziano della sinfonia ritrovata directed by Gianni Di Capua, with Kublai Film (premiered at the US Library of Congress in 2014 and presented at Bayreuth Festival in 2015), Morricone, Note di pace directed by Giovanni Morricone, Sperduti nel buio, directed by Lorenzo Pezzano, produced by Tunastudio - RAI Cinema.

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Director Statement

I am a visual artist and my works are experimental and hermetic or opaque. For my first feature length film, I wanted to plumb the uncanny in a different way. This documentary is stylistically very different from my previous artworks, especially for its intentional semantic transparency. I wanted to reach a different audience and a a wider one.

I also work as educator, I have been teaching visual arts for years, to different grades, also to little ones within the world-renowned Reggio Approach. I believe in radical education. My job and my social commitment are for the first time powerfully intertwined in my artistic effort. I think I have an ability to empathize and sympathize with children. I feel intimately connected with the post-feminist subject of the documentary, but I also wanted to convey it through a process of community banking. It is my background with a focus on visual culture and gender studies, that lead us to a form of storytelling in which the girl-child body is the co-protagonist, along with the forest. I have tried to play with ways of connecting structure (the verbalized, the analytical) and texture (the bodily expressed).

Outdoor learning is a broad concept that has no rigid boundary. A common core of Forest Schools is that it is inquiry based and each child leads the process with no prescribed goal or hierarchy set by adults. There is a rich affinity within the idea of documentary as experimental, evolving and cross-boundary practice. and I tried to work phenomenologically, letting something coming to me, rather than directing it, trying to keep it open rather than looking for something.

Forest Hymn is not the telling of a story, but perhaps it is weaving together many tales from before to now and into the beyond. It describes girls and a forest, each inhabiting their own space and each other through their actions. It is the universal story of the double bind between the organism and the environment; but it also a very specific tale as the ecological aesthetics has been driven by a specific choice: sharing the perspective of children and the aesthetics of learning.

Taking a page from the girls, I pursued a conveyance of a sort of joie de vivre, a sense of jouissance that is lost for many nowadays. The closing scenes of the documentary emphasize enthusiasm and joy as apposed to the harsh beginning of a dead deer. It is almost a classic happy ending, not so common in today’s cinema, against the biting lyrics of the closing songs. It is not a denial of reality, but the invitation to naivite; asking us all to keep ourselves open to pursuit the most creative of solutions to our everyday, epic challenges.

As a community supported Kickstarter funded project, we could not afford to hire a DOP within our tight micro budget. But having no crew was also deliberate, trying to be as little intrusive as possible. The locations were challenging with each season presenting new struggles to consider when filming. Following the girls in the wild was a psycho-emotional and physical effort that put me in filming conditions I have never felt before: trying to keep the camera low at the height of the girls, running to keep up with the zipping and zagging of young children, jumping, squatting, and crawling up muddy slopes with ticks and poison ivy, falling against and off of slippery boulders in the rain, and navigating uneven ground with my eye at the camera. Teaching suggested me to film with a low angle, from a child perspective, observing details or watching the sky... how much sky above the forest I discovered with them! The only time lapse, when springtime is about to come, is a celebration of that sky.

At the very beginning I wanted to make something visually more experimental, i.e. using GoPros mounted on the little girls. We tried it in a few first sessions, but I realized there was no need to add a GoPro look. I thought it could convey a more neutral gaze. On the contrary, it got far from that idea of legibility and transparency I had in mind. Then we know that the camera is never innocent, nor the editing. So I became aware that my big challenge was to become invisible, a difficult aim with young children. The girls had to feel that no one was watching. It took time to build confidence and trust, and it took time to achieve a level of invisibility, moving between moments of closeness and moments of distance, going close to give insights of specific dynamics and opening up to the wide perspective again. Becoming part of their community, being hosted by their families, spending all my time with them, gradually made my presence more familiar and less extraordinary.

For this film, I reveal each girl as protagonist. I believe the gender question as very topical, not only within the realms of pedagogy and education, but far beyond. And I am a woman, my body is feminine, so must be my eyes. I feel committed, driven by a mix of advocacy and personal history. I am from Southern Europe where the concept of wildlands itself cannot be really translated. Our environment is connoted by layers and layers of anthropic modifications. I am fascinated by more pristine lands, by the forest, by the unknown. I think we need to cross frontiers and embrace otherness, to get to know ourselves deeply and bring new biodiversity in our own biome.

With this philosophy, our documentary deals with environmental, educational and gender issues with an intersectional approach. The subject is political, although there are no political slogans or mottos here, but imagination, which is a political choice indeed. A wild, raw, unruly, uncanny, vivid, passionate and unpredictable imagination, triggered by this emotional landscape of wildness, can still move the world.