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Sara Ziff's Picture Me Documentary Uncovers Sexual Assault in the Modeling World

Sara Ziff's Picture Me Documentary Uncovers Sexual Assault in the Modeling World

>> Over the course of five years, Sara Ziff snuck her ex-boyfriend Ole Schell into fashion shows, shoots, and parties so that he could film "without other people realizing it."   Sometimes he got thrown out, but they were able to collection hundreds of hours of footage along the way, which they edited down to produce Ziff's documentary, Picture Me, which exposes the dirty underbelly of modeling.

In it, the stories are hardly pretty.  Ziff told the Guardian about a 16-year-old model who complained to her agency when a 45-year-old photographer made a pass at her: "Her agency said she should have slept with him."  She captures another model talking about how weight is approached: "In castings, people have slapped my thigh, and I'm not in any sense overweight, I never have been.  I've been the same weight for a long time, but they'll slap your butt and be like 'Oooh, fat' in Italian or in French. 'It's too big here.'"

"People touch you all the time." »

Ziff, who started modeling at 14 and surpassed her father's income by the time she was 20, relates a story about her third casting ever:

We had to go in one by one. The photographer said he wanted to see me without my shirt on. Then he told me that it was still hard to imagine me for the story so could I take my trousers off. I was standing there in a pair of Mickey Mouse knickers and a sports bra. I didn't even have breasts yet. 'We might need to see you without your bra,' he told me. It was like he was a shark circling me, walking around and around, looking me up and down without saying anything. I did what he told me to. I was just eager to be liked and get the job. I didn't know any better.

Ziff filmed an interview with a model who was sexually assaulted by one of fashion's top photographers at a photoshoot in Paris, but the interview didn't make Picture Me's final cut because the day before the film's New York premiere, the 16-year-old model backed out, fearful of the repercussions.  The Guardian reports the girl's experience, as told by Ziff:

She has very little experience of modelling and is unaccompanied by her agency or parents. She leaves the studio to go to the bathroom and meets the photographer — 'a very, very famous photographer, probably one of the world's top names', according to Ziff — in the hallway. He starts fiddling with her clothes. 'But you're used to this,' says Ziff. 'People touch you all the time. Your collar, or your breasts. It's not strange to be handled like that.' Then suddenly he puts his hands between her legs and sexually assaults her. 'She has no experience of boys, she hasn't even been kissed,' says Ziff. 'She was so shocked she just stood there and didn't say anything. He just looked at her and walked away and they did the rest of the shoot. And she never told anyone.'

Unfortunately, stories like these seem to be a theme among all the footage Ziff has captured.  The film features an interview with another model, Sena Cech, who talks about a casting with a top photographer who asked her to take off her clothes:

She does as instructed and takes off her clothes. Then the photographer starts undressing as well. 'Baby — can you do something a little sexy,' he tells her. The photographer's assistant, who is watching, eggs her on . . . The famous photographer demands to be touched sexually. 'Sena — can you grab his cock and twist it real hard,' his assistant tells her. 'He likes it when you squeeze it real hard and twist it.' 'I did it,' she shrugs, looking into the video camera. 'But later I didn't feel good about it.'

The film is still touring the festival circuit — most recently, it picked up the audience award for Best Picture at the Milan International Film Festival.  The Guardian deems it "one of the best films about the world of modelling and an honest portrayal of an industry built on artifice."  The trailer can be seen below.

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