While on vacation in Goa, India, Canadian filmmaker Chris McDonell turns his camera on Shilpa Poojar, a 9-year-old beach hawker hustling tourists to buy clothes and jewelry from her seaside shop. Funny, charming and skilled beyond her years, she is a migrant worker from the unique Banjara people and the primary breadwinner for her family. Forging a connection in this chance encounter, Chris returns 3 times over the next 7 years to capture Shilpa’s story of sacrifice and survival and help her achieve her childhood dream of going to school – a relentless effort that will test them both along the way. See his complete review below.
Queen of the Beach
By Eshaan M., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 15
A gritty, honest portrayal of a child laborer’s life and her journey to achieve her dreams, Queen of the Beach is a touching documentary film highlighting a global issue in an emotionally-sensitive, thorough, and unique way.
Christopher McDonell is a Canadian filmmaker on a month-long project in India, following some missionaries from his church on their trip. He makes a quick stop at Anjuna Beach in Goa, where he meets nine-year-old Shilpa, a child laborer who is the sole breadwinner in her family. Tenacious and witty, Shilpa instantly forms a bond with McDonell and he returns three times over the next seven years as Shilpa’s “brother,” visiting her village and learning more about her tribe, the Banjaras’, way of life. He makes it his mission to help Shilpa realize her childhood dream of attending school in her small village in Karnataka; over the course of the film, both Shilpa and Chris must overcome several obstacles to reach this goal.
This is one of the most engaging documentaries that I’ve come across; Shilpa and her friends are vibrant, sweet individuals with layered personalities. Her smile lights up the screen and there’s never a dull moment; McDonnell’s sprightly narration ensures that the pace of the film never drops even when they face some dead-end challenges. Since McDonell poses deep, personal, and tough questions to Shilpa, her friends, and her family, viewers come away from the film feeling like they really know her and her world. Even though the film was shot over the course of seven years, footage taken in 2009 does not feel drastically different from footage taken in 2015; the production quality of this documentary is spectacular throughout the 100 minute duration.
Queen of the Beach is all about making your dreams come true and never giving up even when life throws you a curveball. One thing to watch out for in the film: some mentions of pedophilic activity that occur on the beach at night, and McDonell catches some of this on film. Thematically, this film is for teenage audiences and older as it deals with child labor.
I give Queen of the Beach 5 stars out of 5 and recommend it for ages 13 to 18, plus adults. Queen of the Beach premieres August 15 (Indian Independence Day) both on digital and on demand from Under the Milky Way Productions.