Girls’ Night Out began when producer Peter Raymont suggested that filmmaker Phyllis Ellis read Ann Dowsett Johnston’s book Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol.
“I was captivated and deeply impacted by the book. It spoke to me as a mother, a woman, and a filmmaker. Everyone has a relationship with alcohol. It’s ubiquitous in our culture and we’re affected by it in different ways,” stated Ellis. Reading Drink had her reflect on her personal experiences with binge drinking. “I knew I had to explore the world further.”
Ellis had many preconceived ideas for the documentary, but as the filming progressed, she let the girls and their stories featured in the film dictate the narrative. “It was a very guided experience,” she said. She had no idea the personal journey that she would go on while making the film.
It was early in the process that Ellis reflected on a specific night when she was 18. She had been partying with friends and drinking heavily. There was a boy she’d found cute, someone she had hoped to meet. He followed her home, when what she thought would be an innocent kiss, turned into a sexual assault. It wasn’t until she shared her story with the girls that she realized how much that night had affected the rest of her life. “Before making the film, I had never told anyone what had happened that night. I had never realized the repercussions. It was deeply buried.”
Ellis created an equal space when conducting her interviews and described the process as “two women talking about a shared experience.” Everyone has their own story and in this film they were able to create and reach a common ground. “Thinking about the young women who are still part of the culture and allowing us into their world; it’s very brave,” Ellis said. Having authentic interviews was necessary to the reality and accuracy of the film.
“We need to move from ‘we did it, it’s no big deal’ and recognize the dangers of the frequency and volume of binge-drinking among women. It is taking lives. ”
- Filmmaker Phyllis Ellis
In the years since her university days, Ellis has asked herself, ‘what has really changed?’ Binge drinking has been normalized, but often glamorized in the media. The trope of the cool, savvy young woman with a drink in her hand is one of the most pervasive images in pop culture today. Often young women drink to belong. As a mother, Ellis was unaware of the pressure that her 22-year-old daughter lives with every day. “The intensity of the binge-drinking culture and the pressures that she and her friends face to party, look good, and to fit in, are inescapable,” said Ellis. Making the film opened up a new dialogue between mother and daughter.
Many of Ellis’ peers have questioned her about why she would make a film on binge-drinking culture now. Their sentiment is, “we all did it, so what’s the big deal? We’re all fine.” To which she replies, “We aren’t all fine.” Many of her friends suffer from the physical and mental effects that binge drinking has had on their health and lives. “As a society we are still learning the life-long results that come along with alcohol abuse,” she stated. “We will find out the health impacts of alcohol very soon – it’s so normalized and common that it’s not a message people are very open to.”
Ellis hopes that young women will be empowered by the women in the film who tell the truth about their experiences – who have come out the other side and are no longer binge drinking. She hopes that mothers and fathers may come away with an understanding about the reality that young women are dealing with, what’s going on in their lives, and why they’re drinking to excess. “We need to move from ‘we did it, it’s no big deal’ and recognize the dangers of the frequency and volume of binge-drinking among women. It is taking lives. We have to look at it as a community, a culture, and a country. It’s a public health issue, an economic issue, and a societal issue. We want to ignite a conversation, and support change.”
Girls' Night Out premieres on Firsthand on February 25. Follow: Girls' Night Out Doc on facebook #ReThinkTheDrink