Being Scott Harris

The new documentary Being Ginger was just released on DVD. Its director, Scott P. Harris has been attending screenings and Q & A sessions in various cities. He was in New York City for screenings there when I interviewed him by phone. The documentary was an expansion of his 20-minute, graduate project at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. The project is an autobiographical look at Harris' own dating life vis-à-vis his lack of confidence or self-esteem regarding his natural red hair, or, depending on the light, orange hair.

The movie is a romantic journey. The 31-year-old sets out to find a girlfriend. His initial tactic is to approach random girls on the street under the guise of making a movie about ginger bigotry. His supposition is that people don't like gingers. This supposition is purely anecdotal. There are no studies or research that supports this claim. Harris bases his premise on personal experiences, which he admits are only representative of him and no one else. Nor does his experiences speak to anything specific about ginger men as a whole.

Yet, there was a story in the British newspapers about a phenomenon called "Kick a Ginger Day" that was reportedly inspired by an episode of the TV series South Park, which originally aired back in 2005. The phenomenon resulted in bullying and actual physical attacks against school children with red hair. A similar phenomenon was also reported in California back in 2009.

It's rather appropriate then that the method, which Harris uses to depict his bullying back in school, is that of animation, done in a style not unlike that of South Park. If you go to his web site, he's created an eCard with a very funny joke about that. Yet, as you listen to him and watch him, you'll learn that the bullying Harris experienced in his youth is neither cartoonish nor a laughing matter. His romantic journey is meant to be light and fun, but the detour into talking about the heart-breaking bullying he faced has too strong a gravitational pull.

It becomes less of a wonder why Harris harbors almost the same bigoted feelings about gingers that he wishes others didn't. It's apparent that he reached a point where he began to believe his tormenters. His bullies indoctrinated him to believe the worst about himself and others like him, those with red hair.

Unknowingly or not, this movie is Harris' attempt to deprogram himself of this self-hatred and bigotry. Blatant contradictions are constantly thrown at him, starting with the very first girl, a pretty blonde named Emily whom he stops on the street. The look on Harris' face when he gauges her thoughts on gingers is one of genuine shock and surprise. During my phone interview with him, he claims that he was simply nervous about asking her out on a date, while on camera. Yet, to me, the look on his face smacked with the irony that this idea baked into his head about the stuff baked on top of his head could actually be wrong. It's the first step toward his own deconstruction.

The rest of the movie is Harris then dispelling his own myths about gingers. One of which is that prior to making this movie Harris has never been attracted to a ginger. When I asked him about Julia Roberts, one of the most successful gingers in Hollywood, aside from Katharine Hepburn, he said he didn't realize that Julia Roberts was a ginger. Yet, her most successful film Pretty Woman (1990) gloriously shows off her red locks. How he could not have been attracted to that movie-star ginger escapes me!

I don't think Harris is lying, but it is perhaps indicative of a narrow vision. Yet, Harris comes across as nothing if not honest and forthright. In fact, Harris reminded me of another documentary filmmaker of Scottish and/or Irish descent with ginger qualities who doesn't mind putting himself on camera and who's also quite honest and forthright. Harris reminded me of Morgan Spurlock, minus the handlebar mustache. Instead of stuffing his face full of McDonalds hamburgers and fries, Harris takes to the streets of Edinburgh trying to find a woman who will love him and his ginger-ness.

Yet, Harris doesn't see himself as the next Spurlock. He draws more inspiration from filmmakers like Ross McElwee and Alan Berliner. He looks to them, not because they're not gingers but because of the more personal stories they tell. Harris cites McElwee's Sherman's March as one of his major influences. That film like Harris' story focuses on McElwee's dating life or at least his interest in certain women.

The difference though is that McElwee points the camera at his family in Sherman's March and they offer tips for him. Harris avoids any inclusion of his family. His film is instead extremely self-reflective. There are moments where he talks to friends who give words on how to text girls or how to regard certain dating web sites, but, for the most part, it's all Harris' point of view. It's so much so that there are even scenes of Harris watching tapes of himself of scenes we've just seen.

Harris admits that it was odd, given his feelings about himself and his hair. Those scenes are obviously not narcissism or vanity. He told me that they were more practical. He just wanted to shoot as much as possible within certain boundaries. If nothing else, those moments really just help the audience to get to know Harris and his thought processes. We don't get more of Harris' history. I don't even think he states in the documentary that he's from Texas, but otherwise I do think you warm to him. He is funny and charming, and by the end you do root for him to find that special girl.

Go to his web site to find out where upcoming screenings are happening. If you live in the UK, you can also purchase the DVD from his site. In the US, Garden Thieves Pictures is making it available on Tax Day today on DVD via Amazon. You can also purchase the movie on Demand to stream through iTunes, Vimeo and etc.


Popular Posts