The flick narrates some days in the life of two 15 years old girls who call each other best friends. Both are bored and frustrated about their life in a rundown Californian town. Together they run away from their pathetic homes and join a gang of juvenile skaters who occupy a derelict place in Los Angeles`no go zone.
One of the girls falls in love with a gang member, who isn´t really a bad guy, but he follows the alpha dogs of the group without question, even as they get more and more violent and criminal. The situation escalates, causing murder and more, also to challenge the close friendship between the girls.
Maybe the story of runaway kids getting deep into trouble has been told more than 1.000 times. But the talented director, who also wrote the script, found a new and interesting way. I got sucked into the plot partly thanks to the appealing cinematography. James and his cinematographer Reed Morano captured both, the sun flooded bleakness of a Californian dessert settlement and the dark sides of L.A.
The soundtrack, a fine selection of independent rock tunes with grungy parts - partly written by James himself -, enhanced the pull of the movie.
The film focuses on Juno Temple, who was around 20 years old during the shoot. The rising British star impresses as a convincing incarnation of the unsure 15-year old uncut diamond. Watching Kay Panabacker, who acts as her same aged best friend, also was a delight.
After the show at New York`s Angelika Film Center the director himself was available for a Q&A. James explained that his movie is autobiographical, he had just changed his personal experience into the characters of two fledgling girls, partly because he is impressed by strong women. Furthermore the filmmaker told that he had been member of a Boston street gang and had spent one year in prison for his past after finishing "Little Birds" (the website of the Sundance Institute has an autobiographical article sundance ). The "New Yorker" also has a long piece about James`unlucky childhood, his career as a leader of a huge gang and his promising start into the movie business (the article is here newyorker but behind a pay wall).
It seems that James benefited a lot from his friends. Before starting the flick he didn`t know anything about the film business, he claimed. He got a lot of help from Robert Redford who had started his Sundance Institute in the 80s to assist newcomers in the movie business (sundance.org). "Little Birds" came into existence as part of the Sundance Workshop (Screenwriters and Directors Lab), which is a incubator for films and movie makers.
Elgin James is now working on further film projects using his vast experience as a leader of a huge gang (more than 100 members). I suppose that his insights into the world of violence and his talents in personnel management are helpful for directing exciting flicks. I wish James much luck and I will be excited to see more from him some day.