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SXSW: Qualified

“All I want to do is race cars.”

Janet Guthrie

Adventurous and determined, Janet Guthrie is a trailblazer in the auto racing world. As the first woman to race the Indy 500, she faced an uphill battle to break the gender barrier in the late 1970s. Her career was plagued with setbacks; from mechanical failures, to lack of sponsorship that kept her out of races, to injuries and the biggest of all was the engrained belief that women could not physically be race car drivers.

Guthrie is a fearless woman. At a very young age, she fell in love with flying and didn’t hesitate to jump out of a plane for her first skydive. But realizing that female pilots were banned from both the airline industry and the military, she decided to become an aeronautical engineer instead. This led to her discovery of sports cars, a fascination with their design and her infatuation with the sport. Developing her skills as a driver, Guthrie loved speed and racing took over her life. But was auto racing ready for a woman driver?

“What is this nonsense that women can’t do it?”

Janet Guthrie on women race car drivers

Director Jenna Ricker’s Qualified follows the career of Janet Guthrie and all its ups and downs. And there were a lot of downs. The documentary consists of mostly archival footage of Guthrie’s races and television interviews. Guthrie herself and the various drivers and mechanics speak at length about her qualifying attempts, her races and all the struggles she endured in her career. I found Guthrie’s story both frustrating and awe-inspiring. I was angry at society for holding her back whether it was a sponsor not wanting to risk being associated with a woman driver or other people in the industry believing the sport was too dangerous for women. One pivotal moment show the dilemma of whether to call out “gentleman start your engines” when both Guthrie and the mechanic starting her engine were women.

As a woman who has experienced many career setbacks, I was really motivated by Guthrie’s tenacity. She explored every option, fought for every qualifier and race and only gave up when no options were left for her. If it hadn’t been for her tenacity, she might not have opened the doors necessary to pursue her dream. That’s a powerful message for any woman of any age.

Qualified takes its viewers on an emotional journey. I’m so grateful for Ricker’s film and the opportunity to learn about Guthrie’s story. I’ll have to admit, I choked up a few times. I can’t emphasize how important it is for a woman to have a strong female role model, even if she’s in a completely different field from your own. It can be life changing.

Qualified had its world premiere at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival as part of their Documentary Spotlight series.

Social Animals

“When image is everything, nothing is off limits.”

Technology has drastically changed our culture. The Instagram generation is creating a social dynamic unlike anything that we’ve ever seen. These youths are living their lives in the public arena well beyond the scope of their immediate IRL (in real life) social circle. Their online presence is highly strategic. Teens will go to great length for the attention that comes with likes, comments, follows and a reputation they can sell. It’s the new modern version of the pursuit of happiness. These teens eventually become addicted to the thrill and the reward that Instagram has to offer by portraying a contrived version of themselves. What repercussions will these teens face for sharing their lives online?

“Instagram opened the horizon for pettiness of my generation.”

Directed by Jonathan Ignatius Green, Social Animals is a new documentary that explores the world of Instagram teens by looking at three different case studies. First is @kalynslevin, an aspiring model with a rapidly growing following. She’s blonde, beautiful and incredibly rich; all the criteria you need to become Instagram famous. In her interviews she states that she’s just a regular person and wants her followers to see her as such. However, her carefully curated Instagram is built with the help of professional photographers and stylists and is more aspirational than anything based in reality. Second is @humzadeas, a New York City based teen who dreams of becoming a professional photographer. Instagram for him is a creative outlet where he can share his creative vision with the world. He becomes a daredevil, ascending great heights to capture incredible images of the cityscape and urban life. His adventurous spirit gets him in trouble.


The most fascinating of the three is @emms_crockett, a Mid-West teen studying at a small Christian school. She feels peer pressure to use Instagram and when her ex-boyfriend and high school friends use it to bully her, the experience sends her on an emotional rollercoaster. We see the horrifying consequences which lead to a suicide attempt. Through her we see how social media platforms like Instagram can negatively affect a person’s mental health.

One thing Emma points out in one of her interviews is how she gave the audience too much power. Perhaps it’s something that’s overlooked but I would love to see a documentary, perhaps a follow-up one to this, that explores the nuances of interaction and how it affects both sides. In Social Animals, several teens, beyond the three profile, go into detail about the methods they use to rig the system for the most return on their efforts.

As an adult who was a teenager in the 1990s, I’m incredibly grateful that I didn’t have smart phones or social media. Many people of my generation and others will agree. I dealt with bullying, stalking, sexual harassment and more types of emotional and mental abuse but I’m so grateful it didn’t play out online where classmates, friends, family and members of the public could see it. 

Social Animals is a relevant documentary that relies on the voices of the Instagram generation to shine a spotlight on this new social dynamic. It lacks some focus and could benefit from some more in-depth study. We may not fully understand yet how to analyze the social of social media. This is a start.

Social Animals is available from Subconscious Films is available on iTunes and VOD with a release date on Netflix scheduled for later this year.

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