Thirteen. 1997. USA. Directed by David D. Williams. With Wilhamenia Dickens, Lillian Folley. 16mm. 87 min.
What begins as the fraught tale of a runaway’s disappearance evolves into an unexpectedly compassionate story about Nina, a 13-year-old girl who, while exploring independence, discovers the supportive network of her community. A rarely depicted level of trust and respect for young people permeates these relationships, with no one batting an eye when Nina says that she left home because she “wanted to be by myself for a few.” Nina’s mother, friends, and neighbors rally around her to encourage her ambitions, specifically her precocious obsession with buying a car; to save money for it, she seeks multiple jobs, from portrait sitter to dog groomer, even interviewing at a real estate agency, where her lack of experience doesn’t hinder her resolve. Throughout her industrious pursuits, Nina comes into her own in lovingly shot scenes of daily life that reveal a tender, introspective teenager. Filmed without a script by a crew of three people over the course of a year, Thirteen brims with ease and intimacy. Nina’s growth is lyrically observed as the seasons change—nestling herself to rest in a pile of autumn leaves during a sojourn in the mountains or tending to an infant amid a backdrop of blooming spring flowers.