Review: ‘CodeGirl’


5 mins read

(USA, 108 min.)
Dir. Lesley Chilcott


Start-ups can be hubs of innovation with the right minds behind them, but even the tech industry shows signs of the old guard. Only a small percentage of start-ups and tech companies have female CEOs even though women account for half of the users and potential market for newfangled apps and gadgets. As with most industries, the first steps towards bridging gaps in representation begin with opportunity and education. As the inspiring new doc CodeGirl shows, there’s a wealth of brilliant minds ripe for the tech industry (or any other field) if the young women of the world have the same chances to stretch their talents as their male classmates do. The film confronts stereotypes and gender roles as it shows how any eager student has the potential to become a leader.

This energetic new doc by Lesley Chilcott, a producer of director Davis Guggenheim’s Waiting for Superman and the Oscar-winner An Inconvenient Truth, uses the 2015 Technovation competition to show the audience how anyone has the potential to lead and inspire others if given the chance to test her or his talents. Technovation challenges young girls around the world to develop mobile apps that solve problems in their communities, and the solutions that the young women of the film advance are stimulating and revitalising. In the vein of Jeffrey Blitz’s spelling bee competition doc Spellbound, CodeGirl follows a series of participants throughout the Technovation challenge and chronicles the highs, lows, hopes, and heartbreaks the teams experience they advance or become eliminated from the race.

Chilcott presents teams from around the world as girls in Mexico, Brazil, France, America and other counties develop apps and immerse themselves in the full process of start-up innovation by writing code, developing marketing strategies, and devising pitches. The focus is refreshingly diverse and inclusive, and CodeGirl addresses a universal issue by widening its worldview. Among the ingenious young women of CodeGirl are team Woco, an American group developing a social media app that makes good vibes go viral; team Tech Voca, a Mexican quintet devising an app to address violence against women; and team Puppy Sized Elephants, a duo of drolly sarcastic American girls creating code for cash management. The ideas are all worthy and innovative, but the delivery on the seeds ranges from misguided to pitch perfect. Through workshopping and trial and error, the film shows the girls hone their skills and refine their work to slay the competition.

CodeGirl keeps the audience in suspense throughout the lead up to the final round of Technovation by alternating points of view as the competition progresses. The doc abandons some teams as they exit the competition, while new faces emerge in the narrative as the competition narrows its focus on the fiercest competitors. One ingenious bit of narrative flow occurs with the introduction of the Nigerian team Charis as they try to make the finals and present their waste management app to the judges. CodeGirl offers a pack of underdogs to root for as Team Charis works passionately to arrive at the competition, and the film shows how opportunities like the Technovation challenge are inspired occasions to foster young minds. Similarly, as CodeGirl shows the different obstacles that teams face around the world, the doc lets some teams confront the privileges they enjoy in their schools and communities as teams develop apps to solve issues like water scarcity or sanitation that other teams take for granted.

One consequence of this tactic of shifting narratives is that CodeGirl lets audiences relate to some girls far easily than others since the film invests viewers in the efforts of some teams from beginning to end, although the dynamic perspectives also makes the disappointment of elimination feel especially crushing as teams fail to make the grade for their hard work. The doc defies conventions of many films that focus on tournaments and competitions by favouring both the victors and their peers: CodeGirl isn’t about wins or losses, but the potential for greatness that lives in young minds around the world.

CodeGirl screens at the TIFF Kids International Film Festival on Sunday, April 10.
It is also available to rent or own on digital platforms.



Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

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