Few would know it by looking at her, but Naomi “Supergirl” Kutin is the strongest girl in the world. The 11-year-old, 95-pound Orthodox Jewish girl from New Jersey is a competitive powerlifter who can lift three times her body weight, impressing even the largest of bodybuilders. SUPERGIRL follows Naomi’s inspiring journey as she simultaneously trains for national competitions and prepares for her bat mitzvah. In her feature debut, director Jessie Auritt beautifully captures the balancing act of being a teenage girl with religious obligation and fighting to set new records in powerlifting. With many obstacles in her way, Naomi discovers what it truly means to be strong.
SUPERGIRL is a warm film with so many layers—Naomi and her family are a delight to watch. What drew you to tell this particular story?
Jessie Auritt: I was initially drawn to this story because I was intrigued that an orthodox Jewish girl, whose religion typically has traditional gender roles, was participating in the male dominated sport of powerlifting. Having grown up as a secular Jew and an athlete myself, I was fascinated by the dichotomy of her world. After first reading about Naomi online, I immediately wanted to find out more about her and explore what her life was like as a young girl beyond the headlines.
It can be tricky to find the right balance between observation and exploitation, especially when your main subject is a child. How did you establish the trust with the Kutins that allowed them to be so open with you?
Jessie Auritt: It was very important to have the trust of the Kutin family and to make sure that they were on board every step of the way. Throughout the filming process we spent a good deal of time just chatting without cameras and sharing things about our personal lives. I even spent Shabbat dinner and Passover with them once. Overall I tried to be open, honest, and transparent, and involve them in the filmmaking process as much as possible.
Without giving too much away (!), what surprised you most about Naomi’s journey?
Jessie Auritt: On the whole, it was incredible to watch Naomi grow, physically as well as mentally and emotionally, over the course of the three years we were filming. She is definitely much more mature than I was at that age!
This is your feature debut, and I’m sure it’s hard to encapsulate all you learned. But can you share one of your biggest lessons? Any advice for aspiring filmmakers?
Jessie Auritt: I have truly learned so much in the making of this film. I like to joke that it has been my film school. One of the biggest lessons and advice I can pass along is that you can’t control everything that happens during the course of filming a documentary. You have to be adaptable and go with the flow.
What do you think Naomi has to teach us? What would you like HIFF audiences to take away from your film?
Jessie Auritt: I think that Naomi can teach us a lot about having inner strength and not being afraid to put yourself out there and go for your goals, even in the face of adversity. I hope that audiences, adults and children, men and women alike, will be inspired and empowered by the film. I also hope that people will identify and empathize with Naomi and her family on a personal level, and realize that you can not make assumptions and judgements about people before getting to know them.
We can’t wait for your World Premiere. What are you most looking forward to at HIFF 2016?
Jessie Auritt: After three-and-a-half years of working on the film, I am so excited to be sharing SUPERGIRL with the world for the first time at HIFF. HIFF is the perfect location for the premiere, not only because it’s a great festival but because the film is a local New York area story. I’m also really looking forward to seeing some great films and meeting other filmmakers at the festival!