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The Blessing and the Curse of Being ‘Different’

Sep 10, 2018 | 831 videos
Video by Niki Padidar

“Why can’t you be different? Why does everyone have to look the same and do as the group does?” 13-year-old Ninnoc wants to know. The headstrong Dutch middle-school student is the subject of Niki Padidar’s award-winning short documentary, Ninnoc, an experimental window into a personal struggle with nonconformity. In the film, Ninnoc attempts to reconcile her need to belong—and to feel seen—with her inherent desire to be an individual. She doesn’t want to be like everyone else, yet she knows that this decision comes at a cost, especially at her age.

“I think that this need is manifested deeply in all of us,” Padidar told The Atlantic. “We all want to belong and feel at home somewhere and be understood. At the same time, everyone searches for her own identity.”

Padidar said the film was inspired by her interest in exploring group processes. “We always seem to criticize someone who deviates from the norm,” she said. “I was looking for a child with her own way of looking at the world.” After interviewing many different children through after-school programs and other avenues, Padidar found Ninnoc, whom the director thought was special because “she was afraid to be left out and afraid of being alone, but still wasn’t willing to adapt to others just to be accepted. I thought that was pretty cool for such a young girl.”

This dichotomy is writ large in Ninnoc’s vision of the world, which Padidar represents in a dreamy aesthetic that she describes as “crawling into Ninnoc’s head.” Interviews with the pre-teen are overlayed with images of Ninnoc dancing through the halls of her abandoned school; in one scene, Ninnoc sits in a classroom surrounded by clones of herself. “I wanted to create a window to Ninnoc’s thoughts and feelings,” Padidar said. “Here, she can think and do whatever she wants without the judgment of others. Here, she can question what we believe to be self-evident. Here, Ninnoc is the norm.”

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Author: Emily Buder

About This Series

A showcase of cinematic short documentary films, curated by The Atlantic.