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'Geek Girls' deep-dives into the secret world of female nerds

'Geek Girls' director Gina Hara took four years to find women who would speak out about the secretive female geek community. She tells CNET how she did it.

Gina Hara

Four years ago, artist and filmmaker Gina Hara sets foot guerilla-style in Japan. Pressed by Japanese commuters, she takes in the birthplace of geek culture. What she seeks is a community that not only hides, but is shunned from the country's trademark neon beams of light.

Female nerds.

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Director Gina Hara.

Anne Garrity

It's a culture Hara herself is a part of. Hara is from Montreal in Canada. There she made the short film "Waning", bagging a nomination for Best Canadian Short at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2011. Her latest project is the documentary "Geek Girls", a deep-dive into the world of women in gaming, cosplay and collecting. A world you haven't seen before.

"I got this very sad response," Hara tells me. She'd been explaining her documentary to an artist friend.

Her friend said: "geeks don't need a filmmaker. Geeks need doctors."

Hara was shocked, angry even, but she also found herself inspired. She was resolute in her goal: to eliminate the stigma faced by female nerds and show that communities like this exist all over the world.

"I said, OK, we need to talk about this."

Aside from loving video games, comics, TV shows and movies, many female nerds share a common problem: They hide this aspect of their lives. Even Hara herself had to come out of the "geek closet".

"I realised my own friends don't think of me as a geek, because I myself hid it."

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Hara dives into the secretive geek world of Japan.

Screenshot by Jennifer Bisset/Geek Girls/CNET

This secrecy was one of the biggest challenges Hara faced. How could she document women in the geek community when no one would appear on camera?

"I started shooting, just myself, with one camera."

She started in Japan, mostly doing research online, reaching out to people. She went to Comiket, "one of the biggest gatherings of humankind", with some Japanese friends, one of whom identified as an "otaku", a Japanese geek. No one knew about it. Not her sister. Not her best friend. That day, she said she was simply going to an "event".

"It's so mind-blowing."

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Stephanie Harvey, aka "missharvey", a pro gamer featured in the documentary.

Gina Hara/Geek Girls

Back home in Montreal, it was easier to find a voice. Hara reached out to fellow Canadian Stephanie Harvey, also known as "missharvey", an established figure in the gaming industry. She designs video games at Ubisoft Montreal, earns a living as a pro gamer and co-founded Missclicks, an online community and safe place for anyone who faces sexism and gender discrimination in gaming and geek culture, which the documentary explores.

"Being a girl gamer definitely makes you question everything you say publicly," Harvey says over Skype. In 2014 she was named as one of Forbes' 30 bright young stars in video games. "Mini scandals happen all the time."

In 2016, Harvey's all-female gaming team, known as CLG.CS Red, moved into a gaming house together, the first female team to do so, and competed in men's events. But the bad experiences girl gamers endure put doubt in her mind about pursuing the profession, when she could just have fun.

"I could continue gaming without doing all the media and the tournaments. All the exposure, it did make me question it."

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It's considered "social suicide" in Japan to be a female nerd, but Alice and Mei spoke out.

Screenshot by Jennifer Bisset/Geek Girls/CNET

Over four years, Hara spoke to hundreds of women. The Philippines, Asia, Europe, South and North America, all have geek girls. But only some would speak for the movie. Hara faced dozens of "devastating" last minute dropouts.

Eventually, after forking out the money to hire a Japanese production manager, Hara got through to two otaku who would go on camera. Alice and Mei, who at that point had already come out. Mei had written her dissertation on geek culture in Japan, especially focusing on cosplayers.

"When you're doing your Masters degree on it, you cannot really hide it from your family," Hara says.

Hara hopes to pioneer female geekdom. The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have helped, exposing sexual misconduct in tech, media and entertainment industries.

"It was so urgent to me and so important. I didn't feel like I had a choice."

Even the women who said they wouldn't go on camera have since thanked her for her work.

"They said, 'I want to see a documentary like this.'"

That artist friend of Hara's? She's now seen the documentary.

"She was onboard. She really loved it. She also admitted she has binge-watched certain TV shows."

"Geek Girls" comes out on March 19 in select Australian cinemas. Tickets have to be prepurchased, which you can do here. Check the movie's website for when it plays globally.

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