Review: ‘CodeGirl’: Documentary looks at bridging the tech gender gap, one app at a time

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That women face a long road to equality in so many realms of society, particularly in business and technology, is reflected in a statistic that opens up the documentary film “CodeGirl”: Fewer large companies are run by women than by men named John.

Focusing on the lack of women in technology, “CodeGirl” seeks to make a difference by offering a positive representation of entrepreneurial girls excelling in the field.

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Directed by veteran producer Lesley Chilcott, the film follows teams of high school girls from around the world as they compete in Technovation, a mobile app contest. Technovation urges teams to identify a problem in the community and apply technology to fixing it. We meet the winning team from the prior year, a group of girls from Moldova who created an app to educate people about contaminated water in their area.

The different apps dreamed up around the world address local issues close to the girls’ hearts. In Mexico, it’s violence. In Nigeria, waste disposal and management. In Recife, Brazil, the girls on Team Portmund have access to water at home only every other day, so they create a mobile game for kids that teaches water conservation practices.

Teams from the United States have different problems. “CodeGirl” smartly doesn’t sweep those differences under the rug. Team Ameka from Winchester, Mass., has a self-reflective moment when members ruminate on their impaired driving app. Having lost classmates to drunk driving, the problem hits close to home — but they wonder if they can really compete when other teams’ problems seem more dire.

One thing this competition and this film subtly assert is the ways in which female builders can influence the culture and experience of a technology platform. A team from Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., creates an app for sending anonymous positive messages within a school, business or institution. This shifts the notion of anonymous online comments as a tool for hate.

“CodeGirl” follows the pattern of other competition-style documentaries as competitors advance or drop out on the way toward the final prize. Unfortunately, there’s a missed opportunity to develop the suspense within a structure that has built-in tension. The pacing remains steady during the ramp-up to the final pitch, but it lacks competitive drama.

Perhaps that’s because the film actually isn’t about competition. As we discover, all of the participants, winners or not, have been bitten by the app bug. Though they might not win Technovation, they will continue to work on their projects, hoping to return next year. More important, they get their products out into the world, working to solve the community problems that these girls face.




No MPAA rating

Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes

Playing: Arclight Culver City