The Teen Screen

The label “teen drama” may conjure up associations with light, superficially tempestuous entertainment. However, many of us remember adolescence as a time when every conceivable human emotion was often felt the most acutely, yet understood the least. Harnessing the potency of the teen experience on celluloid demands that a filmmaker understand the difference between passion and melodrama. The Teen Screen gathers ten such filmmakers for a class photo, of sorts. The young subjects of their films, though divided by decades and miles, experience the identifiably universal tug-of-war between childhood and adulthood, hedonism and discipline, rebellion and responsibility.

The series’ documentary offerings, High School and Seventeen, illustrate the stark contrast between the factory-like conformity pushed by America’s educational system and the most anarchic impulses of the student body. In both Afterschool and I’m Gonna Explode, young misfits stumble—not entirely innocently—into very adult crimes. Fish Tank, The Cool World, and The Glass House chronicle the hardship of growing up poor in Essex, Harlem, and Tehran, respectively. Finally, the little seen and recently restored Japanese supernatural thriller, Hausu, provides a campy comic release to all of that pent up teen angst.

High School

Friday, January 22, 2010 1:00 AM
(Frederick Wiseman, 1968, USA, B/W, 16mm, 75 minutes )

Master documentarian Wiseman focuses his lens on the daily goings-on at a large, middle class Philadelphia high school during the late sixties. In his trademark verité style, the director captures tense confrontations with teachers, administrators, and parents, highlighting the everyday absurdities that students endure, from detention to dress codes to gym class. “High School” is so familiar and so extraordinarily evocative that a feeling of empathy with the students floods over us. How did we live through it?”—Pauline Kael, The New Yorker.


Friday, January 29, 2010 7:00 PM
(Joel DeMott, Jeff Kreines, 1983, USA, color, 16mm, 120 minutes)

Originally commissioned for PBS, this remarkable documentary centers on Lynn Massie, a precocious, sharp-tongued teen, and her hard-partying friends in Muncie, Indiana. The network ultimately balked at the unflinchingly candid final cut, as filmmakers DeMott and Kreines showed no desire to candy coat the lives of their teenage subjects, covering binge drinking, racism, and other subjects deemed too hot for public television. Seventeen is arguably one of the best (if little known, and rarely screened) portraits of American youth ever captured on film.


Saturday, February 12, 2011 7:00 PM
(Antonio Campos, 2009, USA, color, 35mm, 120 minutes)

Campos’s first feature unfolds in an elite boarding school in upstate New York, where outcast underclassman Robert (Ezra Miller) witnesses the death of two popular twins and is enlisted by the school’s AV club to compose their memorial video. Fascinated with online clips and videos from teenage melees to amateur pornography, Robert quietly navigates the cloistered halls of his sterile suburban school from behind the lens of a video camera, attempting to mediate his relationship between the “reality” of the images he sees online and the oppressive reality of high school. “A remarkable debut…one of the few standout American indies in a year…” – Scott Foundas, LA Weekly

The Cool World

Friday, February 19, 2010 7:00 PM
(Shirley Clarke, 1964, USA, B/W, 16mm, 105 minutes)

Pioneering independent filmmaker Clarke casts a documentarian’s eye for verisimilitude on this gritty tale of teenage gang life in 1960’s Harlem. Shot on location with a largely nonprofessional cast, The Cool World follows Duke (Hampton Clanton), an ambitious young tough eager to rise to the top of his gang, The Pythons. In order to earn the fear and respect of both his neighbors and rivals as a “real cold killer,” Duke hits the streets in search of a then-rare prize for a kid with delusions of gangster grandeur: a gun. In addition to further cementing Clarke’s reputation as one of New York City’s premier cinematic chroniclers, the film also launched the career of its producer, Frederick Wiseman, whose own High School (1968) opens this series.

Top Girl

Friday, February 26, 2010 7:00 PM
(Rebecca Johnson, 2008, UK, color, 35mm, 18 minutes)

A Brixton teen learns some hard lessons about boys, intimacy and friendship in this compelling coming-of-age story.

I’m Gonna Explode (Voy a explotar)

Saturday, February 26, 2011 7:00 PM
(Gerardo Naranjo, 2008, Mexico, color, 35mm, 106 minutes)

I'm Gonna Explode explores first love and teenage rebellion without hiding the acne and awkwardness under a layer of romanticism. When Maru (Maria Deschamps) and her classmates witness a new student, Roman (Juan Pablo de Santiago), attempt suicide on stage at their high school talent show, she's the only person in the audience who applauds. Roman, the troubled son of a conservative politician is equally smitten with her. After a violent encounter with Maru’s ex-boyfriend, the young lovers go into hiding (on the roof of Roman's father's mansion) before hitting the road. Co-produced by Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna.

House (Hausu)

Friday, March 5, 2010 7:00 PM
(Obayashi Nobuhiko, 1977, Japan, color, 35mm, 88 minutes)

Gorgeous and her six best friends travel to a long-lost aunt’s mansion for a summer vacation but soon realize that the house is haunted and hungry for virgins. These seven giggling teens romp through an impossibly over-stylized supernatural universe that takes sugary 70s kitsch and ramps it up full blast. With ultra-saturated cartoon backdrops, hilarious analog special effects and a very creepy housecat, this rediscovered camp classic (presented in a new 35mm print) is an unforgettable, hallucination-inducing thrill ride. Will the girls make it out of this demented house of horrors alive?

Fish Tank

Friday, March 12, 2010 7:00 PM
(Andrea Arnold, 2009, UK, color, 35mm, 124 minutes)

Echoing the stark realism of Ken Loach's working class narratives, Academy-award winning director Arnold depicts a 15-year-old-girl's emotional rollercoaster without ever veering into melodrama. Expelled from school and constantly at odds with an irresponsible mother, Mia (Katie Jarvis) finds solace in hip-hop dancing. When her mother brings home handsome new boyfriend Connor (Michael Fassbender), even Mia's affected iciness can't resist his charm, and the doomed trajectory of their relationship becomes painfully clear. Winner of the Jury Prize at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.