When we think back to our youth, that brief time in which we were suspended somewhere between our childhood and the unknown of adulthood, there is a tendency to remember in tropes.
That time when you first drank too much alcohol, when you realized something that could open you up could shut you right back down again, lower than you had known possible. Heads nod around the circle; contrast and compare; we all laugh at the stupid shit we did.
And at the same time, we forget all the things in-between.
All This Panic, the first feature from Jenny Gage and Tom Betterton, both photography based artists, directs focus on the spaces that exist between what we remember; between the things that we are taught to believe are important.
Shot in an often dreamy soft focus that pulls at early memory, the film follows six New York teenagers as they transition from girls to young women. Gage and Betterton work intimately with each of their subjects, capturing the un-disguisable tension of their home lives, the shifting veneers of their social relations, and the moments of self-reflection these girls choose to share.
We are shown road trips and concerts, the palpable excitement as a party is set up with an illicit quantity of alcohol, bickering and infighting on a stroll along the beach. We see sibling rivalry, early romantic yearnings, and the testing of parental authority. We see things we recognize, and then, we see something we do not. We see these young people break down the walls of their insular worlds and try to explain how they feel about all of this; what these things mean to them right there and then.
This, potentially above all else, is the strength of All This Panic. Gage and Betterton allow their subjects to leave the realm of action; that which teenagers are fiercely judged upon, and enter one of communication; in which they are people with rich inner lives, serious private concerns, and little experience to give them guidance.
Those pre-written narratives which we expect have been skillfully excised from the documentary, culled from the doubtless hours of footage shot, in an attempt to let the subjects tell their own story.
It is an exhilarating and heartrending experience to see these young people fight things that they have little control over; but the camera never lingers. The girls talk to us, often more eloquent than adults, they begin to understand themselves. And then we shift forward in time, moving past family dramas, first romances, social feuds, to see where their understanding has taken them.
Within the film, a father tells his daughter “The whole point of growing older is that you eventually find out what’s fake about you and what’s real, and hopefully move on with more of the real.” A statement that can only sound out as truism to ardent young teens, it catches something at the core of the project. All This Panic is a film about the trial and error of youth; the forging of identities in a fragile, fractal mess of emotion, it is about finding what is real and what is fake, what is you and what is expected of you, and it works all this through the strong, impassioned voices of the women it watches grow.
What I would tell my teenage self (By Scott Ellis)
‘Communicate with those you love’, ‘Be kind to yourself’; these are all simple things but hard learned, and they can only be understood as platitude by the inexperienced. In fact, I’m pretty sure people told me those things all the time.
So it would probably have to be a personalised version of ‘be yourself’. Wear more make-up! get more piercings! You want to do something, well, then do it and fuck anyone who tries to make you feel bad about it! And above all else, please, please stop listening to Limp Bizkit…
We’re screening All This Panic on Thursday 16 March 7pm at Hackney Picturehouse with director Jenny Gage, producer Tom Betterton and star Olivia Cucciota. BTF’s Beth Webb will be hosting a lively Q&A and inviting you the audience to share stories on what you would tell your teenage self if given the chance. Book now!