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MSPIFF: Nanette Burnstein and "American Teen" - a movie for all ages

Posted at 4:44 PM on April 28, 2008 by Euan Kerr

Nanette Berstein says the surprising thing to her after spending 10 months filming teenagers at an Indiana high school was how little has changed since she was a teen.

The technology is different, and the cultural icons, but she says the issues of self-confidence, cliques, popularity, and concerns about the future are just the same as when she was a senior in Buffalo NY.

Berstein introduced her film at MSPIFF last night.

The film flows apparently seamlessly through the senior year of four students, each representing an established type: the queen bee popular girl, the geek, the rebel and the jock.

The effortlessness belies the huge amount of research done before filming: Berstein visited 10 midwestern high schools to try to find the one which would work best. When she found the school in Warsaw Indiana she says it was pretty clear she had the school she needed.

The next step was gaining the trust of the students, and getting them used to the camera. she says that took a while, even filming every day. She also says making sure she had everything she needed was a challenge. She had a producer whose full time job was working out which student was going to be doing what and then deciding where the camera should go. Even on days when nothing major seemed to be happening there were always catch-up interviews to do.

Berstein says she hopes "American Teen" will show people the pressures that modern high schoolers face, but also that they are not the sex-crazed booze-and-drug addled individuals so often shown in the popular media. It's a fascinating and transporting film, a movie which reminds you, for better or worse, of those youthful days which can define us, even if it's the way it makes us strive to leave it all behind.

The film goes on wide release in August.

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