g The Film Panel Notetaker: The Sundance Institute at BAM, Opening Night - "American Teen" - May 29, 2008

Monday, June 02, 2008

The Sundance Institute at BAM, Opening Night - "American Teen" - May 29, 2008

Opening Night - American Teen
The Sundance Institute at BAM
Brooklyn, NY
May 29, 2008


The Sundance Institute at BAM is a fun idea. In its third year, its the perfect platform for a New Yorker wanting to see the independent movies (including shorts) from Sundance outside of snowy Utah in January.

The evening started with some words by the BAM and Sundance people congratulating one another with all their back-patting. If you ask me, the most hilarious of all was borough president Marty Markowitz-- who I haven't seen in person since before his presidency in 1999 when I was a community organizer for ACORN. As I recall, he wasn't quite as gray-haired or the huckster back then.

Maybe it was the genuine pride he had for good ole Brooklyn, the most populated borough, which has all these filmmakers per capita. His whole monologue must have conjured nostalgia in me after I've recently subtracted myself from that statistic and gone on to gentrify a whole new step child of a neighborhood. Or it could have been his Park Slope-ing jokes directed at Peter Sarsgaard and Maggie Gyllenhaal who were present (isn't it cute how both their names have double "aa" in them? I never noticed until I had to make sure I was spelling them correctly.). Either way, he cracked me up.

Then the above-mentioned star couple introduced Nanette Burstein, director of the opening night film, American Teen. This is the first feature she's helmed independently of her previous colleague, although she has executive produced and/or directed a number of commercials, IFC's "Film School", a never-released pilot for AMC, and most recently "NY77: The Coolest Year in Hell" for VH1. She's a busy lady who gets it done and I don't think enough industry-write-ups make note of these.

In the interest of full disclosure- I worked on this movie. I worked for her in 2005 right before she had secured some funding for this project and was moving forward in trying to find the perfect, middlest-of-Americanest of towns... Which is way harder than you would think, by the way.

Shot over the course of the senior years of the quintessential art geek, basketball jock, shy guy and mean girl, the film was well-crafted and awesomely animated. I very much appreciate films that go on to look or feel a little different. I love animation and figure there's no sense in being so literal with the imagery all the time-- and in a movie about teenagers it's perfect for illustrating their imaginations.

One thing I do know about Nanette is that she's really nice and finds the best in people. That may have been a bit of a disservice in American Teen since I felt that despite the inherent abilities of teens to make drama out of nothing, I think that overall the film was fairly innocuous and a bit disjointed at times. I found myself craving for the characters to interact a bit more with one another. Or, for instance, I wanted to see the art geek, Hannah, bum around with her male best friend (or maybe I just wanted that was because those two were the ones I related to the most). There was some inner-circle conflict captured in small doses with Megan, the mean girl, and her BFF but despite having story arcs present, there weren't enough extremities or strong character changes. Having grown up in America's mid-section myself, I'm thinking that is probably more indicative of the middle-American teen. In the end, however, I did care a lot about the kids and how they turned out.

The "prom party" afterwards was pretty endearing. They funneled us through a hilarious trellis covered in carnations and up the escalator to the prom-themed party room. It seemed that either BAM was living up to fire code by only allowing a limited number of folks in or was keeping it from being so over-crowded that you were miserable (either would be quite astute of BAM). A good number of cool people were in attendance but just like in high school, I was too shy to mingle on my own.

American Teen is out July 25th thanks to Paramount Vantage.

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