Tom RostonIndependent journalist Tom Roston checks in and writes about the world of documentaries in his column, Doc Soup.

You can follow Tom on Twitter @DocSoupMan.

Doc Soup: ‘American Teen’ at Sundance

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The first screening I attend at Sundance is a real happening. Saturday afternoon’s premiere of American Teen is filmmaker Nanette Burstein‘s return to Sundance after six years. (Burstein had previously produced The Kid Stays in the Picture, about Paramount producer Robert Evans, which was at Sundance in 2002.)

For American Teen, Burstein spent a year with the kids of a high school in Warsaw, Indiana. Festival programmer John Cooper introduced Burstein as one of our great documentarians who’s redefining the genre. The theater was packed and very excited. It’s great to see that there’s finally a documentary that adds a complex wrinkle to all the teenage junk we can catch 24/7 in reality television land. American Teen is really special: it intimately captures the lives of these kid and then goes a step further by animating their inner lives with some cutting edge animation.

Burstein and teens from American Teen at Sundance

Filmmaker Nanette Burstein (far right) and teens from American Teen at Sundance

It seems like everyone was there — Fox Searchlight president Peter Rice; Michael Barker, the co-president of Sony Pictures Classics; and head of U.S. Theatrical for ThinkFilm, Mark Urman, among others. I can’t say exactly when documentaries started pulling in all the top dogs of Indiewood, but it’s happening in full effect this year.

I spoke with Urman before the movie started and he told me he was excited for it, but he was still humming over Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, which he said was fantastic. He indicated, however, that he probably wouldn’t be buying its domestic rights for ThinkFilm. “It’s complicated,” he said. Sure enough, HBO announced this morning that they purchased the rights to the film, which examines the Polanski’s sex scandal involving a young girl that occurred thirty years ago.

So, back to the American Teen screening. The lights went down and the movie began. It was especially amusing to watch the lives of these kids — sex, zits and all — unfold on screen as a mother and teenage daughter sitting in front of me repeatedly whispered to each other, aghast and amused at the intimate details revealed in the film.

When the credits rolled, the crowd justifiably went nuts, hooting and hollering. Burstein came up and answered questions with the kids from the film. The highlight was the “geek” in the group, who admitted to not having had a date in the year and a half since the film was shot. “That’ll change!” yelled one woman in the crowd to the cheers of the audience. I’m sure these kids will be getting a good/weird taste of celebrity in the days to come.

Tom Roston
Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He comes to us as a ten-year veteran of Premiere magazine, where he was a Senior Editor, and where he wrote the column, Notes from the Dream Factory. Tom was born and raised in New York City. He graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom has also written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, GQ, New York, Elle and other publications. Tom's favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi - Godfrey Reggio 2. Hoop Dreams - Steve James 3. The Up series - Michael Apted 4. Crumb - Terry Zwigoff 5. Capturing the Friedmans - Andrew Jarecki
  • Janessa

    FOREIGNID: 15363
    I just watched American Teen over the weekend and I was really impressed.
    I was able to relate to the story and the characters; I could emphasize with their trials, tribulations, heart breaks, first loves, and anxiousness to leave highschool, but yet the fear of entering college.
    I highly highly recommend this one.
    I even found the teens’ Facebook bios at: