Three Southern California Teens Face the Universal Questions of Youth–
And the Present-day Realities of a Changed America
“[This] fast-moving documentary zeros in on three ultra-likable Southern California high-schoolers, following them through a succession of hairstyles and turning points.”
–Sheri Linden, The Hollywood Reporter
Skateboarders Garrison and Kevin, and Garrison’s on-and-off girlfriend, Skye, are in many ways living the archetypical American teen life. Growing up in the small southern California town of Santa Clarita, they hang out, listen to punk music, change their hairstyles (and hair colors) and complain about living in a place with nothing to do. They explore friendship, discover first love (and heartbreak) and dream about the future. They are unconventional, perhaps, because they combine their Christian faith with American teen culture. They also show remarkable candor in front of the camera.
As beautifully and vividly captured in the new documentary Only the Young, something else is different–the America around them. Foreclosed homes, empty swimming pools, trashy underpasses and a closed mini golf course form much of the visual poetry of Garrison and Kevin’s daily skates around town. As high school graduation approaches, these signs of a nation in economic turmoil become dramatic realities that complicate the teens’ relationships and their hopes for the future.
Jason Tippet and Elizabeth Mims’ Only the Young has its national broadcast premiere on PBS on Monday, July 15, 2013 at 10 p.m. (check local listings) during the 26th season of the award-winning POV (Point of View) series. The 90-minute broadcast will also include Nancy Schwartzman’s xoxosms, a short documentary that chronicles digital intimacy and love in the 21st century. American television’s longest-running independent documentary series, POV was recently honored with a 25-year retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art and a MacArthur Foundation Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.
Garrison and Kevin have been best friends since they were 13. The film opens with Garrison and his girlfriend, Skye, lying on the floor and staring at the ceiling, speaking dreamily of life and love. All the elements for a romantic coming-of-age story are in place. As the two wrestle with the progress of their romance, trying to understand the difference between love and friendship, it comes out that Kevin and Skye, in a moment of “wasted” abandon, kissed. The revelation threatens the boys’ friendship. When Garrison and Skye later break up, both find new romantic interests.
While Skye says she is content to be friends with Garrison, she can’t help but disparage his new girlfriend, Kristen, for being “a hip-hop dancing crazy liberal,” which in turn brings a collective effort by church members to break up the young couple. Meanwhile, Kevin, the more alienated member of the trio, who sometimes engages in the practice of cutting his arms, competes in a skateboard competition offering a prize that would pay for college or trade school.
Only the Young vividly captures the tones and feelings of these milestones, evoking the poetry of youthful idylls, but also plumbing these kids’ particular experiences to reveal the grain. Garrison and Kevin reconcile their faith with cultural tastes typically seen as rebellious. As Shannon Hudson, Garrison and Kevin’s mentor and head of Ignition Skate Ministry, says at one of the group’s charity events, “We come out here to show the love of Jesus Christ though skateboarding. I know that’s kind of weird-sounding ’cause a lot of skateboarders are looked at as punks or outcasts and whatnot, and we kind of gladly accept that image.” For Garrison, Kevin and Skye, it doesn’t sound weird at all.
As in all good coming-of-age stories, the realities of adulthood begin to intrude on the exhilarating experiences of first love, early friendship and budding dreams. Garrison and especially Skye and Kevin begin to feel the consequences of the scenes of economic decline that surround them. Kevin is the first of the three to graduate, but his parents cannot possibly afford to send to him to college or trade school. The family decides to move to Tennessee with the hope that he will be able to afford further schooling there, which entails uprooting the 18-year-old at the precise moment when, as he says, “I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Skye faces challenges as well. She was lovingly raised by her grandparents, and just as she’s waiting for her father’s release from prison, she discovers that her mother is trying to re-enter her life by “friending” her on Facebook–a strange moment when new technology meets old wounds. Skye rebuffs her mother, but faces additional turmoil and an uncertain future due to her grandparents’ shaky finances. Throughout Only the Young, she has been the most resolute in her faith, and now it is sorely tested: “I had so much faith that everything was going to be okay,” she says, “and I’ve waited so long to have my dad back.”
Only the Young is a beautifully filmed portrait of contemporary American youth, combining the authenticity of documentary with the narrative pacing of fiction, accompanied by a soulful soundtrack featuring original songs by Nick Thorburn (The Unicorns). It suggests that youth will always be a font of profound personal and social questions and that teen life will always have a special place in American culture. But it also shows that the economic future that the young in today’s America face is more troubled than it has been for generations.
“I grew up 30 miles north of Los Angeles in the desert town of Santa Clarita,” says co-director Jason Tippet. “It was a place of rapid growth and development that served as an ideal backdrop for the seemingly endless days of unsupervised freedom of my teenage years. Now, just seven years after graduating from high school, I wanted to make a film about this period of life while it was still fresh in my mind.
“I set out to tell the story of three fairly normal teenagers–and, if it all possible, I tried to avoid stapling a ‘social-issue’ or ‘problem’ sign to their foreheads. We just focused on the lives of the kids as they were. We tried just to listen.”
Elizabeth Mims, co-director, adds, “Jason had spent his childhood as a largely unsupervised ‘latchkey kid,’ another wandering teen in an endless, epic landscape on the edge of the desert. Skateboards are a basic form of transportation and, like Kevin and Garrison, most kids aspire one day to own automobiles, though they remain oblivious to the responsibilities. I’m not much older than the kids in Only the Young, and I think that helped me to see the world from their point of view.
“I wanted to make a film where there was clear comfort and readability in the documentary subjects themselves–a sincere feeling that a solid relationship existed between the subjects and us as directors. I wanted to make a film that could help anyone remember his or her high school experiences and be completely immersed in the moment without the form intruding on the content.”
Only the Young is a production of THEsaurus LLC and Oscilloscope Laboratories.
About the Filmmakers:
Jason Tippet, Co-director
Jason Tippet earned his undergraduate degree at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), where he directed Thompson, his first short documentary, which screened at the Sundance Film Festival in 2010 and won a jury award at SXSW 2009.
Elizabeth Mims, Co-director
Elizabeth Mims grew up in Austin, Texas, and graduated from CalArts with a bachelor of fine arts degree in film and video in 2010. At CalArts, she produced Jason Tippet’s Thompson. Not to brag, but she was also freshman homecoming princess at Austin High School.
‘Only the Young’ Credits:
Co-directors: Jason Tippet, Elizabeth Mims
Producer: Derek Waters
Cinematographer: Jason Tippet
Editors: Jason Tippet, Elizabeth Mims
Running Time: 68:00
Awards and Festivals:
- Truer Than Fiction Award, Independent Spirit Awards, 2013
- Top Five Documentaries, National Board of Review, 2012
- Sterling Award for Best U.S. Feature, AFI Silverdocs Documentary Festival, 2012
- Young Americans Audience Award, AFI Fest, 2012
- Emerging Cinematic Vision Award, Camden International Film Festival, 2012
- Honorable Mention, Philadelphia Film Festival, 2012
- Official Selection, True/False Film Fest, 2012
The short film xoxosms follows the modern-day love story of Gus, a home-schooled Christian guy from small-town Illinois who takes a chance and Facebook messages Jiyun, a beautiful New York City art student from Korea. The two meet in the only place that such different people might ever find each other–online. Their two-year correspondence over email, iChat and Skype blooms into a long- distance relationship captured in instant messages and video-chat footage. When they decide to explore their romance offline, one wonders: Will online love work IRL (in real life)?
“There seems to be a general skepticism about relationships forged via the Internet,” says director Nancy Schwartzman. “The idea is that those connections are somehow less ‘authentic’ or ‘genuine’ than relationships that begin in the ‘real world.’ We all love in different and unique ways. xoxosms is a love story that highlights the positive way young people engage in online activity.”
About the filmmaker:
Named one of the “10 Filmmakers to Watch in 2011″ by Independent magazine, Nancy Schwartzman is a media strategist who believes that storytelling and technology can create safer communities for women and girls. In addition to xoxosms, she is the director of the documentary The Line. Schwartzman’s team won the highly competitive White House “Apps Against Abuse” Technology with the creation of the “Circle of 6″ iPhone and Android application, now with 55,000 users in 26 countries.
Director/Co-producer: Nancy Schwartzman
Cinematographer/Co-producer: Isaac Mathes
Editor: Sarah Devorkin
Running Time: 14:00
POV Series Credits:
Executive Producer: Simon Kilmurry
Co-Executive Producer: Cynthia López
Vice President, Programming and Production: Chris White
Coordinating Producer: Andrew Catauro
Produced by American Documentary, Inc. and beginning its 26th season on PBS in 2013, the award-winning POV is the longest-running showcase on American television to feature the work of today’s best independent documentary filmmakers. POV has brought more than 365 acclaimed documentaries to millions nationwide. POV films have won every major film and broadcasting award, including 32 Emmys, 15 George Foster Peabody Awards, 10 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards, three Academy Awards® and the Prix Italia. Since 1988, POV has pioneered the art of presentation and outreach using independent nonfiction media to build new communities in conversation about today’s most pressing social issues. Visit www.pbs.org/pov.
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POV’s award-winning website extends the life of our films online with interactive features, interviews, updates, video and educational content, plus listings for television broadcasts, community screenings and films available online. The POV Blog is a gathering place for documentary fans and filmmakers to discuss their favorite films and get the latest news.
POV Community Engagement and Education (www.pbs.org/pov/outreach)
POV’s Community Engagement and Education team works with educators, community organizations and PBS stations to present more than 600 free screenings every year. In addition, we distribute free discussion guides and standards-aligned lesson plans for each of our films. With our community partners, we inspire dialogue around the most important social issues of our time.
American Documentary, Inc. (www.amdoc.org)
American Documentary, Inc. (AmDoc) is a multimedia company dedicated to creating, identifying and presenting contemporary stories that express opinions and perspectives rarely featured in mainstream media outlets. AmDoc is a catalyst for public culture, developing collaborative strategic engagement activities around socially relevant content on television, online and in community settings. These activities are designed to trigger action, from dialogue and feedback to educational opportunities and community participation.
POV has the honor of receiving a 2013 MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions. Major funding for POV is provided by PBS, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, New York State Council on the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, the desJardins/Blachman Fund and public television viewers. Funding for POV’s Diverse Voices Project is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Special support provided by The Fledgling Fund and the Lucius and Eva Eastman Fund. POV is presented by a consortium of public television stations, including KQED San Francisco, WGBH Boston and THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG.