The Tribeca Film Festival kicks into gear tonight, and surely one of its most anticipated premieres is “All This Panic,” a new documentary that has been getting a great deal of early attention and promises to be one of the most talked about films at this year’s fest. The documentary follows a group of Brooklyn girls from early high school through their college years, tracking both the “panic” of teen social drama to some very real issues involving mental health, sexuality, divorce, race and well, life. The film was made by a husband-wife team of director Jenny Gage and cinematographer Tom Betterton.
Indiewire recently checked in with Gage to find how this unique project came about what and the challenges were of filming a group of teenagers over a many-year span.
What were you doing before you started “All This Panic?”
In Tom and I’s other career, we are a still photography team. We shoot portraits, fashion and advertising. So we were working and traveling on assignments. We also have three kids together so we were pretty busy raising them in Brooklyn.
How did this project come about?
At about the same time that I had my daughter, the two sisters Ginger and Dusty moved down the block from us. I remember watching them and I became fascinated by what their world must be like. In some way I felt like what they were going through was some kind a mysterious passage between where my daughter was as a child and the adult that I am now.
I was curious to find out what they thought about and talked about and who they spent time with. I wanted to know how being a teenager today is different than when i was one, and how it might be the same. I asked their parents if we could follow them around and see what developed. Tom and I decided that to really capture what was going on, we would need to keep it extremely intimate. For about three years the crew consisted of just the two of us. Through Ginger and Dusty, we met many of their fiends and ultimately the seven girls who appear in the film. And four years later, here we are!
Was making a film something you always knew you wanted to do?
Yes. As still photographers we have always mined the rich emotional landscape of adolescence. But no matter how beautiful or evocative a picture is, it can’t capture the voices or portray the passage of time the way film can.
The film has some really cinematic elements to it. What was your approach to filming? Did it change from girl to girl?
From the outset, we knew that we wanted to make an extremely intimate film and our intention was to make a documentary that was more stylistically like a narrative film. Tom wanted to push that idea as far as possible and to make the film at times resemble the dreamy headspace of girls’ interior lives. We made some very specific aesthetic and technical decisions and stuck to them for the entire shoot which ended up having a great impact on the film. For example, he shot the entire film with the same 50mm lens which is pretty close-up. This also meant that while shooting we could never sit back and just observe the girls, but that we had to be in the girls’ space. Constantly participating with them and engaging with them which really led to the intimacy of the film.
The film is somewhat like “Boyhood,” in the sense that we see these girls mature into young women. At what point did you know you would be sticking with them for years and what challenges did that present?
As soon as we started filming, we realized we had stumbled upon a pretty special group of girls at a very important time in their lives. It became clear from early on that the girls stories needed time to let them unfold naturally. It was also important for time to play a role in how we see each girl change and go from child to young adult in from of our eyes.
It was a fascinating process to be so engaged in the day to day lives of the girls but to also have this longer vantage point to observe from. So many of the things that seemed so important to the girls in the moment just seemed to recede into the background as the larger arc of their life stories emerged.
What was the biggest revelation for you in making this film?
Having made a film that very specifically focuses on a small group of teenage girls, we were thrilled to realize that it actually portrayed emotions and situations that were just as relatable to women and men of all ages.
Has it altered your perspective on being a Brooklyn parent?
When we first started filming, our kids were young and seemed so far away from being teenagers. But now our oldest is almost 13, so the “Panic” years are fast approaching. Having seen what the girls and their friends experienced, we feel like we now have a glimpse into what it will be like for our children. Perhaps the biggest thing we came away with is just how important it is to talk to your kids at exactly the time when they don’t want to hear what you have to say. A great example is Sage’s mom. She is never afraid to confront Sage, but it isn’t so much to get her in trouble, but its to keep her close and to show Sage that she expects her to have a strong character.
“All This Panic” will have its world premiere tonight at the Tribeca Film Festival.