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Meet the 2013 Tribeca Filmmakers #19: Matt Wolf Traces the Origins of the Teenager in 'Teenage'

By Indiewire | Indiewire April 10, 2013 at 10:46AM

Narrated by a host of actors including Ben Whishaw and Jena Malone and boasting a score from Deerhunter's Bradford Cox, documentarian Matt Wolf's ("I Remember") third feature, "Teenage," is stylish blend of archival footage and 16 mm recreations masquerading as period film. Wolf's doc is a detailed history of the origins of the teenager, stemming from youth movements at the turn of the century.
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Matt Wolf
Matt Wolf
Narrated by a host of actors including Ben Whishaw and Jena Malone and boasting a score from Deerhunter's Bradford Cox, documentarian Matt Wolf's ("I Remember") third feature, "Teenage," is stylish blend of archival footage and 16 mm recreations masquerading as period film. Wolf's doc is a detailed history of the origins of the teenager, stemming from youth movements at the turn of the century.

What it's about:

Teenagers didn’t always exist. At the turn of the century, child labor ended, and a new second stage of life emerged. Teenage is about the struggle between adults and adolescents to define youth.

About the filmmaker: I’m a documentary filmmaker and writer in New York. My first feature "Wild Combination" about the avant-garde cellist and disco producer Arthur Russell came out in 2008. My most recent film "I Remember" is about the artist and poet Joe Brainard, and is playing in festivals now. I make creative non-fiction films that blur genre. In addition to traditional film outlets, I also like to show my work in music, art world, and literary contexts.

What else do you want audiences to know about your film? Most people think of beatniks, punks, hippies, and skaters when they hear “youth culture,” but this film is a pre-history of the teenager. Our storylines feature Flappers, Wandervogels, Boxcar Children, Nazi Youth, Jitterbugs, and other forgotten youth movements.

The film is a living collage of rare archival footage, filmed portraits, and voices lifted from early 20th century diary entries. Rather than explaining this cultural history with experts and historians, the story is told subjectively from the point of view of youth.

Music is a huge subject and also an important experience in Teenage. Bradford Cox of the bands Deerhunter and Atlas Sound made the original score.

What was your biggest challenge in developing this project? With such a panoramic topic, it was important to sharpen the

"Teenage"
Tribeca Film Festival "Teenage"

focus of the film. My writing collaborator Jon Savage and I had a rule that any story we told needed to have a basis in strong archival footage. With the help of a team of researchers from around the world, we sourced over 90 hours of archival footage and 4,000 photos from over 70 archives. Creating a storyline around this found material, and digging deeper for rare footage was the biggest challenge.

What would you like Tribeca audiences to come away with after seeing your film? Teenage is set in the past, but it’s stories and struggles are about the future. During this formative period in history, young people endured incredible oppression from their parents, governments, and the police as they fought to be treated like equals. I hope viewers will think about the youth movement alongside other civil rights struggles, and that they will reexamine their attitudes about youth today.

Did any specific films inspire you? For "Teenage" I was inspired by Adam Curtis’ essay films (The Power of Nightmares, Century of the Self, It Felt Like a Kiss), which use found footage in innovative and provocative ways. I was also inspired by Woody Allen’s "Zelig," which meticulously recreated the look of 1920s newsreel footage.

What do you have in the works? This summer I’m making a short documentary about the illustrator and "Eloise" co-creator Hilary Knight with Lena Dunham.

Where did you learn how to make films?  I went to film school at NYU, and Kelly Reichardt was an important mentor to me. I also started out in the experimental film world, and that community really shaped me.

Indiewire invited Tribeca Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they're doing next. We'll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2013 festival.



Keep checking HERE every day up to the launch of the festival on April 17 for the latest profiles.

This article is related to: Tribeca Film Festival, Meet the 2013 Tribeca Filmmakers