It’s not a bad after-school job.
For the last many months, a dozen Toronto teens have been charged with watching a slew of international films – fodder for them to program the inaugural edition of TIFF’s Next Wave festival. Their hand-picks are an impressive lineup of art-house movies that take an intelligent, thoughtful approach to issues that resonate with the under-20 set.
So, no, not exactly The Avengers. At TIFF’s headquarters, these young cineastes – all of whom aspire to make their own features one day – talk about what’s lacking in mainstream teen flicks, what themes they’d like to see onscreen, and how badly they miss deceased director John Hughes, the king of teen angst.
Next Wave is focused on teen-skewed films with unique messages. Why do viewers need that – what’s lacking in Hollywood movies for your age group?
Emma Seligman: “The problem usually is that many mainstream films often feel like an adult put it together, thinking we are going to like it, and it’s shoved down our throats. The end result can come across as a little patronizing. We’ve been trying to find authentic films that we can actually relate to.”
José Camargo : “[Teen]films coming out of Hollywood are too focused on how much money they’re going to make – which is unfortunate, because that means they play it safe. So we get a slew of Transformers sequels, films that pretty much tackle the same themes over and over, simply in the name of entertainment to make money. In the end, they’re not very substantial. They’re not really saying anything about the world. Film should be a tool you can use to expose problems happening around the globe, prompting people to reflect what’s going on around them and question things.
Gabriel Chazan: “One of the best things about our festival is that we’ve tried to focus on real portrayals of what the teen mind is like. An example is Aurora Guerrero’s first film, Mosquita Y Mari, which explores female friendship between two young Chicanas in a really complex and interesting way.”
John Hughes made films back in the 1980s – Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and on and on. Why do his films still strike a chord?
Samah Ali: “In The Breakfast Club, everyone sees themselves in one of the characters – or even multiple characters. John Hughes was able to talk to a teen audience and get them to listen. Most of his movies are dialogue-driven, and to have a teen’s attention for over two hours, it must be a really great film.”
Larissa Rinkoff: “I feel like John Hughes went back to his teenage side and was a master of using simple details to hammer points home. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, for instance, is a story about taking a sick day – something every teenager dreams about. He was a master at inventing characters that we find totally relatable.”
Has a director come along in recent years who comes close to matching Hughes?
Chazan: I can think of two. I just saw Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress, which uses music in a very Hughesian way. And Nanette Burstein’s 2008 documentary American Teen, about high-school seniors and their cliques in a small Indiana town, was wonderful and very much in Hughes’s tradition.
Name some of your favourites in the Next Wave lineup.
Carmago: “Mathieu Kassovitz’s La Haine, which came out in the nineties and features a young Vincent Cassel. We’re showcasing it again in the festival because it does a great job exploring the racial tensions in a Paris suburb – conflicts that are still present in France now.”
Tucker McLachlan: “The theme I find compelling – and universal – is loneliness. And the film Fat Kid Rules The World, which closes the festival, is a touching portrayal of a guy who is isolated and lonely to the point where he almost kills himself. Luckily, he finds a wonderful community that helps restore his self-esteem. It’s an authentic story I could really relate to.”
So is there anything in Hollywood adequately serving teens?
Camargo: “There are really good directors working in Hollywood right now. The problem isn’t the creative teams behind the films; it’s more of the commercial focus. I loved all the Lord of the Rings movies, and they’re as commercial as you can get. And I also really like Christopher Nolan’s films ( The Dark Night Rises, Inception). Art-house films are also wonderful and I love watching them. I just wish they had as much exposure as the films coming out of Hollywood.”
Chazan: "Alfonso Cuaron, the director of my favourite film ever, Y tu mama tambien, also directed one of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. And it, too, was a great film. A great film is a great film no matter where it comes from.”
These interviews have been condensed and edited.
The Next Wave festival runs at Toronto’s TIFF Bell Lightbox until May 12 (tiff.net).