Coming of age at GYFF 2018

Published

Credit: Magnolia Pictures

Anna Rieser, Chris Dobson, Léo Cerosky, Manon Haag
Writers

Our team went along to Glasgow Youth Film Festival, a weekend long celebration of films about young people and curated by them.

The Glasgow Youth Film Festival took place this weekend at the iconic Glasgow Film Theatre. It’s run by young people for young people; programmers aged 15-19 enjoy a year-long mentorship before curating a selection of films. This year’s offerings centered on coming of age stories exploring how parents, tragedy, love and place shape the lives of young people.

The opening Gala and screening of Anna and the Apocalypse was the most Glaswegian cinema trip you’d ever experience. Director John McPhail’s speech, punctuated with applause and friendly heckles, conveyed a sense of homecoming for the Port Glasgow-shot feature now on its way to America. Anna and the Apocalypse proved to be a delightfully quirky zombie apocalypse Christmas musical. Yes, you read that right. Based on the 2011 short film Zombie Musical by the late Scottish director Ryan McHenry, this bizarre genre mash-up is set in a sleepy Scottish town from which our heroine, Anna (played by Ella Hunt, who you might recognise from Les Misérables), longs to break free.

It offers a great counterpoint to Solitude in Paris and Tough. All three deal with the theme of growing up, but Anna and the Apocalypse locates this journey within the individual, whereas the other films look at external influences on young lives, and how these shape their lived present and imagined futures. Young Solitude and Tough are both part of the Take one Action film festival also running this week. Tough is a short by young artist Jennifer Zheng. It is a beautifully animated conversation between Zheng and her mother exploring issues of generational distance, diasporic identity, and how to retain heritage in a new culture.

Zheng’s mother was 11 when Mao Tse Tung implemented the cultural revolution. A moment in history where the divide between parents and children was not only generational but state sanctioned. Mistrust of the older generation and their ties to tradition and capitalism meant that her mother grew up thinking her parents were inherently “bad”, and the younger generation created an entirely new culture. Growing up in Britain, Zheng has inhabited a new culture too, one where race and society intersect in confusing ways. Using a conversation with her mother as the basis for the film, Zheng creates an intimate and tender expression of these complex issues.

Parent-Child relationships and how they determine your identity are also central to Young Solitude. Directed by Claire Simon, the film records the anxieties of 16-18 year-olds in the Parisian suburbs. It is unscripted but rehearsed; the conversations are occasionally steered by some of the older actors, a directorial decision which means that some of the conversations can feel a little stilted: the teenagers ask each other about their home life as a Love Island contestant might ask about someone’s “type”. However, it does elicit some real moments between the adolescents as they articulate their worries about how financial circumstance and parental support may impact upon their futures. The programmers of the film chose it as a counterpoint to teenage culture that often shows “perfect families and perfect beings”. The documentary depicts the complexity of young people and their problems. Set on the edge of Paris, and the edge of independent life, it is now up to the young people to decide what defines them. As one hopeful subject says: “the past is the past, you have to focus on building yourself a better present”.

On Sunday afternoon, the Glasgow Youth Film Festival screened a collection of curated shorts entitled Journey to Stardom. From awkward interactions on a date (Damaged Goods) or at a casting for a commercial (Shampoo) to explorations of mediumship in China and Scotland (Beyond The World) and the cycling community (Life Cycle – Angus), there was one absolute standout. Maria Eriksson-Hecht’s Schoolyard Blues is a poignant portrayal of two young brothers around the end of summer in Sweden. For John, the youngest boy, the first day of school bears no resemblance to that of the other children: with neither parent present nor mentioned, he finds himself coached through the day by the coarse help and advice of his 11-year-old brother Mika who has unexpectedly returned. Left to fend for themselves in an almost post-apocalyptic fashion, stealing school stationery at the local shop and unconventionally arriving at school from the woods, the two young actors do a brilliant job of characterizing the devastating loss of innocence that life on the periphery of society has resulted in. Catapulted into the responsibilities of adulthood through his novel but not unwitting role as a father figure, Mika cares for John with a unique, stern tenderness, stemming from his sense of solidarity and duty for his younger brother. He washes John’s hair in a public bathroom sink and teaches him how to fight back bullies, finally “dropping him off” at school with his best wishes — and not without extracting the promise of a lie about their desolate situation — to return to his own supposedly vagabond life.

A much anticipated feature of GYFF was Crystal Moselle’s presence for the Scottish premiere of Skate Kitchen. The much-hyped Wolfpack (2015) director is stirring to fiction with her dramatised account of a female skate squad in New-York. Moselle found a bunch of amateur-actors she cast in a Miu-Miu commissioned short film available online which will give you a mouthwatering idea of what the film looks like. The short was so well received she asked the girls to come back for a feature film! The young but super talented bunch’s on-screen personalities make for an explosive yet surprisingly heartfelt piece. The instagram-famous Skate Kitchen is fierce and hot-blooded and Moselle’s portrayal something I wish I had been blessed to see as a teenager. The organisers managed to get the director and some of the gang to GFT and they didn’t disappoint; they were witty, fun, spontaneous and sometimes a little awkward – everything that young adults should be. The connection with many in the audience was instantaneous, especially with many skaters who had been waiting for the film’s release with anticipation. It definitely spoke to those it depicts so brilliantly; as for me, despite not being the core target, I felt like I witnessed the origin of a cult piece of cinema.

The festival as a whole made for an empowering weekend for young (and not so young) audiences. The coming-of-age theme developed throughout the three days inspired them to chase their passions and express their voices, while hopefully dispensing a little knowledge and reflection on the process of getting older. Most importantly, through its ethics and organisation, GYFF seeks to encourage young people to take advantage of the technologies and opportunities available to them and express themselves through filmmaking and cultural programming.

If you are under 20 and interested in cinema programming, you can apply to be part of next year’s festival at [email protected].

Skate Kitchen will be released in cinemas in the UK on Friday 28 September.