Now that the Maryland Film Festival is over, the Parkway Theatre is officially open for business. Along with a roster of expertly curated repertory films (this week look for Female Trouble, Mulholland Drive, and Fassbender’s Fox and His Friends, among others), the programmers have promised to bring us lesser known contemporary films that never made it to Baltimore.
A perfect example is the wonderful 2016 documentary All This Panic, which is one of the “emerging films” debuting at the Parkway this week. Directed by Jenny Gage and shot by her husband Tom Betterton, the documentary follows three years in the lives of a group of teenage girls who attend LaGuardia High School in Manhattan (and later college). With apologies to Britney Spears, never has the phrase “not a girl, not yet a woman” been more apt, as we watch these girls swerve wildly from thoughtful reflections on friendship, privilege, and growing up to giggling over boys (and girls) and makeup. The years Gage and Betterton spent with the girls clearly paid off, as the teens have zero affect and are simply living in front of the camera (drugs and alcohol are ubiquitous and seen as no big deal). Many of the girls are going through a crisis—the precocious Lena, who has just been accepted to Sarah Lawrence, has two unstable parents and a troubled brother; the self-possessed Sage just lost her father and she dreams of him and feels haunted by his presence; beautiful Ginger, who may or may not want to be an actress, just graduated and is feeling adrift. All of the girls are street smart, wise behind their years—they attribute this to living in New York City—but they’re still kids. “I’m terrified of getting old,” moans Ginger’s sister, Dusty. “I’m terrified of someone saying I look too old for that outfit!” In one scene, Ginger gets enraged with her father after he simply points out that she hasn’t been motivated to find work since graduating. While these teens are dealing with some genuinely heavy stuff, everything is emotional for them—the film serves as a wonderful reminder of how life and death even the smallest thing can seem when you’re in your teens. On top of being entertaining, illuminating, and affecting, the film is beautifully shot—with gorgeous, hazy light and painterly framing—it looks like a narrative feature. (One critic compared it to The Virgin Suicides, and the film does seem to explicitly nod to Sofia Coppola’s work.) I can’t imagine the discipline it took to turn three years of footage into an 80 minute film, but the results here speak for themselves.