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In the documentary "American Teen," which had its Regional Premiere here at the 2008 SXSW Film Festival on the heels of an auspicious Sundance debut, filmmaker Nanette Burstein chronicles a year in the life of a group of high school students from Warsaw, Indiana.
On the face of it, it seems like we've seen this before -- the popular girl, All-American jock, shy pimply geek, and wild child -- growing up and dealing with the overwrought, overblown, magnified time of life that is adolescence in rural America. But this is 2008, and issues that were never raised in the past, or were overlooked -- mental health, self-acceptance, peer pressure and the need to fit in -- take on a new, frightening reality in this day of Columbines and nooses and hatred taken to unheard of levels. The consequences of ignoring what our teens are saying are more frightening than ever before.
Yet Burstein's subjects are a refreshing dose of a reality we don't see on television -- yes, these kids are troubled and in need of support, but they also demonstrate an impressive capacity to heal themselves. They are smart, streetwise, and comfortable in their own skin. They are smart, funny, and adorable. They have more to teach us about the importance of being able to laugh at ourselves than we may be willing to admit.
Ultimately, they grow on us because we've all been there, if not one then a combination. There are more awww moments than one can count and, in the end, we want to stay there in Warsaw, Indiana.
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