Disparate youngsters tell their candid stories in “Teen Dreams,” a docu using an unconventional approach based on the subjects’ recording of their personal lives. Despite novel strategy, film suffers from a curious lack of critical perspective that would have contextualized and illuminated with greater depth the subjective chronicles. Still, as a maneuver that has already yielded some positive effects, “Teen Dreams” should air on TV and be shown in inner-city schools.
Teenagers from Harlem, Hollywood and Philadelphia were given Hi-8 video cameras and some training from professional mentors. Asked to record their daily lives for one year, they then submitted their footage to co-producer and editor Peter Kinoy, who shaped their personal stories into a collective tapestry meant to comment on America’s disenfranchised youth.
African-American Frank Cardon grew up in violent North Philadelphia, where early in childhood he became embittered and full of hate. Cardon recalls how a fateful night, on which his buddy gunned down another youngster, served as a turning point in his life.
Products of the white working class, Adwana and younger sister Gloria ran away from an abusive family and landed in L.A., where they survived harsh experiences.
Story of third subject, Harlem’s Edwin La Traun Parker, is the most interesting, as he records his search for his father, who left the family when his son was 8 and now lives in South Carolina. When we first meet him, Parker is a senior. Desperate to avoid the streets — and jail — he struggles to graduate and goes on to college. Discovery of roots — and a large family — and encounter with Dad hold surprises, defying his initial expectations.
Film is marred by some serious methodological problems. Viewers aren’t told what specific guidelines were given to the three amateur “anthropologists” or what selectivity they exercised in relating the more painful aspects of their tales. There’s also no info about the cutting and editorializing done by docu’s directors, who obviously received more extensive footage than what was finally used. Still, the fact that, as a result of making the film, two of the kids have found new focus in their lives raises hopeful expectations of how this visual exercise could be used for rehab and other educational purposes.