Art Houses—Nanette Burstein doesn't remember high school fondly. "I struggled socially, I struggled with my parents ... it was not a fun time. But it was a formative time, and it played a big role in who I became."
Who she became was the Oscar-nominated co-director of such documentaries as On the Ropes and The Kid Stays in the Picture. Her newest film, American Teen, which opens this week in the Triangle, received a special prize at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year for its depiction of five seniors in Warsaw, Ind.
At the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham earlier this year, Burstein said that Teen appeals not just to teenagers, but to people who remember what it was like to be in high school as well. "A lot of people in their 20s and 30s relate because they had similar experiences ... and parents want to know what's going on with their teenagers," Burstein said. "I think it has that crossover appeal to different generations."
Despite some wince-inducing moments that made it into the film, Burstein said that the subjects didn't mind how they were depicted: "It's pretty tame compared to some of their experiences that weren't in the movie." She sometimes broke her distance as a filmmaker to give the kids advice, such as encouraging aspiring filmmaker Hannah to see a counselor when she was in the throes of a deep depression. "It was impossible for me to stand by and not give my input, for whatever it was worth in the end," Burstein said.
Burstein said she's stayed close with the teens since the film wrapped, particularly Hannah, to whom she's "a mentor, or a big sister." She doesn't plan to make a follow-up, though: "I stay friends with the people I make movies about, but filming them is a one-time thing." —Zack Smith
American Teen opened Friday, Aug. 15, in area art houses.