Q&A with American Teen Director Nanette Burstein
Parents, Studying, and Independence
LHJ: What about you, where did you grow up?
NB: I grew up in Buffalo, New York, and I changed a lot in high school. It was a really formative time in my life. I started out in the popular crowd and ended up realizing that they were not really my friends, so that ended up not really working out for me! And then I ended up with a pink Mohawk, and then eventually settled somewhere in the middle, just sort of arty and bohemian and realizing that I wanted to make movies. So I came into my own, through a lot of struggle.
LHJ: What were your subjects' reactions to the finished work?
NB: Remarkably positive, actually. I guess I was most concerned about Megan, because she was the most "complicated." There are some actions she takes in the film that I thought might be regrettable for her, but she was fine with it. She felt that it was an accurate representation of who she was at that time in her life, and she didn't have a problem with it. I showed it to her family, too, and they were equally positive in their response.
LHJ: As for parents -- was it a conscious choice for the film to be as little "about them" as possible?
NB: Well, it seemed like the kids just sort of cut their parents off. It seemed to me like there was very much a Lord of the Flies existence going on there, and, after all, when you're a senior in high school. . . . The parents obviously were involved, but not involved in their kids' social lives at all. And it's not that they didn't want to be, it's that their kids just cut them out. But where they were involved was in deciding their kids' futures, and that's where I included them in the movie, and I think they made a big impact in this way.
LHJ: Do you think the film focused enough on the "intellectual aspects" of high school?
NB: Well, I've got to be honest -- schoolwork was not a big part of these kids' lives! If you were really smart, you didn't necessarily have to do a lot of schoolwork to get good grades, so it wasn't a huge part of their lives. Also, none of the students I followed had great academic challenges that they needed to overcome -- it just wasn't a big part of their stories. And I didn't think watching people study would be very interesting!