Get Lost in the Dreamy Moments of Teenage Girlhood in This New Film

Lena Dunham and filmmaker Jenny Gage reflect on the ephemeral, magical, maddening experience of growing up female.

Most Popular
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

We get sent a lot of movies at Lenny: women-centric comedies, issues-based documentaries, each more worthy than the next. But there simply isn't time to engage with every film and also maintain an inspired, uncluttered interior life (plus, let's face it, I have a lot of Love & Hip Hop to watch). So it was with surprise and awe that I clicked a link to Jenny Gage's film All This Panic and found myself in the exact same spot a few hours later, wiping tears from my eyes. What director Jenny and her partner Tom Betterton captured in the documentary — about a group of teenage girls careening through their last years of childhood in Brooklyn — spoke so deeply to my experience that I ached, feeling the kind of nostalgia that is queasy-making.

Most Popular

It's been a long time since I really remembered high school. College, I can summon in a moment. My early twenties are as easy to recite as Lil' Kim lyrics. But high school, I buried in the same place as humiliations like grabbing the wrong woman by the arm in a store because you think she's your mom and finding a stranger instead. To be forgotten are the hot nights in tube tops and bike shorts under the Brooklyn Bridge drinking Mike's Hard Lemonade. The Saturday subway rides to Coney Island for no reason except to watch the Ferris wheel spin. Hours in Laurel's bathtub, trying and failing to dye each other's hair pink with Kool-Aid. And the quiet comfort we offered each other, a tangle of arms and legs and hair, when someone's father left or their boyfriend lied or depression set in, gray as the courthouse where we sat and bummed cigarettes off of older boys.

No matter where you come from, you'll recognize the obsessive love, constant loss, and total triumph that is friendship among teenage girls.

I don't know those girls anymore. One's a doctor. The other is a teacher my father runs into sometimes at his favorite sandwich place. Yet another I encountered in a hotel lobby in Detroit, struggling for words that would encompass the totality of years of traipsing through Cobble Hill looking for an image of ourselves we could live with. Jemima is on Girls with me, yet somehow we've blocked discussion of the long lost weekends under her leopard duvet, wondering what came next or who'd be yelling at us when we got home.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

What Jenny Gage captures in All This Panic is the companionship girls can offer, and also the shocking cruelty of what happens when this kind of love is taken away. Subtly, she notes the differences (class, race, gender) that prevent girls who love each other from really seeing each other, and she paints in sweet pastels the abiding hope that inspires every new kiss, haircut, or walk down the beach. All This Panic is my story geographically and spiritually. But no matter where you come from, you'll recognize the obsessive love, constant loss, and total triumph that is friendship among teenage girls.

—Lena Dunham

***

STATEMENT, JENNY GAGE:

This film is the story of the lives of the seven teenage girls who we followed over the course of three years. In the end, I hope I gave them what I never had: a diary of their teenage years that honestly and without judgment looks at a time in a girl's life that is full of wonderful, awkward, loving, and confusing moments. A record that celebrated a period of time that most of us would rather forget. Along the way, I realized that the process gave me a chance to explore and reflect on a time that is so crucial in defining who I am today.

Adolescence has always been at the core of my subject matter as a photographer and a filmmaker. It started when I was twelve, at the cusp of my own teen years, when I picked up a camera and realized that, like a talisman, it protected me from my insecurities and gave me amazing access to these beautiful and magical creatures.

I have known the two main characters in All This Panic, Ginger and her younger sister Dusty, since they were twelve and ten years old. The project began soon after my daughter was born, when Ginger and Dusty had moved just down the street from us. I can remember watching them as they walked past our house on the way to school and thinking: What is it like to be a teenage girl today? What will it be like for my daughter? And how does it compare to when I was a teenage girl?

This film started with Ginger bravely saying yes to my documenting her life, and it spiraled out onto a world of other girls from there. Ginger was sixteen and quickly gaining her independence, as were the friends around her. Dusty and her best friend Delia, just a few years younger, seemed to be watching the older girls' every step carefully. Lena was the first of Ginger's friends that we met, and there was no mistaking that she would be a large part of the story. Her friendship with Ginger, her openness, and her struggles with her family made her story compelling, heartbreaking, and wonderfully optimistic all at the same time. In the time we spent with them, Ginger and Lena's circle expanded to include all seven of the girls we met and filmed.

I knew there needed to be an organic approach to the filming process to encourage the girls to feel free enough to share the kind of unimpeded intimacy we were seeking. This was to be a film about the inner lives of the girls, therefore the camera needed to be an extension of what the girls were seeing and feeling.

We found that our ability to be nimble, both with camerawork and where the conversations went, gave us opportunities to observe the real moments we needed to understand and be able to see what each girl was experiencing, both alone and within the group. I was constantly amazed by the speed at which the events of their lives unfolded and by their resiliency and their optimism. Everything was happening so fast for them, and I realized that they were deep in the once-in-a-lifetime exhilaration of adolescence. They were moving and developing so fast that self-reflection is nearly impossible. I wanted to give them a record of what they felt, thought, and experienced in this incredible time in their lives.

I wanted to make a film that I would have wanted to see as a teenager and as a woman today, but more important, I wanted to make a film for girls everywhere. Honest films about girls are few and far between, and the demand for smart content is out there, but the supply can't match it. It's starting to catch up, and I hope our little film can be a part of this new movement in women's filmmaking. I am grateful to the new generation of young women who are out there creating, protesting, working, and giving a fuck about the journey we are all on together. Remember Sage's wise words on the state of the media: "They want to see us but don't want to hear what we have to say." Let's change that by never taking our voices for granted.

More from Lenny Letter: