In Jenny Gage’s new documentary, “All This Panic,” six girls living in Brooklyn take on their teen years as they navigate family, sexuality and career while juggling education plans. Gage talked to CBS News about the film she shot over three years and what she learned after spending so much time with a group of teenagers.
One of the girls asks another at the beginning of the film, “If you could do high school over again, would you?” How about you?
I think my answer would be very similar to Dusty’s. I would do things the same, but differently. I feel that that very much sums up my high school experience.
Did you want to revisit high school, in a way? Is that why you chose to make this film?
It was a time in my life where I’d just had my daughter, and Ginger and Dusty moved down the street from us. I was watching them go to school, take the subway. I was fascinated and wanted to hear what they were talking and thinking about and how their friendships evolve. I set out to make a film about young girls; that was what I was interested in and felt there was a lack of out there.
How did you get the girls to trust you?
Well, we knew Ginger and Dusty’s family a little bit. We sent them a letter talking about our intentions for the film, and they agreed to do it. Once Ginger and Dusty were on board and we started filming them and their circle of friends, it became much easier. Having the trust of Ginger and Dusty’s parents made the other girls feel like they could trust us as well and over a length of time we built up a rapport and trust.
What surprised you in the course of making this film?
One thing that I found interesting was although there are a lot of things that are different -- being a teenager is different from when I grew up -- a lot are still the same, still at the heart of being a young woman building friendships, trying out different personas, struggling to figure out who you are, having time to contemplate and really think about what your dreams are, and all those things felt very similar. Different, for sure, would be social media and all the things that brings with it at the core of being a teen today or in any generation. It’s really about your friendships and dreams and who you’re trying to become.
How different are today’s teens from today’s adults?
One funny thing from doing this film -- people always ask or say more as a statement, “Oh my God, they must be on their phones all the time. How come we don’t see them so much on their phones?” Yes, they’re on their phones, but no more than any grownup.
Do you think teenagers in New York City are representatives of teens around the country?
I think New York City is a city that makes kids grow up quicker. They’re most often more independent and able to get around on their own at a younger age. They’re not as reliant on their parents. I think that affects how they’re raised and grow up. I think growing up in New York City is different than growing up in towns or suburbs, but I don’t think what they talk and dream about is different. I think there are more similarities than not, no matter where you live.
It was kind of shocking how cutting and blunt the girls could be to each other. Do you think that’s something that’s unique to teenagers?
Yes, I think that comes from honesty, but I think a lot of their parents are honest with them as well. Ginger’s father really tells it as it is or how he feels it is, and same with Sage’s parents, so I think there’s an honesty within the family the girls have in common. But yeah, I think as you get older you learn to temper some of those comments. I think it’s refreshing how nurturing and honest they are to each other.
There’s a lot of discussion in the film about how Ginger decides not to go to college. Nowadays, teenagers have so much pressure to go. Did you feel like college was a looming presence in their lives?
I definitely think college is a looming presence in most teens’ lives. I think it’s a really hard decision to not go. I think more and more are deciding not to, but the majority do go and it’s very hard for the ones who, as Dusty said, are a little bit left behind and almost being forced to be a grownup before their friends in college are being asked to be grownups.
Do you still keep in touch with the girls?
Yes, definitely. They’re doing great. Dusty went to college and Delia, actually -- who I think never thought she would not go -- is taking a year off and acting. Sage went to college and is now taking a year off as well. Ginger is living in Vancouver with her girlfriend who she mentions at the end of the film and she’s going to hair school and following in her father’s footsteps -- even though I don’t know if she’d like that I said that. Ivy is working in New York and doing well, and Olivia is living in Paris doing a semester abroad. They’re all doing great.
“All This Panic” is playing in select theaters in New York and is set for release in Los Angeles on April 14.