Not Another Teen Movie
The breakout documentary All This Panic is all about the good, the bad, and the weird parts of growing up.
“I don’t want to age! I think that’s the scariest thing in the entire world.” This is coming from Dusty, one of the seven teenagers at the heart of the new documentary All This Panic. And, in some ways, she’s kind of right. Growing up really sucks sometimes. It’s awkward and isolating and you feel like you’re suffering through these difficult transitions alone—but really, adolescence is something that literally everyone (unfortunately) has to endure.
This universal coming-of-age experience is the focal point behind filmmakers Jenny Gage and Tom Betterton’s new project, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last week; however, All This Panic definitely isn’t your average teenage movie. The doc follows a group of Brooklyn friends—along with Dusty, there’s Ginger, Ivy, Delia, Olivia, Sage, and Lena—over the course of three years, as they discover new things about their families, their sexuality, and each other. Shot in a dreamy, almost romantic style, it offers an intimate look into the complexities of getting older—told through the teens’ own words and thoughts.
The project was organic from the very beginning. It all started when Jenny spotted sisters Ginger and Dusty, who were 16 and 14 at the time, walking to school. “I wanted to know what was going on in their world,” the director explained. “What they talked to their friends about, and how their experience was different than mine when I was that age.” The siblings eventually agreed to participate in the movie, and some of their friends also wanted in. Jenny and Tom followed the girls on and off for years: as they started high school, then graduated, and eventually went their separate ways.
“This was definitely a project that evolved, mostly because we wanted to follow the girls’ leads,” Jenny said. “As the girls started to develop in their lives, we realized that this was a project that would need to develop over a period of time and it wasn’t a story that could be told in a condensed one-year period.”
Rather than forcing events into the teen plot cliché, the filmmakers let All This Panic grow naturally, allowing it to highlight both the extreme and ordinary parts of high school life. Sure, there’s dramatic best friend fights and plenty of parent arguments, but also the normal stuff, like crushes—both mutual and unrequited—or what to do when you feel like you and your best friend might be drifting apart.
For the cast, the idea of exposing their lives to the world was exactly as scary as you’d expect. As Lena told us, “Three days before the film I had to call Jenny and be like, ‘Help! I’m very scared of this.’ I was worried, because a lot of my family’s information is in there and I was worried that it would be harmful for them.” But Lena stayed in the movie, and although her family isn’t perfect (P.S. nobody’s is!), simply showing these imperfections is what makes this film so great. Olivia, too, said she was nervous about showing her struggles to people. “A lot of times I felt that if people found out about me, then the world would end. Jenny and Tom talked me through the insecurities and now I have no regrets.”
Which, if you think about it, is a whole lot like aging. Regardless of whether your experiences as a teen are playing out on the big screen at a movie festival, or just in front of your family and friends, the most important thing is to plunge ahead wholeheartedly (and not look back).