Chain Camera [2001]

Documentarian Kirby Dick (Twist of Fate, Sick) gave video cameras to students at John Marshall High School in Los Angeles and asked them to record their lives for a week, after which the cameras were passed on to other students who recorded their lives for a week, and so on for the extent of the school year. The resulting 700 hours of footage was whittled down to a fascinating and frustrating 84-minute documentary--fascinating because of the raw depiction of adolescence, simultaneously self-conscious and unfiltered; frustrating because 16 students are only seen for around five minutes each, making each segment little more than a glimpse into an entire life. Kids like sassy lesbian Cinnamon, politically driven Jesse, or bright, bubbly, and painfully self-deprecating Amy deserve more than five minutes--in fact, viewers will want to know more about all of these kids, as well as ones included in deleted segments. Still, one would be frustrated if Chain Camera weren't successful at capturing something genuine--despite the swearing, broken homes, and sexual experimentation, these teens have a fundamental innocence that's on the brink of being lost. The contrast between these real kids and the glossy teenagers depicted in movies and television (Marshall High is the set for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Grease) couldn't be more poignant. --Bret Fetzer

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