From Italian Neo Realism and the Iranian New Wave cinema to 7Up — the 1964 TV half hour that has led to a new feature in our cinemas every seven years, filmmakers have used children as an idealised, unselfconscious reflection of society.
Britain's Channel 4 knew they were on to something special when they commissioned a documentary about the fifth year of the Junior Eurovision Song Contest. Not only did they have acts from 17 competing countries aged between 10 and 15, they knew they were guaranteed participants with the intense passion and unique Eurovision raison d'être that we see each year in the adult version. They also knew the acts would be far cuter with smaller and brighter hearts-on-sleeves.
The resulting film is Jamie Jay Johnson's debut feature, Sounds Like Teen Spirit: A Popumentary that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last year and now has a limited release at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image.
Like Jeffrey Blitz's Spellbound (2002) Johnson inter-cuts between participants leading up to the competition but unlike other docs in the genre, Johnson's choices are based on his own intuition rather than those most likely to win. Says Johnson via email from London, “I flew to about 14 countries and filmed all of their national finals and then chose the kids which I liked the most and wanted to hang out with... I wanted open, honest and natural kids but they were basically my favourites.”
The documentary is in English, Flemish, Bulgarian, Georgian, and Cypriot Greek – which gives you a good idea of the nationality of participants Johnson follows. Georgia's entrant, Mari Romelashvili (born 1994) is the first ever entrant from that country and is treated like a national hero during her preparations while Cyprus' entry, Yiorgos Ioannides (born 1995) has a sense of self-belief despite persistent bullying that drives his show-stopping opera number. When he sings, “In a world were music gives wings, I will sing for as long as I live” you know that he surely will!
Sounds Like Teen Spirit is all about dreams and in one case at least that includes further Eurovision success. Watch them now and look for them on the winners' podium in years to come!
Sounds Like Teen Spirit: A Popumentary screens at A.C.M.I April 30-May 3 as part of the First Look season.
The 54th Eurovision Song Contest will be hosted in Moscow and screens on SBS-TV on the 15th, 16th and 17th of May.