American Teen

Director: Nanette Burstein
Screenwriters: Nanette Burstein

Institute History


American Teen intimately follows the lives of four teenagers in one small town in Indiana through their senior year of high school. Using cinema vérité footage, interviews, and animation, it presents a candid portrait of being 17 and all that goes with it. We see the insecurities, the cliques, the jealousies, the first loves and heartbreaks, the experimentation with sex and alcohol, the parental pressures, and the struggle to make profound decisions about the future.

Nanette Burstein returns to Sundance (On the Ropes won a Special Jury Prize at the 1999 Festival) with a film that is an incredible window into a time of development almost everyone can relate to. She filmed daily for 10 months, developing a remarkably close rapport with these students and their families. The kids open up in her presence and lay bare their lives. That exemplifies her incredible talent for storytelling and uncovering the many layers of truth in her subjects, creating a film that is astonishing from shooting to editing.

In American Teen, the stories coalesce into a narrative so engrossing that it resembles fiction more than documentary. The end result is a film that goes beyond the stereotypes of high school—the nerd and the jock, the homecoming queen and the arty misfit—to capture the complexity of young people trying to make their way into adulthood.

— John Cooper

Screening Details

Sundance Film Festival Awards

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