They chattered, slouched, laughed out loud and let themselves be herded in and out of the auditorium, all the while showing that odd mix of nonchalance and enthusiasm that only teenagers can pull off. But when the 15 videos made by their counterparts flashed on the screen, a different picture emerged - one of young adults who are just a little bit world-weary.
These visitors were Cambridge and Boston-area teenagers brought to campus to watch the seventh annual national teen video festival " Do It Your Damn Self!! ," held in Bartos Theater on Friday, Nov. 22. Sophomores and juniors from local schools spent the morning watching videos, ate a quick lunch in the lobby of Bartos, then headed back into the theater for a heart-to-heart on some of the topics raised by the filmmakers: domestic violence, sexual harrassment, the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Speaking in sentences that began and ended with "you know" and often trailed off into nothing, the filmmakers and other teenagers talked in a panel discussion afterwards.
"This is a teen discussion. Can all the adults not say anything please?" said the high school host, asking the chaperones and accompanying teachers to remain mute, which they did for the most part. But the teenagers weren't all that anxious to have a heartfelt discussion in a room with a few hundred of their peers. So the questions were primarily, you know, teen-like: offhand, but somehow perfectly targeted.
Here was a question for Daniel Howard, who made a documentary about the challenges of living in a Brooklyn housing project, from a young man in the audience: "Uh. For the same dude." (Laughing. Aside to his friends: "Don't make me laugh.") "Did you ever get yourself beat up or mugged, you know?"
Howard: "Yeah. You know, it's rough out there, you know."
Question for a young man from Lynn, who made a video of his father, a custodian at his high school: "What inspired you to do that? Was it the whole janitor thing that happened?"
Answer: "It was made last year. It was a class project and we ended up making it about my dad 'cause it was easy."
Question for the panel: "After making your own, how do you feel about what's on TV and movies?"
Answer: "Isn't it obvious? They market to young people that what you want to see is Spider-Man and sex and Harry Potter."
Question for the women who made a video about physical abuse: "Was it hard to get people to be interviewed and be on camera and things like that?"
Answer: "I've wanted women to come out of their shell, to be open about it. A lot of women are afraid to talk about being beaten by their mates."
Question for the panel: "How old are you all up there?"
The answers ranged from 14 to 19. When the two young women said - "I'm 14." "I'm 14, too." - there was silence, then applause, a sure sign that these kids were listening.
The video festival was curated and presented by the Teen Media Program at the Cambridge Community Art Center. The emcees (or co-hosts) for the day were Engels Lopez, a 15-year-old sophomore at the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School (CRLS), and Marie France St. Germain, a 14-year-old freshman at CRLS. Both are members of the festival's selection committee.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 4, 2002.