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Miscellaneous - Sounds Like Teen Spirit

  by Mark Rowland

published: 19 / 4 / 2009

Miscellaneous - Sounds Like Teen Spirit


Mark Rowland finds refreshing and oddly moving British filmmaker Jamie J. Johnson's new light-hearted documentary about a Junior Eurovision song contest forchildren aged between 10 and 15

The British have never really got on board with the Eurovision song contest – at least not for some time now anyway. It's always been too camp, too overblown, too European, for us. It's hardly surprising, then, that we Brits have never heard of the Junior Eurovision, a contest that gives kids aged between 10 and 15 a chance to perform their own song live in front of millions of people across the continent. It is this contest that is the focus for 'Sounds Like Teen Spirit', a light-hearted documentary by British filmmaker Jamie J. Johnson. The film bears a distinct similarity to US spelling bee documentary Spellbound, focusing on four contestants as they prepare themselves in the run-up to the contest itself. Johnson wisely takes a step back and lets the kids speak for themselves, allowing for many funny and poignant moments without taking on a mocking or over-sentimental tone. The children themselves are all so likable that you can't help but route for them. Each one comes from a very distinct culture and background, but are united in their dazed excitement and disbelief. 10-year-old Cypriot Yiorgos Ioannides is incredibly funny without ever realising it, but offers some heartbreaking moments as he talks about being bullied. 13-year-old Mariam Romelashvili is treated like a hero in her home town of Gori for putting Georgia on the map, but the run-down condition of the town and the overwhelming excitement of its population at their entry into the Junior Eurovision also says a lot about the country's position in Europe. The oldest and arguably most talented entry in he contest is Belgian band Trust, featuring a precociously talented pianist in Mirek Coutigny and a more mature sound than the other contestants. Johnson chooses primarily to focus on drummer Laurens Platteeuw, whose tongue-in-cheek rock star posturing lends a spinal Tap-ish element to the documentary, the highlight of which being during one interview when Laurens completely loses his focus after spotting a couple of girls. Bulgarian Marina Baltadzi, 14, part of the girl group Bon Bon, is the wealthiest of all the children (her house is huge, and she speaks perfect English with an American accent, courtesy of the exclusive school she attends) but her story is also the saddest. While all of the other contestants in the documentary, regardless of their backgrounds, have supportive and loving families, Marina is estranged from her father, who is in the process of divorcing her mother. Listening to her talk about her parents, how she misses her father and her incredibly jaded views on love and relationships is difficult to hear, and again lends the film a poignancy that it might not otherwise have had. It is refreshing to see a film like this which isn't out to dig out spoilt brats and pushy brats and offer them up for judgement. The kids are all well-rounded and normal, their parents (where present) loving and supportive, but never pushy or over competitive. There is even a scene in which Yiorgios' father tells his son not to get too competitive, and that it's the taking part that counts. If the film falls down anywhere, it's with Johnson's occasional voice over, which gives some background into the Eurovision as well as recent European history. Though an explanation of what Eurovision is is necessary for non-European audiences, comparing the Eurovision song contest to the Second World War seems out of place and over-blown among the very personal stories that make up the bulk of the documentary. It is unnecessary, and doesn't entirely make sense. Luckily however, it doesn't detract from the central stories or personalities within the film, making for a great little feel-good film, which shows that something that may seem stupid and trivial to us can mean a lot for many others.

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Miscellaneous - Sounds Like Teen Spirit

Miscellaneous - Sounds Like Teen Spirit

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