Jenny Gages intimate documentary of seven Brooklyn teenagers has been praised for its honest account of growing up. We asked four British school friends to assess it

I dont want to age. I think thats the scariest thing in the entire world, says Ginger Leigh Ryan, one of the girls featured in Jenny Gages documentary All This Panic. Set in the Brooklyn neighbourhood of Clinton Hill and directed by the former US fashion photographer, with cinematography by her husband Tom Betterton, the film follows seven teenagers best friends Lena and Ginger, their school friends Sage, Olivia and Ivy, Gingers younger sister Dusty, and Dustys best friend Delia over a three-year period.

i-D magazine said the film might be the most honest documentary about teenage girlhood ever. Thats a bold claim, but theres something to be said for the way Gages film articulates the emotional intensity of being a teenage girl. What makes it different from other coming-of-age films is the way it allows the girls to articulate their experiences as they occur, and in their own words. The Virgin Suicides showed teenage girls as their male classmates remembered them; Spring Breakers objectified and parodied them; films like Fat Girl, Fish Tank, Girlhood and Mustangshaped their stories around their protagonists particular traumas rather than their triumphs. Gage takes them seriously, and wants to hear what they have to say about the world and their place in it. The film follows the girls as they experiment with dating and drinking, but doesnt dodge more serious issues, like Lenas dysfunctional family and precarious finances, Gingers decision not to go to college (and her fathers insistence that she try and be more interesting), and Olivias eventual coming out.

The girls are shot up-close and in shallow focus, Bettertons handheld camera creating an intimacy that feels cinematic rather than anthropological. It wont be to everyones tastes at times the film leans a little heavily on its Instagram aesthetic but it captures the way the smallest details swell and become significant when you are 16. As Tavi Gevinson, who started blogging aged 12 and founded teen magazine Rookie, put it, to be on the cusp of adulthood is to become familiar with the rose tint of nostalgia in real time.

Watch the trailer for All This Panic.

For a British view, we invited 16-year-old friends Cienna, Lucy, Alex and Emily to watch All This Panic and share their thoughts on it. I want to find out if the Brooklyn experience can translate to the London borough of Bromley, and if the girls see anything of themselves on screen. The four are studying for their GCSEs at Newstead Wood school for girls. Its Friday night, and were at the house of Saskia van Roomen, who runs Bromley family film club, an Into Film group where Cienna is a volunteer.

We crowd around Saskias breakfast bar and the girls tell me how they met (theyre in the same form), which of them has a boyfriend (Alex), and what they want to be when they grow up (Emily, news producer; Cienna, scientist; Lucy, business executive or lawyer; Alex, still deciding).

Like any tight-knit group of girls they talk at top speed, finishing each others sentences and stopping mid-anecdote to explain in-jokes. All are serious about school and stylish. But small things remind me that they are still 16-year-olds. Like Ciennas Harry Potter socks (yellow, for Hufflepuff), or Alex and Emilys obsession with Australian pop-punk band 5 Seconds of Summer. When I quiz them about the best thing about being a teenager, Lucy replies that they dont have to worry about taxes or anything.

Watching the girls watch the documentary proves an entertaining experience. They sit snuggled up on Saskias sofa, swooning and squirming in unison. All gasp, cringing with recognition when Lena tells the camera that her crush rejected her at the very party she had thrown in the hope of having her first kiss with him. She ends up kissing someone else, a disappointing experience by her own admission. I prod the girls on the subject of romantic rejection. Everyones been there, where theres someone you like and they dont like you back, says Cienna matter-of-factly after the film. It wasnt so much that she kissed the other guy, it was the unrequited bit, says Emily.

Some critics consider the film slight at 79 minutes and too focused on the banalities of being a teenager. This, Id argue, is its strength. By detailing the minutiae of the girls inner lives, the film creates a space for their self-reflection. Teenagers and teenage girls especially are frequently misrepresented in the media as shallow and self-absorbed, rather than simply soul-searching. All This Panics interest in their existential anxieties provides a rare glimpse into their minds. The girls seem to agree.

In the film, Lena reveals that both she and Ginger went through a period of cutting themselves. I ask if self-harm is something thats happening among people they know. Definitely, says Alex. Obviously everyone has problems and people I know have gone through things. [Self-harm] is definitely still a very serious issue. Then Emily tells me: I was just thinking that a lot of the girls in the film deal with big issues, like Sage [the films only African American girl discusses her experiences of racism], but the movie focused on the small issues as well, the things that make you really annoyed as teenagers.

Like what?

Like boys! says Alex.

I know it sounds really small and pathetic, says Cienna, but one of the things that I really loved was when they were talking about guys bringing along their other guy friends. Thats a conversation we have before every party. The others nod in agreement. Who youre going to see, who youre going to meet, who youre going to talk to, adds Alex. And, Emily says: Are they going to be good-looking?

Over popcorn and a stack of pizza, I spoke to the girls about their desire to be taken seriously, the similarities between growing up in New York and London, and what it feels like to be 16.

Ginger and Lena in All This Panic, Jenny Gages intimate documentary portrait
of teenage girls growing up in Brooklyn. Photograph: Dogwoof Pictures


So many of the films you see nowadays, theyre just not realistic. You see a film where not a single teenage girl will have a spot or they seem totally perfect and airbrushed, but in All This Panic everything was just real. It shows you how life isnt perfect as well.

I could really relate to the scene where Ginger fought with her dad. My parents are divorced so I have a lot of arguments with my dad, but its kind of the opposite of what Ginger and her dad were arguing about [Gingers lack of focus]. My dad has a different viewpoint he doesnt necessarily like the fact that Im so obsessed about work. Sometimes I feel guilty but I still think Im right.

Its quite hard being our age really, because youve got GCSEs, but youve got to be social, and then youve got to think about your CV so you try to do all these activities, but then you have to get all your A*s. Its a lot of pressure. I dont think everyone realises how hard it is to be our age.


I particularly related to the bit when Sage talked about moving from a predominantly white school to a more ethnically mixed school. I used to live in Liverpool and its not that mixed and they basically just put all the people of colour in one class and were just like all be friends with each other. And Im mixed; Im Irish, Scottish, Jamaican, Portuguese. [I felt isolated] up there, youre kind of just in a bubble, and then I moved back down to London and moved to Newstead. I also [identified] so much with Sage and the relationship she had with her mum. I thought it was a real friendship relationship rather than mother-and-daughter, and I personally have that with my mum, so I like to see interactions like that. I tell my mum everything. Even my mum sometimes says: You shouldnt be telling me this, go talk to your friends! But I feel like shes gone through it all, so she can have wise words and help me through it.

I really liked the films representation of female friendship. I thought it really summed up every scenario. I really liked the relationship between Lena and Ginger, especially at the end when the film flashes back through all their moments because it reminded me of us going from year 7 to now. I wish that I didnt take it so much for granted, because I really wish I could go back in time and relive it all.


In the film the girls talk about how theyre scared to move on and for their friends to leave them. Ive been thinking about that so much recently because I might move to sixth form next year. Its fear of being replaced that someone else could come along from another school and replace me. Its scary to think that if you leave, everythings going to go on as if you werent there.

Theres a bit where Lena says: When youre a kid youre so obsessed with the age that you become a big kid. When I was younger, I always wanted to be older. When you look at people in the street, you just think theyre tall, theyve got cool clothes on, theyre the cool kids, I want to be like them. But now I feel like I wish I was back in year 7. I feel like those years, year 7 and 8 and 9, they were the best years. You didnt really have that much to care about there was no real pressure. Now I feel like everythings changing, and youre older and starting to go away into the big world of work and mortgages.

The worst thing about being a teenage girl is knowing that, even if you dont see it every day, at the back of your mind there are always categories, and do I fit into one? There are really girlie girls with loads of makeup, short skirts and everything, then there are nerdy girls who are focused on work. You can be categorised, and you dont really want to be, because why cant you be a bit of both?


I dont think adults take teenagers seriously. They think that we dont know anything, that we havent experienced anything in the world and that weve still got so much more to learn, which I know we do, but right now I feel like I know a lot. In my head I feel quite mature. Adults dont see that.

The best thing about being 16 is that were still in school and weve still got a few more years and were with our friends. We all met when we were 11, so now were at a stage where were really close. I [identified with] Gingers sister Dusty in the film, and that whole idea that you dont want to grow up. I definitely feel like that. I really dont want to grow up, Ive always said that since I was younger. I think growing up will be really scary.

All This Panic (15) is on general release. Into Film is a UK-wide film education programme for children and young people aged 5-19; for more information go to

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