We just stepped off the flight from Berlin, where we had the privilege to present our new film BRONX PRINCESS at the 59th Berlin International Film Festival. Our film is about a teenager's journey from the Bronx to her parent's royal palace in Ghana, and ultimately to college in the United States.
Our film's coming-of-age story placed us in the youth-focused "Generation" section of the festival, where we screened alongside films from countries including Russia, South Korea and Israel. As one of the only documentary films in our section, we were surrounded by narrative shorts, some shot on 35mm film and others using animation. The world premiere of our film was at IDFA in Amsterdam, the world's largest documentary festival, but in Berlin the audience did not expect to see a documentary in the youth section.
In fact, a common question at our Q&A was "Is this a documentary or fiction film?" or "Did you script any of the scenes?" Some people said that our film was crafted too cinematically to be a documentary, or that our character's outbursts seemed too good to be true. We think their reaction speaks to a larger issue: are documentaries misunderstood by young people or are they just not made for young audiences? One festival programmer from Canada told us, "It's very difficult to find documentaries that youth want to watch." Documentaries made for and about young people can be didactic and value their educational mandate over engaging storytelling.
As filmmakers in our 20s, we felt connected to our protagonist's perspective on the world, and we tried to use a cinematic language that would be relevant to audiences young and old. Judging from the audience's laughs and gasps, BRONX PRINCESS was received as well as any fiction short. The best litmus test was reaction from young people, like a 14-year-old student journalist who approached us after the screening. Every year she scans the Berlinale catalogue for a film about Africa that doesn't dwell on poverty or strife. She beamed as she told us how her own father lives in Ghana, and how she had never before seen a film that spoke to her as German-African. She didn't need to ask us if our film was a documentary.
-Yoni Brook and Musa Syeed, filmmakers of BRONX PRINCESS, premiering this upcoming season of P.O.V. on PBS. A SON’S SACRIFICE, their previous ITVS funded film, premiered on Independent Lens last year.
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