With an international film festival in their backyard, Santa Barbara teenagers have had a unique opportunity to interview celebrities. At the Santa Barbara International Film Festival of 2007, a group of teenagers from Santa Barbara Middle School entered the red carpet’s press section. They called themselves Teen Press.
Nine years later, the club no longer interviews only celebrities. Middle schoolers have sat down with Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates; Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif.; Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia; and Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, among others.
This year, Teen Press won’t just be covering the 2016 film festival, they’ll be in it. Filmmaker T.C. Johnstone’s new documentary, Teen Press, follows a group of eight student journalists as they learn to book interviews, do research and build up the confidence to sit down and ask important people surprising questions.
Now, they want to be a model for teachers in schools nationwide.
“It’s a different model of film making. It’s not just entertainment. It’s creating the tools for transformation,” said Johnstone, who explains the film is only part of a larger project. The documentary goes hand-in-hand with an electronic educational guide to equip teachers with an easy to use kit to replicate the Teen Press program in any community around the world.
“It’s great to make movies, but it’s even more fulfilling to see transformation long term,” said Johnstone.
But, what makes a club like Teen Press so impactful? A lack of overprotection.
“We’ve got bumper bowling,” said John Boettner, the co-founder of Teen Press. “Kids aren’t supposed to climb trees, ride their bikes to school, walk to school. We protect them from gravity.”
Teen Press doesn’t do that. First off, the selection process is very competitive. At the beginning of the film Boettner and co-teacher David Teton-Landis whittle down 28 applicants to eight choices. They look for curious, hardworking kids with sincerity and thick skin.
“You want kids to experience success, but you also want them to experience failure and scraped knees and things that are going to give them character going on,” said Boettner.
Secondly, these students are given some seriously difficult assignments.
“When we do film festivals, we usually get two or three questions,” Boettner says in the movie. “But, when you can sit down with someone for half an hour or 45 minutes, that’s wonderfully more difficult. What would you do with an hour? What would you ask?”
Boettner and Johnstone are now taking the film around the country, with hopes to inspire teachers to begin their own version of Teen Press.
“Our vision is to see Teen Press programs created throughout the U.S. to help kids grow in character, respect and communication,” said Johnstone.
Teen Press screens at the SBIFF Friday, Feb. 12 and Saturday, Feb. 13.